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Strategic Planning

Senator Joe Biden discusses his run for the presidency, his plan for Iraq and why he says this administration is lying.


Never one to parse words, U.S. Senator Joe Biden, one of the most outspoken of war critics, has his own plans for winning the war. Along with being a pragmatist, the Delaware Democrat is prone to quoting passages from Yeats, perhaps a reflection of his own Irish heritage. In the poem "An Eastern Rising," he sees a similarity between that time and our own. In his deep voice, Biden recites, "Are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."

Biden says he's outraged and impassioned by what he sees as the current administration's squandering of young lives, both American and Iraqi, in a badly planned war. Loss of life weighs heavily on the senator. His first wife and infant daughter died in a car accident shortly after he was elected to his first term in the Senate. After 33 years in his seat, Biden has acknowledged intentions to run for the presidency. A 2008 run would be his second such campaign--he ran for president in '88, but then withdraw from the race.

Chicago Life: What have your six trips to Iraq taught you?

Joe Biden: We should be coming up with a plan, which is now two years overdue. I mean these guys have screwed this up so badly. This is not Monday morning quarterbacking. I've written about this contemporaneously for the last two and a half years. There are four things we have to do: One is to get a political consensus so when the constitution is ratified it becomes a document for uniting the country rather than a document as a rationale for civil war. Number two, you get the ministries functioning and get competent people involved. That would require us to send more of our civilians to aid the personnel there, as well as take the British up on the offer they made about taking responsibility for providing their bureaucrats to get Iraq ministries up and working. Three, you have to change the way in which we are dealing with reconstruction so that we get the sewage out of people's front yards and get the electrical grid working. You need to have Iraqis doing this. We are spending 40 cents of every dollar on these types of projects, but we are not employing Iraqis. Iraq has a serious unemployment problem.

Chicago Life: And the fourth?

Joe Biden: We need to rapidly change or increase the way we are training Iraqis. I've had a running argument that has been very public between me and Cheney and Rumsfeld about this. They are just not telling the truth. They said that there are 219,000 trained Iraqis, but there are no more than 1,000 trained, and there are a maximum of 20,000 partially trained.

Chicago Life: Can all this be done?

Joe Biden: I think we have a 50/50 chance of making it a success and that will be determined within the next few months. And we need to let other countries help us. For example, the Germans offered to train an officer corp, and we said, no. The Egyptians offered to train 30,000 Iraq soldiers. We said, no. It has been absolutely mindless the way in which we have spit on the rest of the world as if we think we won a prize. No matter what happens, no matter whether we do well or poorly in the next six months, we are incapable of keeping the 139,000 to 159,000 troops in Iraq. We do not have the ability to do that unless we give up the volunteer army. Everybody knows we're going to draw down at least 50,000 troops in 2006. The question is what do we leave behind. Have we traded a dictator for chaos or have we traded a dictator for the beginnings of a stable Iraq government?

Chicago Life: Can we just declare victory and leave like we did in Vietnam?

Joe Biden: We are paying a very heavy price for Bush's failure, a very heavy price, and that's real. Our liberal friends are wrong in thinking that we can walk away. This is not Vietnam where we can walk away, and there won't be any consequences. We walk away from here--and we may have to because there is not a winning strategy--and we will find there's a Bush-fulfilling prophesy--a concentration of terrorists, a civil war and regional wars. Soon the American people may very well be presented with the classic conundrum. Because of the absolute incompetence in the way this war has been managed, do we continue to lose American lives or leave and face dire consequences? It is horrifying.

Chicago Life: How serious are you about running for president?

Joe Biden: The question my wife and my closest friends ask me is not why would you want to run realizing it's a long shot. It's why would you want to win and take over after all that has been going on for the last eight years. In my 33 years as a U.S. senator I have never been both so disturbed and hopeful in my country as I am right now. If you start to catalogue all of what's going on such as the deficit, our international standing, Iraq, education and health care, some might say this is insoluble.

Chicago Life: And you don't?

Joe Biden: Not when you take a look at where the American people are in their attitudes right now. And if you look at how other generations have been in this same position. Every single time that they've been challenged by their leadership, they have risen to it. Here is what I think about when I think about 9/11: I don't just think about those planes going into the buildings--I think about those pictures afterwards. People [were] lined up for six or seven blocks to give blood. And I think about now, after Katrina, how people helped out. My 35-year-old son showed up in an SUV, and my wife got in the car, and they drove for 29 hours and worked for five days handing out water and clothing. And they're just a few of so many who are so damn ready to deal with these problems. America is ready to do it. People are prepared to take the time, the effort and make the sacrifices to have security and health insurance. But what did the president do? He says go to war, and here's the biggest tax cut in history, so fly and shop. I kidded him one time with that song "Don't Worry Be Happy." Like no one has to make any sacrifices. The country knows differently.

Chicago Life: What would you most like to see happen?

Joe Biden: We need a national health care policy. That requires a fundamental mindset change from the one this administration has. But it's not like you have to go and reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of really bright people who have worked on this. We need to get Americans back to work and in good jobs, which means making sure that we offer them the best education and training possible. We need to get back on track. There is so much we need to do, but it can be done. o

Published: February 01, 2006
Issue: Winter 2006