Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements


Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, as President Bush prepares to address the nation on the state of the Union, let me stand to state the obvious, at a precipice of a momentous decision—war, war, war with Iraq.

The American people, and the world, for that matter, are waiting to hear what the president's decision is and his rationale for it. We're waiting to hear a clear explanation of why war may be the only remaining alternative and what will be expected of them, not only in winning the war, but what will be expected of the American people for us to win the peace.

A generation ago, I and my entire generation learned a very, very important lesson. That lesson was, no matter how brilliant or how well thought-out a foreign policy may be, it cannot be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. And today there has been no informed consent.

That is not a criticism. It's just an objective observation, for the president to date has not had the requirement, in the hope of avoiding war, to inform the American people in detail of what the consequences of the war will be and what will be expected of them.

To date, the American people only know that Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator who has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and that he is a man that invaded Kuwait and we expelled him. They are unsure as to whether or not he is an imminent threat; that is, a threat to those security moms, not soccer moms, who are in their living rooms and worried about the health of their children and the safety of their home.

The American people are confused, I would respectfully suggest, by the president's talk and the administration's talk of a new doctrine of preemption and whether or not this is the basis upon which we're arguing we should act or whether we're acting to enforce essentially a peace agreement, a peace agreement signed by Saddam Hussein at the end of the Kuwaiti war that said, "In return for me being able to stay in power, I commit to do the following things."

They're under the impression, the American people, because of the signals being sent by the secretary of Defense and his civilian subordinates, that this war will be short, essentially bloodless, and, just as in 1991, Johnny will come marching home again in several weeks, if not several months, after a decisive, bloodless military victory.

The American people are assuming that we will lead a very broad coalition of other nations and have the world behind us in our effort. They further assume, contrary very much to the hard evidence, that the defeat of Saddam Hussein will be a major setback for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. In short, they're under the assumption that one of the reasons why we're moving against Saddam is that we will literally make terrorist actions much less probable in the United States of America than they are today. For why else would we use all this power we've assembled in the Gulf to go after Iraq rather than using all this power to go after Saddam Hussein (sic/means Osama bin Laden) in Afghanistan and in northwestern Pakistan, where he most probably is, according to our intelligence community?

So they put it together. They say, "Obviously the president wouldn't take 250,000 forces, invade, if we must, Iraq if he didn't think that would materially affect what I, as an American man or woman, think is the greatest threat to me, another 9-11."

They also assume, I believe, Mr. President, contrary to any hard evidence, that Saddam Hussein is months away from developing a nuclear weapon that could strike American soil, for which he has no capacity, nor any reasonable prospect in the future will he have any capacity to send a nuclear weapon airborne from Iraq to the United States.

And lastly, they seem to think that the financial costs of this war will be manageable and not cause any further economic disruption. For why else, for the first time in American history, has the president of the United States, calling for war, the possibility of war involving 250,000 American troops, at the very same time he's going to call tonight for a $650 billion tax cut? That has never been done in the history of the United States of America. So obviously they think that the president wouldn't do that unless this is going to be pretty costless, this war.

In short, I don't think the American people have been told honestly what will be expected of them and what additionally may be asked of them if things don't go so well. And I think they will go well. I'm one who has not been happy with the way we've proceeded, who thinks this war will be prosecuted in a way that will absolutely, to use the expression younger people use, blow the mind of the world in terms of our military prowess. But it may not. It may not.

So why is it so critical to inform the American people? Why, beyond their democratic right to know, is it so vital? I'll answer that by telling you a story. In December 2002, I was in Qatar being briefed by General Franks, witnessing the preparation for a war and the war games were being carried on.

There were assembled in this secure room a gigantic hangar with a movie screen literally that was larger than the size of the wall behind the presiding officer, probably somewhere around 30 feet high and 40 feet wide. There were 200 generals in that room. I've never seen so many stars in my life, other than when I was a little kid lying on a bank looking up at a crystal-clear night in the middle of the summer.

And I was asked, after being briefed by these warriors, I was asked whether or not I would address the assembled crowd of all active military personnel planning this war. These men and women, to a person, were ready to go and were secure in their knowledge that they would successfully complete their mission, if asked to, by defeating Saddam Hussein, if ordered to do so.

What they were unsure of was us, the politicians, and whether we were willing to tell the American people exactly what was likely to be asked of them and were the American people willing to continue to give them the support they were going to need over a long haul, not the short haul. And it will be a long haul, regardless of how quickly and successfully we wage this war.

For those fighting men and women in that room know it's going to be necessary to stay in Iraq for a long time, that tens of thousands—I predict over 75,000 American forces remaining in Iraq a minimum of a year and a half, and I predict five years, after we secure a people.

And they wanted to know whether or not the American people knew that, for they don't want to be over there a year from now when a debate comes up and it's between another $20 billion to stay in Iraq and $20 billion for education or for a tax cut. We have no right to put them in that squeeze again, as happened a generation ago.

They also wanted to know that if Saddam, as some suggest—and I'm revealing nothing; I'm not speaking from classified reports—if Saddam and his 120,000 to 150,000 Republican Guards, the only ones we're really worried about their capacity, if they retreat to Baghdad, a city, a city of 5 million people, are the American people prepared to continue to support our military when they see the inevitable happen—innocent women and children being killed?

So we know what will happen. We know, if they retreat to Baghdad, they'll retreat to hospitals, apartment complexes. And our fighting women and men, if this happens—and it's not sure it will—would have to go door to door.

They were worried that the response would be the same response that occurs seeing Israelis knocking down a building or seeing a child killed in a crossfire. They're worried that they will become the bad guys, particularly, as I said, if the Republican Guard falls back to a city of 5 million people. Imagine going house to house in Philadelphia or Houston, rooting out 2-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 30-, 50-, 70,000 fighters.

I told them that I believe that this generation and the American people would pay whatever price and pledge their support to them, but only if they had informed consent. But that has not been done yet. And it must be done. For while it's reasonable to expect the best, it would be irresponsible not to prepare for the worst.

Iraq could lash out against Israel, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait in an effort to start a wider war. It could use weapons of mass destruction against our troops or its neighbors. It could destroy its oil fields and those of its neighbors. It could start giving away its weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

It could create a humanitarian nightmare among the Kurds in the north and the Shi'a in the south, denying them food or medicine, and even using chemical weapons against them, as Saddam has done in the past and I, eyewitness, saw for myself when I met the survivors a month ago in northern Iraq.

Maybe no one of these unintended consequences will occur, but there's a decent chance that one or more will. And we must put every chance on our side and prepare the American people for what is bad as well as what is good. Hopefully that will be done tonight or sometime soon by the president, but not after the fact.

The world, our allies, also are waiting for a clear explanation of why war. I just returned from the World Economic Forum and found myself confronted with the most uniform and significant anti-American sentiment that I've ever encountered in my career of 30 years dealing with foreign leaders abroad. Not a single American diplomat, elected official, American journalist, businessman or labor leader would disagree with the assessment I just gave you.

But it raises several questions that I think need to be answered. Why do they feel this way? Why should it matter? And if it does matter, what should we do about it? Why?

Well, there are multiple reasons, and my pointing them out to a predominantly non-American audience of hundreds, if not thousands, of world leaders was not always appreciated the last four days, let alone agreed with.

Let me give you some of the reasons why they feel the way they do, not all of which are legitimate by any means. There's a lack of strong leadership in their respective countries that's been unwilling to tell their people the truth about Saddam Hussein and the commitment their country and the world made to deal with him when he sued for peace over 10 years ago.

There are selfish economic motives on the part of some of our allies with regard to their favored position with regard to oil and telecom and scores of other areas.

Another reason is a resentment of America's predominant position as the world's most powerful military and economic nation, as well as our critical dominance, cultural dominance, from Coca-Cola to rap music to English on the Internet, all of which they resent in the same way we'd all resent if, tomorrow, our states predominantly said, "We're going to switch to a different language because a predominant number of people in our state speak that language."

This is compounded by the belief that the president is being pushed by the right wing of his administration to further leverage this predominant position into an even more dominant position relative to the rest of the world.

It's also compounded by an inability to contribute much in the way of a fight either by augmenting our military strength or their own, as well as a seething resentment at our unwillingness to use the forces they offered us in Afghanistan after declaring an Article V breach had occurred under our NATO treaty.

With regard to Iraq specifically, many don't see Saddam as a credible threat to them. Their people don't believe our assertions. They say he's no longer—they say he no longer has the weapons that we know he has; that, in the aftermath of victory, they believe, we'll not stay until there's a stable government in Iraq, as we have not stayed in Afghanistan sufficiently.

And the resulting power struggle within Iraq, they believe, in their region, will have disastrous consequences for their government because they've all heard this administration say it will not be engaged in nation-building. And they all know and everyone knows we're going to have to be engaged in nation-building after we win the war.

All of this is compounded by the obvious discussion within the administration, the announcement of a new doctrine of preemption that's yet to explain to us, let alone them; the appearance of a great power being petulant when a president stands before the world and says, "I am growing impatient, I'm getting tired"; the apparent contradiction in the rest of the world's mind of the treatment of the threat from northern Korea, which has weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, has a record of proliferation and has violated international agreements, and we're talking to them, whereas in Iraq it has no nuclear weapons, we can't find the weapons of mass destruction, and there's scant evidence of proliferation.

They say, "You speak with two different voices"; the feeling that the administration has acted without serious consultation, acted unilaterally and unceremoniously withdrawing from further negotiations on international structures such as climate control, criminal courts and others.

"Isn't the only thing that matters is whether we make it work in the long run?" is what they hear from this administration, some. "Won't it all disappear?" we hear some in this administration say, because everybody loves a winner. Right. But I think wrong.

It matters what other nations think, because our most basic (immediate ?) interests cannot be fully secured without a longer-term cooperation with these other nations, because we must convince them and not coerce them.

Let me give just a few examples of what our most immediate vital interests are: Crushing international terror. How can you do that without cooperation from the intelligence service from Jakarta to Berlin, from Paris to Beijing, from Moscow to Rio? Preventing North Korea from escalating its nuclear programs and proliferation of weapons, doing so without a war—how can we succeed without the cooperation of Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, other than through war?

All of this leads to the perception that some within the administration argued that it's better to go it alone. They over there believe that is the president's position. I don't believe it is his position. But what do they hear? They hear the theories proferred by some in the civilian Defense Department saying, "If we move in the face of world public opinion, the rest of the world will know we'll mean business. And the more we do it alone, the more we'll impress upon the rogue nations that they'd better change or they're next."

They also hear us saying that Europe is tired, indecisive, ultimately unwilling to do what's necessary to keep the peace, and it commands too much of our resources and our attention, particularly, as the secretary of Defense said, the "old" Europe, France and Germany. They keenly resent these characterizations.

I think it's an accurate description. I think this is, though, an inaccurate description of what President Bush himself is. I do believe, though, that his choice of words and failure to clearly explain the choices we have and the basis for action when we do act has been dangerous to our standing in the world, which leads me to a second question: Why should it matter what our standing is, what the rest of the world thinks of us?

Well, I believe it matters a lot, for preventing a war in the subcontinent between India and Pakistan matters. But as we announce a unilateral pronouncement of a new doctrine of preemption—whatever that means is yet to be explained—that leads to the conclusion in India and Pakistan, if we can act preemptively, why can they not act preemptively against one another?

Conveying our values to the rest of the world so as to diminish the misunderstanding of our motives runs constantly into some of the assertions that come from some in the administration. Specifically with regard to Iraq, let me give you an example of how, if we don't do it right—could I ask unanimous consent to proceed for five more minutes, with the indulgence of the chair?

SEN. TED STEVENS (R-AK): Reserving the right to object. Would the senator mind if I made a unanimous-consent request?

SEN. BIDEN: Not at all.

(Unanimous-consent request.)

SEN. BIDEN: Thanks, Senator. I ask unanimous consent --

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL, PRESIDENT PRO TEM): Without objection, the senator from Delaware.

SEN. BIDEN: -- that the necessary interruption to my speech be placed after I finish my speech, if that's possible.

SEN. SESSIONS: Without objection, so ordered.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, let me get right to it, Mr. President. It matters what other nations think and it matters that, although we can force other nations to do things, it matters how we do it.

Let me give you an example. There's a new government in Turkey, a newly-elected, formerly-outlawed Islamic party. Now, that Islamic party recently won an election. The prime minister is a guy named Gul. The real operative in that party is a guy named Erbakan. And they, who are leading this Islamic party, they have decided that they want to have Turkey remain a secular state and they want to be integrated into Europe with regard to the EU, which is very much in the interest of the United States of America, very much in our interest that that happen. We do not want an Islamic state. We want a secular state looking West.

So what's the problem? We can offer $5 billion and essentially buy their support to allow us to launch from Turkey. But if we do that in the absence of a worldwide consensus that what we're doing is right, we may meet our immediate goal and lose a whole heck of a lot.

Let me give you an example. Right now in Turkey, which I recently visited -- (not even ?) the presiding officer knows this—over 85 percent of the Turkish people are unalterably opposed to a war with Iraq and unalterably opposed to Turkey cooperating in any way with us being able to successfully prosecute that war.

So what happens if we go to war and we launch from Turkey with the support of the new Islamic leadership without having changed the minds of the people in Turkey and/or the world to suggest that this is not merely us but it is sanctioned by the world that we do this?

Well, the roughly 35 to 40 percent of this Islamic party that's radical Islamic will play to its populist instincts and cause incredible trouble for the existing administration in Turkey and, I believe, force them to move away from their commitment to a secular state.

So that old biblical proverb, "What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul"—paraphrasing it, what does it profit us to move prematurely on Iraq from Turkey if the end result is we radicalize a government that is represented by an Islamic party? What have we gained?

Let me begin—let me ask you the third question, and I'll conclude. So what should we do? I've argued that it matters what other nations think, out of our self-interest. So what should we be doing?

Well, let me begin by saying that, given where we are now, coupled with Saddam Hussein being in material breach—that is a fancy phrase for saying not explaining what he's done with the weapons of massive destruction we know he has—those two things may force us to choose between the better of two not-so-pleasant options.

The option I would choose in this circumstance, if we do not get the world's support, is that Saddam is in material breach of the latest U.N. resolution. Yesterday's damning report by the U.N. inspector makes clear again Saddam's contempt for the world, and it has vindicated the president's decision last fall to go to the U.N.

But the legitimacy of the Security Council is at stake, as well as the integrity of the U.N. So if Saddam does not give up those weapons of mass destruction and the Security Council does not call for the use of force, I think we have little option but to act with a larger group of willing nations if possible, alone if we must.

But make no mistake about it, Mr. President: We will pay a price if that's the way we go. We will have no option, but we will pay a price, a price that could be significantly reduced if, from this moment on, we act, in my humble opinion, more wisely.

What should we be doing from this point on? And I'll be very brief, and I'll expand on this later. One, we should lower the rhetoric. We should not appear to be the petulant nation wondering why the rest of the recalcitrant world will not act with us, showing our impatience. It does not suit a great nation well. It would not suit my father, were he alive, well. It does not suit someone of stature well. And we are a nation of stature.

Two, we should make the case not only privately to our partners by sharing more proof of Saddam's crimes and possession, but also to our people, and in turn to the whole world. Legally he's in breach. But going to war based on that legal breach will cost us in ways that we would not have to pay if we go to war with the rest of the world understanding that there is something there beyond the failure to account.

The third thing we should do is give inspectors more time, for their very presence in Iraq diminishes the possibility of sharing weapons of mass destruction with terrorists or continuing their quest for nuclear weapons. Inspectors are not a permanent solution. We know from our experience of the last decade that Iraq will try to make their mission impossible.

But we also know that sustaining a massive deployment of troops is expensive and hard on our men and women in uniform. But right now, the inspectors are helping us build support for our policy, both at home and abroad, and we should let them keep working in the near term.

The fourth thing we should do is articulate clearly and repeatedly not only the legal basis for our action, if we must move, but our commitment to stay until we have a stable Iraq. And that means the following.

The president should state clearly tonight we are not acting on a doctrine of preemption if we act; we are acting on enforcement of a U.N. resolution that's the equivalent of a peace treaty, which is being violated by the signator of that treaty. And we have a right to do that, and it's the world's problem, but not what you hear out of the civilian Defense Department, this cockamamie notion of a new doctrine of preemption, which no one understands.

Two, our objective has to be clearly stated as eliminating weapons of mass destruction and not the destruction of Iraq, for that is the president's purpose; and, thirdly, that we will, in fact, participate in nation-building—nation-building; that we'll seek U.N. support, that we'll tell the American people what we're asking of them and why, for they have no idea now what's expected of them.

They don't know what the cost will be to remove Saddam, and they should; how many troops will have to stay in Iraq to secure the country, and we have estimates; and what will it take to get a representative government that lives up to international obligations.

Can we count on our friends and allies to share the burden? Can we afford to attack Iraq, fully fund homeland security, cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and finish the unfinished war on terrorism in Afghanistan and other places?

These questions should never be excuses for inaction, but they must be answered if we want the American people's support and we want to avoid mistakes of the past.

I thank the chair and I yield the floor.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top