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Put Biden in the Front Row

By Froma Harrop

Joe Biden jokes that he's the 800th candidate for president. The senator from Delaware is used to being called a "dark horse" or "second-tier contender." That's when he's not a "long-shot aspirant" or "minor candidate." And his propensity to talk without thinking doesn't help.

But Biden deserves more than an occasional cameo next to Democratic headliners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is a foreign-policy sophisticate at a time when Iraq and terrorism are the national obsessions.

Like Richard Nixon, who in 1968 successfully sold himself as the man who could end the Vietnam War, Biden can argue that he has the keys out of Iraq. But unlike Nixon, the senator from the First State backs a plan for relative peace that's no secret.

Biden has proposed a "soft partition" whereby Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds would each have an area over which they would manage their own affairs. Baghdad would remain seat of a central government with limited powers, such as defending the border. The Sunnis have historically lived in the oil-poor part of Iraq and would have to be promised a decent share of the country's energy revenues.

This idea has gotten good reviews from conservatives as well as liberals. And Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician, has just endorsed the creation of federal regions as "the best solution" for the crisis.

Insisting that only a political solution can stop the bloodshed, Biden joined with Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel to sponsor a nonbinding resolution that sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq is "not in the national interest."

When subsequently accused of comforting the enemy, Biden shot back. The enemy is emboldened by "the failed policy of this president," he said, "going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment."

Biden headed the Foreign Relations Committee during the pre-invasion debate, so it's fair to ask what he did to stop the failures he's now pinning on Bush. Here's his record:

Before Congress voted for the invasion of Iraq, in October 2002, Biden and Indian Republican Richard Lugar tried to float a more restrictive resolution. It would have authorized the president to go after the alleged weapons of mass destruction -- but not Saddam -- and then only after trying every diplomatic option. Saddam held Iran in check, which was a major reason why the first President Bush, upon liberating Kuwait, decided not to march onto Baghdad.

Although he ultimately voted for the war, Biden continued to complain that the "coalition" in Iraq was really the United States' going it alone. "There's nothing international about this until we get NATO in there and we get Islamic forces in there," he said in August 2003.

More U.S. troops might have made a difference then, when Biden urged that they be sent. He also pressed Bush "to level with the American people" about the likely cost and length of the Iraq war. The administration ignored his advice.

Like Hillary Clinton, Biden has refused to apologize for the vote authorizing the war. Neither should have to. The consensus at the time -- including among mainstream liberal media -- was that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction for possible use against us.

Even then, Biden didn't buy the neocon dreams of creating a democratic Mesopotamia with force. Only the WMD warranted war, he said in 2002. "That should be our rationale, not this new doctrine of pre-emption and regime change."

A Democratic candidate who has the most promising plan for getting us out of Iraq -- and tried to avoid many of the mistakes going in -- should not be looked at askance. Joe Biden is worldly wise, and for that he merits a spot on the first tier.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate

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