“I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Joe Biden, February 12, 2010.
All politicians hedge and backtrack, as the daily news proves their previous assertions and boasts wrong. That somersaulting is part of American politics. But even the most astute triangulators know when to go silent, especially in the age of the Internet when one’s past statements are so easily juxtaposed with present reality.
Consider for a minute the Joe Biden odyssey on Iraq, because it has proven a variable primer on how the political class reinvented itself depending on the current pulse of the battlefield. Biden, like others, did not merely “evolve” on the war, but at each stage of his metamorphosis, emerged as a vehement, loud advocate of an entirely new position usually at odds with his prior assertions.
He apparently felt that either his charisma might delude us, or his apparent instability might earn from us an exemption along the lines following his unhinged statement that FDR addressed the nation on TV as President in 1929 —“Ah, that’s just Ol’ Joe being Ol’Joe,” or that we all suffer from collective amnesia:
Biden’s Timeline —"Dead, flat wrong”
1990: Biden votes against the first Gulf War and Bush I’s efforts to get Saddam out of Kuwait.
1998: Biden supports Bill Clinton’s call for regime change and “to dethrone Saddam Hussein over the long haul.”
2002: Biden asserts that Saddam has biological and chemical weapons and is seeking a nuclear arsenal, proclaiming, “We have no choice but to eliminate the threat.” He then votes in October for 23 writs authorizing President Bush to remove the dictator by force if need be.
2005: Joe Biden reassures the country that we must stay in Iraq: “We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq. I think that would be a gigantic mistake. Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out – equally a mistake.”
2006: Biden declares that a sovereign Iraq is not sustainable, calls for trisecting Iraq into three separate entities and demands that President Bush “must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008.”
He adds that “Mr. Bush has spent three years in a futile effort to establish a strong central government in Baghdad, leaving us without a real political settlement, with a deteriorating security situation — and with nothing but the most difficult policy choices.”
2008: Joe Biden forecasts, “The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically. ... Tactically it isn’t going to work because … our guys go in and secure a neighborhood, but because we don’t have enough troops, we have to turn it over to the Iraqis, and they can’t hold it or won’t hold it.”
Joe Biden votes for legislation to oppose the surge, declaring that, “It’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.” He reiterates that the surge will not only fail, but make things worse: “I believe it will have the opposite — I repeat — opposite effect the president intends.”
Biden later elaborates on that: “The purpose of the surge was to bring violence in Iraq down so that its leaders could come together politically. Violence has come down, but the Iraqis have not come together. …There is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon. I believe the president has no strategy for success in Iraq.”
Biden then tells Gen. Petraeus that he is “dead, flat wrong.” He later concludes there is “no end in sight” in Iraq and staying is “killing us.”
2009: A Vice President Biden accepts the Bush-Petraeus plan of continuing a U.S. combat presence in Iraq, and accepts the status of forces agreement and timetable of withdrawal as negotiated with the Iraqis by the Bush administration to remove U.S. combat troops as envisioned by the end of 2011.
2010: Biden claims credit for winning Iraq: “I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”