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Sen. Biden Addresses Senate

Aired January 28, 2003 - 12:21   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go live to Washington, D.C. to the Senate floor where Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is addressing the Senate.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: ... 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. On December 8, 2002, I was in Qatar being briefed by General Franks, witnessing the preparation for 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 activists, 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, to have tens of thousands -- I predict over 75,000 American forces remaining in Iraq a minimum -- a minimum of a year and a half, and I predict five years after we secure victory, 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 million -- 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 am not speaking from classified reports, if Saddam and his 120,000 to 50,000 Republican Guard, the only ones we're really worried about the 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 Israeli knocking down a building, or seeing a child killed in the cross-fire. 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 two, five, 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 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'i in the south, denying them food or medicine, and even using chemical weapons against them as Saddam has done in the past, and I witnessed -- 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, and 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 has 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 ten years ago.

There are selfish economic motives on the part of some of our countries -- 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 powerful military -- 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 would all resent if tomorrow states -- 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 will not say 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 is 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. I think wrong. It matters what other nations think because our most basic, immediate interest 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 do you 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 argue 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 proffered by some in the civilian Defense Department saying if we move in the face of world public opinion, the rest of the world 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 where 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 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to proceed for five more minutes with the indulgence of the chair?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll reserve the right to object. Would the senator mind if I made a unanimous consent request?

DURBIN: Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that requests for committees to meet during today's session in the Senate, I have three of them, be printed in the Record. They've all had the approval of the majority and minority leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

O'BRIEN: As the Senate shifts into procedural matters, we've been listening to the words of Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, setting the stage for one of the most anticipated State of the Union speeches in a long while.


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