DOVER — Democratic Sen. Joe Biden said Saturday the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has emerged as a race solely between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but also said he is unlikely to endorse either for now.
“My strong inclination at this point, unless something substantive changes, I don’t plan to endorse anyone,” Biden said in Dover during his first public appearance since dropping out of the presidential race Jan. 4.
“But I’ll support whoever the nominee is when it becomes clear that that’s the case, and that will become clear long before the convention,” Biden said outside Delaware Technical & Community College after a wide-ranging talk on foreign policy before the Delaware National Guard’s 9th Annual Leadership Conference.
About 500 Army and Air Guard officers and senior enlisted members attended the event at Dover, and heard Biden call for a drastic overhaul of foreign policy. That change, Biden said, must include a clear recognition that Pakistan has become “the single most dangerous nation in the world,” and that foreign-policy problems often require regional and global approaches, rather than a focus on single countries.
Saw it coming
After his speech, Biden said that he suspected as early as August that Clinton and Obama had captured a commanding share of press and public attention.
“Here you have for the first time in all American history a woman or African-American poised to be the next president, and there’s no way to break through that,” Biden said.
“In retrospect, the only thing one can hope to do is be in a position of third place and then wait for somebody to make a major mistake, because there’s no oxygen left in the air” for other candidates.
Sen. John McCain, Biden added, appears to be the only Republican candidate with a strong foreign-policy background.
“I would say, quite frankly, its awfully hard not to be qualified on foreign policy and be president in this environment,” Biden said.
Biden said he plans to hold a “pretty aggressive” series of hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, when Congress resumes regular activities. He added that he adopted a similar approach in 1992, holding a series of hearings on crime and safety issues that helped make them important issues for the Clinton campaign.
“My hope is, quite frankly, that I can begin to help whomever the Democratic nominee is to have a foreign-policy agenda they can run on,” Biden said. Last year, the Delaware senator won 75 Senate votes, including 26 from Republicans, for a political solution in Iraq that would move the country toward a federation of semiautonomous territories.
“Most Republicans acknowledge that Bush’s foreign policy has been less than a success,” Biden said. “I’ve literally gotten scores and scores of calls from major players in the foreign-policy establishment, former Republicans as well as Democratic administration officials, who want to work with me to come up with a coherent construct for foreign policy.”
America already faces a huge bill for meeting what he called its “sacred obligation” to tend to the needs of servicemen and women wounded or traumatized by war, Biden said.
No longer ‘reserve’
Billions more will be needed, he said, to restore National Guard resources consumed by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to support the guard’s expanding role domestically and overseas.
“You guys are no longer a strategic reserve,” Biden said. “You’re a vital part of what the average American out there calls the regular force,” and a crucial part of the country’s homeland defense and disaster response capabilities.
America’s reputation globally, Biden said later, has eroded — the victim of what he said is a flawed approach that views countries and issues in “splendid isolation,” rather than as parts of a more complex puzzle.
The Bush administration’s intense focus on Iran and its potential nuclear capabilities, Biden said, was badly misplaced, while administration officials failed to recognize that Pakistan was stumbling toward chaos, with the potential for creating a radicalized Muslim nation with a formidable nuclear arsenal.
“I am hopeful that it’s beginning to dawn on both parties how complicated some of this is,” he said. “I am hopeful that the majority of both parties are looking for a more rational policy.”
Bhutto sought help
Biden said assassinated Pakistani political leader Benazir Bhutto had been in regular contact with his office before her death, seeking help in getting security needed for national elections.
He said the investigation into her death was urgently needed to help the country move toward elections and stability, but also said it was unlikely that President Pervez Musharaff was responsible for Bhutto’s killing.
“Unless we straighten this out pretty quickly, I predict you’re going to see the subcontinent of India become the most dangerous place in the world, on a hair trigger, for the next decade,” Biden said.