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BIDEN: The Bush-McCain Continuum in Foreign Policy

Location: Washington, DC

BIDEN: The Bush-McCain Continuum in Foreign Policy

BIDEN: 'When it comes to the most urgent national security challenges we face - Iraq, Iran and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - last week made it clear that stylistically and substantively, there is no day light between George Bush and John McCain.'

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) delivered a speech entitled, "The Bush-McCain Continuum in Foreign Policy" today at the Center for American Progress.

The speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

I want to thank John Podesta for bringing me here today and the entire team at the Center for American Progress for the work you do every day to move our country in a better direction.

We often talk about post-presidencies. John has had the most successful post-chief-of staff-dom I can think of. His work outside of the White House has been as important as his work inside the White House. John, progressives everywhere are in your debt.

Last week, we learned a lot about the style of the campaign our friends across the aisle plan to run. More important, we learned a lot about the substance of the foreign policy George Bush has been conducting and that John McCain would continue.


An Emerging, Ugly Pattern

The first thing last week revealed is an emerging, ugly pattern of political attacks masquerading as policy.

It started last month, when Senator McCain said: "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. So apparently has Danny Ortega and several others… If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly."

His surrogates repeated the charge.

Then, last week, the President unleashed a long distance swift boat attack on Senator Obama and Democrats in the Israeli Knesset: This White House long ago perfected the art of stringing together sentences that seem unobjectionable when read in isolation, but send a very different message when read together.

In the space of three paragraphs, the President cited the outrageous statements of Iran's leader about Israel; said "some" believe we should negotiate with "terrorists and radicals"; invoked "an American senator" in 1939 who said that talking to Hitler might have prevented World War II and the Holocaust; and tied it up in a neat bow as "the false comfort of appeasement."

Then, the White House told the press on background that the remarks were a reference to calls by Senator Obama and other Democrats to engage with Iran, only to say later on the record that the President intended no such thing.

Karl Rove must be proud.

What is stunning is that this is the only president I know - and I've served with seven - who would engage in this kind of activity while overseas in the Knesset.

What is disheartening is that John McCain, a man I admire, endorsed the President's remarks instead of repudiating them.

The President's remarks reveal a man totally out of touch with his own administration - and with a long bi-partisan tradition in our foreign policy.

The day before the President spoke, his own Secretary of Defense called for engaging Iran. His Secretary of State has done so repeatedly.

The President himself authorized American diplomats to meet with their Iranian counterparts about Iraq. And he struck a deal with Libya's Qadafi and wrote polite letters to North Korea's Kim Jong Il, both of whom would make most people's top ten lists of "terrorists and radicals."

The President was right to engage Libya and North Korea… just as his cabinet officials are right to want to engage Iran… just as Presidents like Nixon and Reagan were right to engage the Chinese and the Soviets. The President was wrong to launch a political attack from abroad. John McCain was wrong to support him. It's beneath the office of the Presidency.


Political Attacks Masquerading as Policy

What explains this pattern of attacks masquerading as policy?

I believe the purpose is to hide the failure of the foreign policy President Bush has pursued and that John McCain would continue and to distract the American people with the politics of smear and fear.

I'm equally convinced it will not work because that failure is so plain for all to see.

Under George Bush's watch, Iran, not freedom, has been on the march:

* Iran is much closer to the bomb;
* Iran's influence in Iraq is expanding;
* Iran's terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant in Lebanon and the country is on the brink of civil war.

Beyond Iran, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - the people who actually attacked us on 09-11 - are stronger now than at any time since 9-11.
Hamas controls Gaza and launches rockets at Israel every day.

And 140,000 American troops remain stuck in Iraq with no end in sight.

Because of the policies George Bush has pursued and John McCain would continue, the entire Middle East is more dangerous. The United States and our allies, including Israel, are less secure.


Dealing with Iran

Last week, John McCain was very clear. He ruled out talking to Iran. He said that Senator Obama was "naïve and inexperienced" for advocating engagement. "What is it he wants to talk about?" John asked.

If John can't answer the question, we are in trouble.

There's a lot to talk about, starting with Iran's nuclear program, its support for Shiite militia in Iraq, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

What's John's plan for dealing with these dangers? You either talk; you go to war; or you maintain the unacceptable status quo. If John has ruled out talking, that means we're going to get more of what we've had for most of the Bush administration - or worse.

First, let's end this false argument about "pre-conditions." Senator Obama is right that the United States should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without insisting that Iran first freeze the program - the very subject of any negotiations. We didn't insist that the Soviets freeze their nuclear arsenal before we talked to them about arms control. The net effect of demanding pre-conditions that Iran rejects is this: we get no results and Iran gets closer to the bomb.

Second, let's stop the Bush/McCain fixation on regime change. We all abhor the regime, but think about the logic: renounce the bomb - and when you do, we're still going to take you down. The result is that Iran accelerated its efforts to produce fissile material.

Instead of regime change, we should focus on conduct change. We should make it very clear to Iran what it risks in terms of isolation if it continues to pursue a dangerous nuclear program but also what it stands to gain if it does the right thing.

That will require keeping our allies in Europe, as well as Russia and China, on the same page as we ratchet up pressure.

It also requires a more sophisticated understanding that by publicly engaging Iran - including through direct talks - we can exploit cracks within the ruling elite and between Iran's rulers and its people, who are struggling economically and stifled politically.

The Iranian people need to know that their government, not the United States, is choosing confrontation over cooperation.

Our allies and partners need to know that the United States will go the extra diplomatic mile - if we do, they are much more likely to stand with us if diplomacy fails.

The Bush-McCain saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable.

It forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders.

It spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right from American wallets into Tehran's pockets.

The worst nightmare for a regime that thrives on isolation and tension is an America ready, willing and able to engage. Since when has talking removed the word "no" from our vocabulary? It's amazing how little faith President Bush and John McCain have in themselves and in America.


No Plan for Iraq

It is time for a total change in Washington's world view. That will require more than a great soldier. It will require a wise leader.

Nowhere is this truer than in Iraq. The war stands like a boulder in the road between us and the credibility we need to lead in the world and the flexibility we require to meet our challenges at home.

Last week revealed that John McCain has no plan -- none -- to get us out of the mess the President has created in Iraq.

The same day that the President addressed the Knesset, Senator McCain talked about his vision for Iraq. John said that it is important for presidential candidates to "define their objectives and what they plan to achieve not with vague language but with clarity."

But then he painted a picture of where he hopes to be in Iraq by the end of his first term without a single sentence explaining how he would get there. It's beyond vague: John McCain is totally silent about how he would realize his rosy vision for 2013.

In his speech, Senator McCain predicted that by 2013, "the Iraq war has been won."
How? He doesn't say.

He foresaw that "Iraq [will be] a functioning democracy."

How? He doesn't say.

By 2013, John said that "civil war has been prevented, militias disbanded, the Iraqi security force is professional and competent."

How? He doesn't say.

John's crystal ball also reveals a "government of Iraq capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq." Right now, it can't even impose its authority in Baghdad.

How do we get from here to there? John is silent.


The McCain Plan for Iraq: Just Stay

There's a reason John is silent. John does have a plan - the very same plan that President Bush is pursuing: stay.

Stay in Iraq until we build a strong central government that secures the support of the people. Never mind that there is no trust within the government, no trust of the government by the people, no capacity on the part of the government to deliver basic security and services and little evidence the government in Baghdad will develop that trust and capacity any time soon.

Stay in Iraq until every last vestige of Iranian influence is eliminated

Stay in Iraq until every last member of "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is killed.

Stay in Iraq indefinitely.

In fact, when Senator McCain was asked whether his vision of the war being over by 2013 amounted to a timetable, he responded, "It's not a timetable; it's victory. It's victory, which I have always predicted. I didn't know when we were going to win World War II; I just knew we were going to win."

Like President Bush, John grounds his argument for a war with no end in his assessment of the dire consequences of drawing down our forces Iraq.

He argues that Iraq is the meeting point for two of the greatest threats to America: Al Qaeda and Iran.

It's an argument laden with irony. Who opened Iraq's door to Al Qaeda and Iran? President Bush. Who would keep it open? John McCain.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq" is a Bush-fulfilling prophecy: it wasn't there before the war, but it is there now.
As to Iran, its influence in Iraq went from zero to sixty when we toppled Saddam's Sunni regime and gave Shi'ite religious parties inspired and nurtured by Iran a path to power.

No matter how we got to this point, President Bush and Senator McCain argue that if we start to leave, it will further empower Al Qaeda and Iran.

I believe they are exactly wrong.

And so do a large number of very prominent retired military and national security experts who recently testified before the Foreign Relations Committee.

Would drawing down really strengthen ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq' and give it a launching pad to attack America?

Or would it help eliminate what little indigenous Iraqi support ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq' retains?

‘Al Qaeda in Iraq' is down to about 2000 Iraqis and a small number of foreigners whose almost exclusive focus is Iraq. When we draw down, the most likely result is that Iraqis of all confessions will stamp out its remnants - and we can retain a residual force in or near Iraq to help them finish the job.

What about Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan? If we draw down, would they be emboldened?

Or, to paraphrase the National Intelligence Estimate on Terrorism, would they lose one of their most effective recruiting tools -- the notion that we're in Iraq to stay, with permanent military bases and control over the oil?

And would they finally risk the full measure of America's might?

Senator McCain has taken a lot of heat for saying he would not mind if American troops stay in Iraq for a hundred years. The truth is, he was trying to make an analogy to our long term presence in peaceful post-war Germany, post-armistice Korea and post-Dayton Bosnia.

But Germany, Korea or Bosnia after the peace are nothing like Iraq today - with thousands of bombs, hundreds of American injured and dozens of American killed every month -- and there is little prospect Iraq will look like them anytime soon.

Worse, saying you're happy to stay in Iraq for one hundred years fuels exactly the kind of dangerous conspiracy theories about America's intentions throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds that aid radical recruitment and that we should be working to dispel.

That's why I have repeatedly written legislation barring permanent bases in Iraq and why Senators Jim Webb, Bob Casey and I wrote into the emergency budget now before the Senate a requirement that Congress approve any long term security agreements this administration negotiates with Iraq.

What about Iran?

The idea that we can wipe out every vestige of Iran's influence in Iraq is a fantasy. Even with 160,000 American troops in Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki, our ally in Baghdad greets Iran's leader with kisses. Like it or not, Iran is a major regional power and it shares a long border - and a long history - with Iraq.

Right now, Iran loves the status quo, with 140,000 Americans troops bogged down and bleeding, caught in a cross fire of intra Shi'a rivalry and Sunni-Shi'a civil war.

By drawing down, we can take away Iran's ability to wage a proxy war against our troops and force Tehran to concentrate on avoiding turmoil inside Iraq's borders and instability beyond them.


The Consequences of Leaving or the Costs of Staying?

We should debate the consequences of drawing down in Iraq.

But more important, we should talk about what both President Bush and Senator McCain refuse to acknowledge: the costs of staying.

The risks of drawing down are debatable. The costs of staying with 140,000 troops are knowable - and they get steeper every day:

* The continued loss of the lives and limbs of our soldiers;
* The strain on our troops and their families due to repeated, extended tours;
* The drain on our Treasury - $12 billion every month;
* The impact on the readiness of our armed forces - tying down so many troops that, as Army Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Richard Cody recently said, we don't have any left over to deal with a new emergency; and
* The inability to send enough soldiers to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al Qaeda has regrouped and is plotting new attacks.

When I visited Afghanistan in February, General McNeil, who commands the international force, told me that with two extra combat brigades - about 10,000 soldiers - he could turn around the security situation in the south, where the Taliban is on the move. But he can't get them because of Iraq.

Even when we do pull troops out of Iraq, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, says he would want to send them home for a year to rest and retrain before sending them to Afghanistan.

The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we put off the day when we fully join the fight against the real Al Qaeda threat and finally defeat those who attacked America seven years ago.

I believe we must focus our remaining energy and initiative in Iraq on achieving what virtually everyone agrees is the key to stability: a political power sharing agreement among its warring factions.

The only path to such a settlement is through a decentralized, federal Iraq that brings resources and responsibility down to the local and regional levels.

We need a diplomatic surge to get the world's major powers, Iraq's neighbors and Iraqis themselves invested in a sustainable political settlement.

Sixteen months into the military surge that President Bush ordered and Senator McCain embraced, we've gone from drowning to treading water. We are no closer to the President's stated goal of an Iraq that can defend itself, govern itself and sustain itself in peace. We're still spending $3 billion every week and losing 30 to 40 American lives every month.

We can't keep treading water without exhausting ourselves and doing great damage to our other vital interests around the world. That's what both the President and Senator McCain are asking us to do.

* * *

When it comes to the most urgent national security challenges we face - Iraq, Iran and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - last week made it clear that stylistically and substantively, there is no day light between George Bush and John McCain.

They are joined at the hip.

There would be no change with a McCain presidency and so there will be a real choice for Americans next November.

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