Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the first prominent Democrat to formally announce his intention to run for president in 2008, said Tuesday the U.S. military is overextended in Iraq and President Bush’s overly upbeat assessments of the conflict have created a “credibility chasm” that can be closed only if the president speaks in more candid and stark terms about the situation.
The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who recently returned from his fifth visit to Iraq, also said that he thinks it will be at least two years before the United States can reasonably expect to complete its mission in Iraq and that the U.S. military needs more help from other nations.
“We don’t have many more American forces to be able to deploy,” he said in a 44-minute speech at the Brookings Institution. “That’s why we need outside help.”
Biden said the president should ask NATO allies to put together as many as 5,000 troops to help guard Iraq’s borders, and take France, Egypt and Jordan up on offers to help train Iraqi forces.
Biden’s remarks came two days after he announced on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he intends to run for president and that he will spend the next several months exploring whether he can generate enough support to go forward.
He demurred Tuesday when asked how pivotal a role the war might play in the next presidential race, but he said he was not seeking to undercut Bush, who is in his second term and cannot seek re-election.
Contradicting many members of his own party, Biden agreed with the Republican administration’s position that that the president should not set a timetable for withdrawal because that would only play into the hands of insurgents.
But Biden said Bush should make public what his goals are in terms of security, governance, reconstruction and getting other nations to contribute money, resources and strategy _ and volunteer to report the progress on each of those goals once a month to Congress as a way to regain credibility with the American people.
“The disconnect between the administration’s rhetoric and the reality on the ground has opened not just a credibility gap but a credibility chasm” that is undermining support for U.S. efforts in Iraq, Biden said. He cited polls that show nearly six in 10 Americans now want to begin withdrawing troops and less than half feel the war has made them safer from terrorism.
Biden rejected the idea that Americans are merely frustrated with the death toll for U.S. soldiers, now past 1,700. Instead, he said, it is a matter of Americans feeling they aren’t being leveled with, don’t understand the big picture or fearing that the deaths have been in vain.
“No foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people,” he said.
The timing of Biden’s speech also coincides with increased criticism from a handful of Republicans but mostly from Democrats of the president’s strategy in Iraq and of the management of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where a number of human rights violations against suspected terrorists have been alleged.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and several of her colleagues on Tuesday called for the creation of an independent commission to investigate detainee abuses reported at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. A White House spokesman rejected the idea, saying the Department of Defense was the appropriate body to investigate such allegations.
The White House did not comment on Biden’s speech, but spokesman Ken Lisaius said, “This president has been upfront and forthright with the American people about the challenges we face in Iraq. For someone to suggest otherwise, I’d suggest they’re either ill-informed or attempting to paint a picture that is not quite accurate.”
Biden’s remarks presumably came as little surprise to the White House. Biden said National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley sought him out for a briefing after the senator’s most recent visit to Iraq.
Biden has long been critical of the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq, and last year was considered to be a likely candidate for secretary of state had Democrat John Kerry won his bid for president. Biden also has been at the front of a Democratic campaign blocking confirmation of the president’s nominee to the United Nations, John Bolton, demanding more information about his record as undersecretary of state.
Recent polls show Biden a distant fourth among potential Democratic candidates for president. A Fox News poll from June 14-15 showed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in the lead with 44 percent among Democrats, followed by last year’s nominee, John Kerry, his running mate, John Edwards, and, at 6 percent, Biden. A Marist College poll from April showed the same order among Democratic contenders, and gave Biden 7 percent.
Biden had presidential ambitions in 1988, but his pursuit of his party’s nomination was cut short. He dropped his bid after it was revealed that a stump speech of his had lifted passages from a speech by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, without attribution. Biden also faced an accusation _ of which he was later cleared _ that in his youth he had plagiarized in a law school essay.