By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 11, 2007 5:25 PM
Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D) said today that the Bush Administration's surge strategy in Iraq is doomed to fail and criticized Army General David Petraeus for offering what he called an overly optimistic assessment of the situation on the ground.
Biden, in an attempt to distinguish himself from the crowded Democratic presidential field, also asserted that none of his principal rivals for the nomination has offered a viable plan for success in Iraq.
Biden's critical assessment came hours after Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) defended the administration's strategy and chastised Democrats for not giving Petraeus and U.S. military forces enough time to make it work.
Biden paraphrased comments made by Petraeus several years ago that "there comes a moment in an invasion where you have a brief opportunity to set things straight and then it turns into an occupation," adding that "He was right then, he's wrong now."
Biden made his comments during an interview at the studios of washingtonpost.com as a guest on "PostTalk" -- a new, regular video feature that provides interviews with presidential candidates, politicians and other newsmakers.
In addition to Iraq, Biden talked candidly about his own presidential prospects against high-profile Democratic candidates including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.)
Acknowledging that he trails the frontrunners badly in money raised, Biden said he believes he will have plenty of cash to compete in the four early states -- caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his path to victory includes finishing in the top three in Iowa's Jan. 14 caucus, a strong showing in New Hampshire and a victory in South Carolina where he has focused considerable time and energy.
Biden, who has appeared regularly on Don Imus' radio show, said he would condition future appearances on a change the tone of the program. He added that the attention Imus' racially charged remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team have received could have a positive effect on the discussions of race and gender in the public sphere.
But it was Iraq where Biden was most strident, insisting that advocates of President Bush's strategy for reducing violence and killings in Iraq -- most notably McCain -- had no plan beyond adding more troops. "Assume the surge worked, then what?" asked Biden. "Stay there forever? If you don't stay there forever, what's the political solution?"
He also reiterated his belief that those -- including many within his own party -- who believe that a centralized democratic Iraqi government will emerge are flat wrong. "Not possible," Biden said. Biden has long advocated a proposal that would split Iraq into three sections occupied by the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, respectively.
"You separate the parties, giving them breathing room within a defined central government," Biden said. "That's the only thing that's going to work."
Biden predicted that Bush "will pay a heavy price" if he vetoes legislation approved by Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate that sets a firm timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
Although Bush will not appear on the ballot in 2008, Biden noted that he could well face a rebellion among the 21 Republican Senators up for re-election in 2008.
"Does anyone think [they] are going to stick with this president's plan without any target date to get out of Iraq, without a fundamental change in strategy?" Biden asked. "I think not."
On Iran, Biden cast doubt on claims made by that country's government that it currently has 3,000 centrifuges to produce uranium, but criticized the Bush Administration for its failure to engage what he called America's "strongest ally as it relates to Iran: the Iranian people."
Nearly two decades after he first ran for president in 1988, Biden admitted that much has changed. "Before I was the guy who could turn on crowds, the guy with charisma," said Biden. "Now I'm the old guy who's qualified."
Biden also noted that in his first run for president he was the financial frontrunner, a very different circumstance in which he currently finds himself. He said that the wide financial gap between him and financial frontrunners like Clinton and Obama complicates his effort among party insiders to gather the $20 million to $30 million he believes he needs to be competitive for the nomination. The solution? "You have got to go out and find people who are not betters," Biden explained. "You've got to go out and find people who really are focused on who they think can be the best president."
As for Imus' remark regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team and the controversy that has ensued, Biden said he would not appear again on the program unless Imus "fundamentally alters the composition" of the show.
But, Biden added, he believed there was a real chance for good to come out of the situation. "No matter what happens to Don Imus, the entire character of the discussion about race and gender in the mainstream media is going to change for the better," he predicted.