Biden: U.S. Is Free To Attack Al Qaeda in Pakistan

The New York Sun

Biden: U.S. Is Free To Attack Al Qaeda in Pakistan
Special to the Sun
August 15, 2007 updated 4:43 pm EDT

BOSTON – When Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, and Senator Dodd engaged in a fiery exchange over the proposition of using American force against Al Qaeda in Pakistan last week, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Democratic candidate for president, Joseph Biden, says they missed the point: America, he says, can already attack Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

The exchange between the Democratic candidates highlights what is emerging as a hot issue in the first race for an open White House after the September 11, 2001 attacks: which Democrat has the foreign policy experience to lead a nation at war?

Mr. Biden, who has served in the Senate for 34 years, 10 of them as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, contends that his years of work on global issues, meetings with foreign leaders, seasoned staff advisers, and judgment give him an edge over both Mr. Obama, who has been in the Senate for less than three years, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Dodd, and the others.

Interviewed in Boston after a bookstore appearance promoting his new memoir, "Promises to Keep," Mr. Biden spoke about the flap over Pakistan, his qualifications as a presidential candidate, and his run for president, his second attempt. "The reason I was surprised by what, not only Senator Obama said, but what Senator Clinton said and Senator Dodd said, is that all three of them seemed to be arguing about something that they didn't know already existed. It is the policy of the United States of America. It has been the policy for the last five years, if there's actionable intelligence relating to bin Laden or Al Qaeda, that we would move, assuming we're able to move, against him," Mr. Biden said. "The part that surprised me was the lack of knowledge about this and the idea that you wouldn't take action if you knew where bin Laden was."

Mr. Biden added that Mr. Obama's proposal to tie American aid to Pakistan to progress in fighting Al Qaeda is already in legislation. ( Mr. Biden drafted an amendment to the 9/11 bill passed by Congress in July and awaiting the signature of President Bush.) "That's the Biden-Lantos amendment," Mr. Biden said. "It exists now, so the thing that startled me was the fact that here these three people are arguing about whether we should go in or not go in or how to go in, the first thing that surprised me is it took so long for them to focus on Pakistan. I've been talking about Pakistan and this since I went into Afghanistan as the first American in there since the Taliban came down in 2001."

Mr. Biden's foreign policy stances, grounded in specifics, sometimes appear to conflict with trends in the leftwing blogosphere. Mr. Biden, who was the only Democrat not to attend the recent Yearly Kos convention of Netroots activists in Chicago, an absence his campaign blamed on a conflict with his book tour, said he can understand where they are coming from but believes it's more important to articulate what can sometimes be difficult realities about the war and the world.

"I think it's understandable," he said of anger on the Internet. "It's understandable because there are just so many people who are so angry, so frustrated, and so concerned about the state of the country, that they're very susceptible to very simplistic answers," Mr. Biden said. "They represent the extreme frustration in my party. They're some very serious people, but I don't think they represent the majority of the party."

While Mr. Biden supports a plan to devolve control of Iraq into three different sectors -- Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni -- and helped draft the "Levin-Reed Amendment" on redeployment of American forces from Iraq, he said he refuses to support easy answers on the conflict. "There's enough Democrats ready to give those answers to them." As an example, he cited the call for an immediate withdrawal of American armed forces from Iraq. "The fact of the matter is, it's physically impossible logistically to remove 160,000 forces from the area in less than a year, and even if you leave all the equipment behind, which will later be used to shoot at us and kill us in other places, you're talking about a 10-month time frame."

Mr. Biden contended that, contrary to criticism on the Internet, his decision in May to vote for the Iraq Emergency Supplemental Bill was welcomed by voters in Iowa. "I had set 14 town meetings in Iowa on the subject of Iraq … Guess what? I was the only one who voted to fund the troops out there and in every one of those town meetings I got a standing ovation. Even when the anti-war protesters at the University of Iowa were there to greet me and I invited them all into the meeting and at the end of the day two of the kids signed up with me."

He warned that withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would not end our problems in the area, an assertion, he says, is supported by voters. "If you look at the polling data, 70-something Democrats want out of Iraq immediately, they want out as quick as you can get out. Yet when you ask them about whether or not you can leave with impunity, they all go, ‘No you can't. It's much more complicated than that.'"

Even though he is striving to find traction in political polls, Mr. Biden said he could see a path to the nomination and the presidency. "This really is wide open," he said, noting he encounters a large number of undecided voters on the campaign trail. "When people say to me, ‘How do you win?' I say, ‘How does Hillary win? How does Barack win?' … In order to win, they know they have to have a candidate that can pick up a considerable portion of the independent vote and be able to win in some red states. I think that is ultimately, in a political sense, my greatest asset, because the same people you're talking to, who are kind enough to say, ‘You have the experience. Why aren't you doing better?' are the same people, I suspect, who'd say, ‘I have the best chance of winning in a red state.'"

Mr. Biden's new book, somewhat personal and open for a senator running for president, outlines his early rise through the Senate, the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a car accident, and his earlier try for the presidency, which ended amid accusations that he failed to adequately credit British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock during a speech. "If I knew I was going to run for president, I'm not sure I would have written it," he said. "We'll see."