In his Washington Post column today E.J. Dionne, Jr. gives lavish praise to Senator Joseph Biden. According to Dionne
I visited with Biden since he should be at the top of any list of vice presidential picks for Obama. Why Biden? In part because of where he took our discussion: Few Democrats know more about foreign policy, and few would so relish the fight against McCain on international affairs. Few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S.
The problem is that the two most important policy decisions related to Iraq were the decision to go to war in the first place and the President’s embrace of the so-called surge. On the former, Biden justified his support of the use of force resolution by saying, among other things
Saddam is dangerous. The world would be a better place without him. But the reason he poses a growing danger to the United States and its allies is that he possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons,
We now know that like virtually everyone else, Biden was wrong about Saddam possessing WMD stockpiles.
The other key policy moment related to Iraq was the President’s decision in January 2007 to champion the surge, which involved sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq and, more importantly, endorsing a new counter-insurgency strategy under the command of General David Petraeus. I have written numerous times on the security, political, and economic progress we’ve seen since the “surge” was put in place; there’s no need here to rehearse all the evidence. Suffice it to say that there is now no longer any serious dispute that the surge has been succeeding far beyond even the expectations of those of us who supported it. Iraq, while still a fragile and fractured nation, is in much better shape than it was. And where was Biden on the surge? He was one of its most vocal critics.
During his January 8, 2007 appearance on “Imus in the Morning,” Biden said, “there’s a civil war that can – will not be affected by us putting in 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 troops. It will not change the dynamic.”
Three days later, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Biden, chairman of the Committee, said this:
I believe the president’s strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it’s a tragic mistake. In Iraq, the core of the president’s plan is to send another 20,000 Americans to Baghdad, a city of more than 6 million people, where they will go, with their fellow Iraqi soldiers, door to door in the middle of a civil war. If memory serves me, we’ve tried that kind of escalation twice before in Baghdad, and it’s failed twice in Baghdad, and I fear it will fail a third time.
In January, Biden also co-sponsored a non-binding “anti-surge” resolution that was, in his words, “not an attempt to embarrass the president…It’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.” And on January 24 Biden said the measure “is designed to let the president know that there are many in both parties, Democrats and Republicans, that believe a change in our mission to go into Baghdad – in the midst of a civil war – as well as a surge in ground troops . . . is the wrong way to go, and I believe it will have the opposite – I repeat – opposite effect the president intends.”
Senator Biden could not have been more wrong in his decision or his prediction on the effects of the surge. It’s worth adding that Biden certainly hasn’t been wrong on everything having to do with Iraq; to his credit, he understood early on that we had too few troops in Iraq. Yet when the President finally did what Biden had been arguing for, Biden became a leading oppositional figure. In fact, Senator Biden was among the most visible opponents of the most successful strategic change that was made during the war, thereby undermining the claim that “few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S.” And as the evidence of the surge’s success grew, Biden was advocating the Democrat’s plan to rapidly withdrawal most combat troops. In September 2007, for example, Biden was asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace if the Democratic Congress were able to force the president’s hand to pull out most of the troops from Iraq, wouldn’t al Qaeda would play this as a huge victory and a defeat for the U.S.? Biden responded this way:
No, I don’t. I think the rest of the world would say they’re finally getting smart. I think the European allies would say they’re finally getting it right. I think, in fact, the regional parties would begin to think, “Whoa, these guys are starting to figure this out.”
So Biden opposed the surge when it was proposed – and continued opposing it even as it began to bear fruit. And as the evidence of progress grew, he seemed to twist himself in a pretzel trying to explain away what he predicted could not occur.
Arguing that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S. is an impossible claim to sustain in light of the last year. Only those who have bought into the narrative that Iraq is irredeemably lost (despite the evidence) will even attempt to make this case. And the notion that an American defeat will strengthen America is Orwellian. A defeat would be a defeat and a disaster – and thanks to the remarkable events of the last 17 months, the outcome of Iraq rests in large measure on what we do. We can prevail there, but only if we don’t lose our nerve and undo a strategy that, by every conceivable metric, is working. Yet that is what Dionne and Biden are advocating. In this instance, they ought to be ignored.