Senator Joe Biden.
Remarks by Senator Joe Biden
Joe Biden is the Senior Senator from Delaware, currently serving his sixth term.
He now chairs the Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Judiciary Committee.
Shortly after being first elected to the Senate in 1972, his wife and daughter died
in a traffic accident. His two sons Beau and Hunter recovered and Biden commuted
each day between Washington DC and Wilmington, Delaware to take care of them. Last year, his son Beau was elected Attorney General of Delaware.
Beau continues to serve as a Capitain in the Delaware National Guard.
Joe Biden briefly was a candidate in the 1988 Presidential election. Last January,
he declared his candidacy
in the 2008 Presidential election.
Biden recently addressed the National Jewish
Democratic Council's Washington
Stephen Greenberg introduced Biden as someone who shares
our values. While many doubt if Biden can break out of his second-tier candidate
status and win the Democratic primary, Greenberg says nobody doubts Biden could
win the general election. (Streaming
video is available.)
Senator Joe Biden:
Ladies and Gentlemen, last week we watched in total dismay the horrific events at
Virginia Tech. The one thing we Irish and Jews have in common, we’re big on guilt, but the other thing is we recognize heroism, truly heroic people. And my Mom, God love her, says of everything terrible something good will come if you look hard enough for it. It has been the story of the journey of the Jews throughout the centuries; otherwise, how could you even possible continue? So look what happened at Virginia Tech: a God-awful horrific event that defies rational explanation… but what did you see? You heard about a professor who survived the Holocaust, who literally threw his body in front of a door to block the gunman, while encouraging his students to jump out the windows to safety.
It reminded me of one of the two men I most admire in the world, Elie Wiesel (the other being Nelson Mandela), in describing the American liberators of freedom as a child. He said, "They gave us back our lives, and what I felt then from them will nourish me till the end of my days." What nourishes us all is the amazing strength of a selfless professor and all the students and teachers who in their darkest hour demonstrated this love and courage.
Firemen at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
But you know, just like what happened on 9/11, we are
going to tend to forget the names of even the perpetrators, but what you remember is those heroic acts; that grizzled fireman, coming out of the dust and debris with that determined look on his face. And with that single photograph, he lifted America off its knees, because it showed the determination and grit and courage of the people of NY, not just firemen, and it became synonymous with the United States. And I hope all of us can reflect now on how we can use our own powers to bring what you in this organization have been fighting for since you’ve been around: tolerance, respect, civility. Because not only our country, but the whole world needs a heavy dose of it right now.
Appealing to our better angels
My son Hunter and I were talking about the records at Bad Arolsen still not being made available to the surviving holocaust families who need to put a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. One of the things that all the psychologists among you will tell you is that ultimate closure only comes with ultimate exposure… at this point fifty million pages of documents still have not been made available! I have introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate to make them available. People deserve to know. And my hope is that that can be a catalyst to spur the rest of the world to join us in doing that.
But why do I bother to talk about any of this?
I think there is a need for us in the U.S. to begin to use the phrase that was used by Lincoln first: "to begin to appeal to our better angels." We as a nation have mortgaged under this Administration the very elements that have made us so different.
I will tell you a very quick story. I had been to Poland and ‘behind the Iron Curtain’ when it was still up. When the Curtain fell.…they wanted to join NATO, and although I’m the guy in the Senate [who is supposed] to push it, I said at Warsaw University to the intelligentsia, "I want to make clear to you the one thing that will prevent you from joining NATO is if you continue some of the anti-Semitic things that are going on in your country." And I got thousands of emails saying, "Why did I hinge everything on that?" Well, it is all about humanity. It is all about civility. It
is all about whether we are going to do what has made us strong.
Now when I talk to the President of the U.S., when he talks to me about, and he does quite frequently, about the moral imperatives and the Bible and the like, I reminded him that the walls of Jericho came down not as a consequence of Joshua’s armies, but as a consequence of Joshua’s trumpet; a metaphor for his ideas and ideals. That is what brought the wall down. And ladies and gentlemen, I think the American people are ready to change course and the atmosphere of the last six years. All they need, in my view, is a leader who is prepared to act and appeal to their better angels.
In November of 2008, one of us may win the White House with 51% of the vote, but none of us can govern with only 51% of the vote….Fifty one percent of the vote will
not get us anywhere in dealing with the energy crisis, the healthcare crisis, dealing with the fact that middle class people are increasingly in jeopardy. It is like a billiard table where someone picked up the table six years ago and tilted it ever so slightly. It is awfully hard for them to make it.
Having come to the U.S. Senate when Richard Nixon was President, I never thought
I would hear another President defending his actions on the grounds that he is above the law…
So Ladies and Gentlemen we have to start dealing with the domestic issues in this country in a way that reestablishes who we are. Not only for our own sake, but for the sake of what we project around the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, the President has not only waged war on Iraq, he has waged war on our Civil Liberties. No matter how bad off we are in the world, the Administration continues to stay focused on just a couple of things.
One of those is a thing they call "tort reform." I call it "going back to the last
century." What they are about, if you think about it, is they want to change the Court, our civil liberties and our protections. Having come to the U.S. Senate when Richard Nixon was President, I never thought I would hear another President defending
his actions on the grounds that he is above the law… I remember \Nixon, out of office a couple of years, being interviewed by David Frost, and he was asked, "Mr. President, what makes your actions Constitutional?" He said, "If a President does it, it is
Look at what this President has said. Look at what they have done. They have engaged in an Orwellian twist of language; they have redefined "torture," they’ve redefined as appropriate rendition to countries that we put on the terrorist list. Bush thinks
that in order to fight terrorism he had a blank check, that there were no constraints on his actions.
Even if that were true, he has demonstrated that he does not have the wisdom to handle a blank check. But there is no ‘blank check.’
By doing what he has done, Bush has squandered the support of the world that immediately repaired to us after 9/11. He has made us less safe from terror and terrorism. That is not Joe Biden; that comes from the compilation report of the twelve major intelligence organizations of the U.S.A., not Joe Biden. Ladies and gentlemen, he has undermined our national values. You travel around the world --- I run into heads of state, foreign ministers, defense ministers, and the first thing they ask me about is Guantanamo. "Why is it open?" they ask me about Abu Graib. "Why didn’t we bulldoze it down to the ground?" Ladies and gentlemen, this has had an impact, not only at home, but abroad.
You want the brightest students in the world?
You need the brightest people in the world teaching them.
Look, we have got to attend to a lot of things, folks. You know, for 26 billion dollars per year as your President I can guarantee, as a first step toward universal healthcare, that every single child in America has health insurance. I just said that as an illustration; that is not a healthcare policy; that is an illustration. All of these issues are in our control.
Ladies and gentlemen, for three billion dollars a year I can attract young new teachers to the profession of teaching. In Japan, in Finland, in Sweden, in Germany, they pay their secondary education teachers and elementary teachers the same as they pay engineers. Ladies and gentlemen, you want the brightest students in the world? You need the brightest people in the world teaching them. It is simple stuff.
We have an Axis not of Evil, but an Axis of Oil.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for three billion dollars per year we could double our investment in renewable energy technology. Thirty-five percent of our oil comes from seven countries who have unstable leaders. Tomorrow morning Chavez could wake up and say, "That is it" and cause a crisis in America. There are six other countries as well.
We have an axis not of evil, but an Axis of Oil that’s tying our foreign policy in a way that we’re in knots, and we’re doing nothing about it. You know it does
not take a lot of money to have 100% of our cars running on flex fuel. Fifty percent of our major gas stations have alternative fuel pumps. Twenty-five percent of our fuels could be grown from our farms. We have to raise fuel economy standards.
If we just did one thing, if we just took in the USA the average mile requirements for automobiles that exist in Europe we’d end our dependence on foreign oil completely. Hear what I just said? You take it from 22 miles per gallon to 34, and the Axis of Oil loses its influence not on foreign policy, but on us.
We Democrats are too timid.
Why is no one saying it? Are we [Presidential candidates] all afraid of you, afraid to tell you the truth? We are afraid to say what the answer is? The problem I have
with my party is that we are too timid. That is my problem. There may be those of you who suggest I may be too blunt, and it may mean I am not the nominee. But guess what? I am not running for office to hear "Hail to the Chief", I am running for office to try to change the world.
The next President is going to have the opportunity to change the world; not make it perfect, not a utopia, but literally change the direction of the world. No President since Franklin Roosevelt has been put in that spot. None.
It is the most profound moment in modern American history; it is a profound opportunity,
but you have got to tell people the truth.
Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.
Look folks, at the end of the day you all know the score. As my Dad used to say, "Do not tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what you
We can not do any of what I have talked about and much more of what I didn’t talk about domestically, we can’t do any of it realistically unless we deal with this big boulder sitting in the middle of the road, and you know what it is? It’s called. Iraq. People say to me, ‘Why do you talk so much about Iraq?’ I talk so much about Iraq because until we end it responsibly our hands are tied.
All of our political energy, a significant part of our economic energy, all of our energy is focused on one thing. In order for us to regain our flexibility at home to deal with our problems as well as our credibility abroad, to deal with larger problems, and there are larger problems than Iraq, we have to settle Iraq. Right now we have no credibility abroad, and virtually no flexibility at home. This President took us to war without a need. The price we have paid for that war can be measured in the blood and treasure we have lost.
- 3,300 dead,
- more than 24,000 wounded,
- $1,400,000,000,000 in obligations if you count up what we are going to owe to those who are coming back for their lifetimes.
And by the way, my generation is not paid for, and even my son’s generation and granddaughter’s generation is not paid for, because we have not had the courage and mettle to step up to the ball and pay for what we say we think is important.
There is no possibility of a truly Democratic government in Iraq.
Ladies and gentlemen, the most improbable, not only did he send us with too few troops and too little protection for those we send and too little care for those who’ve come home. The most startling thing is that he sent us without a plan, any plan at all.
And ladies and gentlemen, everybody talks about the war and ending the war; everyone has tactical rationale for what they’re going to do about the war. But they all tend toward the same solution, from totally different ways. The premise that many of my Democratic friends are operating on, as well as my Republican friends, is there is possibility of having a strong central government in Iraq that is democratic. Hear me. There is no, none, nada, no possibility of that occurring.
Maliki does not have the desire, ability or intention to accomodate change.
So why does the President say "surge troops"? "Surge to give breathing room for Malaki to be able to work out a deal." When I met him this summer in my seventh trip there, I came back, you ask what I thought of him, and I said, "I do not think he has the desire to accommodate change, I do not think he has the ability even
if he did, and I do not think he has any intention." And I was criticized for being too harsh. How many of you think differently of that assessment at this point?
Ladies and gentlemen, Malaki is not a bad guy. He is in a really tough situation. And folks, even if you were the Lord Almighty, it would be awfully hard to figure
out how there is going to be a strong central government in Iraq, that is democratic and viewed as being able to meet the needs of this disparate community that calls itself Iraq.
And even my colleagues whom I love, some of the things they propose are things that are necessary, but they are not solutions, they are tactics. "Cap the forces!" "Cut
funding for this!" "For that!" None of them asks the question any responsible President has to be able to answer, "Then what?" After you surge, then what? After you cap, then what? After you cut, then what?
Decentralize the government of Iraq.
There is the possibility everyone acknowledges of a political settlement, that gives the major Iraqi groups confidence that they can protect their interests peacefully. Not through bombs and death squads, but by a political settlement. And the only way that is going to occur is if we decentralize the government of Iraq. If we do what Article I of their Constitution says, "we are a decentralized federal system."
I guess I am the only one that has read it, because I am the only one that has put out a specific plan. Did I put out a plan because I am the smartest guy on the block, the only one that understands this? The only reason no one else has put out a plan is if you put out a plan you get shot at. You become the target. But again, I
am not running for President to hear "Hail to the Chief," I am running for President to solve problems.
Unless we decentralize that central government, unless we give Iraqis local control over the fabric of their daily lives, unless we allow local police forces to be in cities that are essentially heterogeneous and those that are not - there has
already been 3.5 million people ethnically cleansed themselves; without a fundamental change in our policy, we are on a trajectory for disaster. For more detail of my plan, which is the only comprehensive one out there, go to
joebiden.com. I won’t bore you any more today with it.
But it leads me to the next piece.
Bush has not found the time to visit Israel during his Presidency.
If you can’t answer "then what?", how do you answer "What happens in the Middle East?" How do address the circumstances relating to Israel and the Palestinians? How do you deal with the issue in Lebanon? How do you deal with Iran? Tell me how you do that if you buy into this false choice in this town, which is either
- Do more of the same and leave it to the next President, or
- Leave and hope for the best.
Is that a foreign policy?
As this President has fought his war, he has also squandered the opportunity to promote the security of Israel, in my view; to secure Israel’s possibility of being at peace with her neighbors.
I can not fathom how our current President has not found the time to visit Israel during his Presidency. I find that fascinating. I do not doubt his desire, but you know, you need to be informed. And I have found in my experience there is nothing like touching it, tasting it, feeling it to inform what else has been poured into you, in terms of information. In the Biden Adminstration, peace and security of Israel will be a priority and I will be involved in it. And most of the senior members of my administration will be engaged every day, not every so often.
What good can come of this?
There is a window of opportunity here.
Back to my mother’s assertion "out of everything bad something good will come."
What is the good that could possibly come from the circumstances now?
The good is the Arab states have finally woken up. The Sunni Arab states have been the enemies of Israel, and they have figured out that they have got a common enemy, one they worry much more about than they do Israel. It is called Iran. It is called the extension of the Shia crescent.
Iran has terrified the traditional enemies of Israel
Ladies and gentlemen, what have we done? To put it simply, Iran has terrified the traditional enemies of Israel, not because Ahmadinejad’s outrageous anti-Semitic statements and his Holocaust denial, but because the role Iran is playing in supporting Hezbollah and Hamas and the nuclear program. They see signs that advantage is tipping toward Iran and their extremist allies. If you are sitting in Riyadh, if you are
sitting in Damascus, if you are sitting in Cairo, they are nothing but a nightmare for you. You can see your end at their radicalization of the region.
And what are we doing about it? This may be the final spur to action and it takes some risk that we have avoided. But we need a President who understands that opportunity does not translate into progress without American leadership. We should be using our leadership to press the Arab countries to begin taking steps to normalize relations with Israel, now! The Arab League comes out and says some good things again, although they do not deal with the key point of the right of return. But they come out and say some positive things. What do we say? The Biden Presidency would say, "Great! Good idea. Show up in Jerusalem and talk about it. Normalize. Give me something other than rhetoric to demonstrate that you are prepared for a process that has to take place. Because guess what: Your lives are at stake."
Leadership means not subcontracting foreign policy to Saudi Arabi
Leadership means not subcontracting to Saudi Arabia the power to broker a deal with the Palestinians in a national unity government. I asked Condoleezza Rice before my committee in January, "How do you feel about Fatah and Hamas being called to Mecca to work out a deal?"
She said, "That’s OK."
Seriously, think about it folks. Did you hear anyone but me say, "This is a very bad idea"?
Why is it a bad idea? What possible good could come from us sub-contracting out our foreign policy?
And now the Administration goes, "Oh my Lord, Hamas has been legitimized. Pity me. What a surprise!" What the heck did you think was going to happen, coming out of a Saudi-brokered deal, in Mecca? The so-called Mecca agreement gives Hamas what it most craves: legitimacy in the eye of the Arab world, and serves as a bridge to wider international legitimacy. And it gave up nothing in return for that legitimacy. Right now Hamas is engaged in a dangerous build-up of weapons in the Gaza Strip, Israel is entirely justified in saying it will not tolerate Hamas replicating in the Gaza what Hezbollah has in southern Lebanon.
But leadership means understanding what it takes to bring peace. As I said understanding requires some knowledge. I have worked with seven American Presidents and nine Israeli Prime Ministers starting with Golda Meir. I have never witnessed a President do what this one has done. He has literally discouraged Israel from talking peace with one of its Arab neighbors.
Am I suggesting that Syria is sincere?
No. I do not know.
I do know one thing, that peace with Syria would have a serious benefit. It could pressure the Hamas leadership in Damascus, strain the Iran-Syria marriage of convenience. It could reduce Syria’s destructive behavior in Lebanon and limit Hezbollah’s room for maneuver. There are a lot of reasons for mistrust, but Israel should be allowed,
if it wishes to, to call Syria’s bluff.
That is not our choice; it is their choice.
Our next President is going to have to be someone who instinctively understands the very dangers that confront Israel and how, as this trite phrase in Washington goes, how to connect the dots, in the region, because they are not connecting the dots. Someone who can sit down with Israel and Arab leaders, and help them come across the finish line. We are the sole superpower. We are Israel’s only totally reliable friend. But nothing is going to happen without us working in conjunction with the Israeli leadership to bring about a change in the circumstance there without us sticking our neck out.
The bottom line is we need a sound foreign policy that ends this war and takes immediate action in places we should be in like stopping the war in Darfur.
Sometimes force is necessary.
I hear everybody talking about it. Some of you were angry with me back in ’92 when I went to the Balkans and I got myself in a very direct confrontation with the leader of Serbia, Mr. Milosevic.
He asked me what I thought of him, and I said, "I think you are a damn war criminal and I am going to do everything in my power to see that you’re tried as one." I got lectures on how that was no way to speak to a president of a country. But he was a war criminal.
And then I spent a lot of time – two years – trying to convince President Clinton to use force in Bosnia. Some of you were not particularly happy with that. Well sometimes force is necessary if used wisely. Here we are ten years later. The genocide has ended. We have had 20,000 NATO troops there, and not one, thank God, has been killed. And they are now working toward amending their constitution and becoming part of the European Union.
Any country which engages in genocide forfeits their sovreignity.
It is simple in Darfur. Two years ago I called for a no-fly zone. Two years ago,
when I visited there and came back after meeting in the region, in Chad, on the border with the African Union, I said that we had to use NATO forces. That we could and should have done it then with our capabilities, 2,600 troops could do that. And I hear my Democratic and Republican friends holding up their arms and showing you their bracelet on Darfur and talking about what should be done. And in the meantime
they are going to bleed to death.
It is a little bit like having someone on the operating table and his jugular vein is cut, but you say, "You know? They have got a real bad tumor in their liver. We better figure out how to deal with that." If you do not stop the bleeding, the patient
is going to die.
Ladies and gentlemen, we should be unequivocal.
- We should put my no-fly zone proposal into effect immediately. '
- We should impose the sanctions now on Khartoum.
- We should announce that any country that engages in genocide forfeits their sovereignty.
- And we should make it clear to Khartoum that if they do not accept the U.N. force – all 3 phases of it – we will forcibly move.
And if our neighbors will not move with us, we should move alone to stop this genocide now!
And I say to you all, I see absolutely no contradiction, none whatsoever, in my strong opposition to what is going on in Iraq and the need to use force in Darfur.
There is a difference between being straightforward and being straightforwardly smart. There is a job description out there; they are looking for the next President the United States. And the first line of it is "Someone to restore America’s place in the world."’ And the next President, in fact, when they hand over power to whomever he or she may be, the next President of the U.S. is going to have absolutely no margin for error. None. So they better know what they are about, and they better be smarter than their advisors.
Thank you all for listening.
Question and Answer Session