Biden’s dual struggle

In a speech this week at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Democratic Senator Joe Biden spoke out (pdf) again about danger of failure in Iraq and the urgent need for a new approach from the Bush administration.

I wish I had the feeling that President Bush understood even half of what Biden understands about the situation on the ground, about what isn’t working, and about how to fix it. Here’s some of what Biden had to say about his recent visit to Iraq:

I did not come away with the impression that the insurgency was, as the Vice President of United States suggested, in its last throes. And unlike the President of the United States, I am not, quote, “pleased with the progress,” end of quote, we’re making as I recently saw it and as how he recently put it.

These are just two in a long litany of rosy assessments, misleading statements, premature declarations of victory that we’ve heard from the administration on Iraq. The disconnect between the administration’s rhetoric and the reality there on the ground has opened not just a credibility gap but a creditability chasm. Standing right in the middle of that chasm are 139,000 American troops, some of them, some of them on their third tour.

…I believe we have a shot, a serious shot, we have still a chance to succeed in Iraq. And I also believe that the future, if it results in failure, will be a disaster.

Biden isn’t just struggling to convince Bush to take a new approach on Iraq. He’s also struggling against fellow Democrats who– watching Bush’s poll numbers decline– have decided that calling for an early exit from Iraq is a winning issue.

David Brooks of The New York Times wrote of Biden’s speech:

It was, in some ways, a model of what the president needs to tell the country in the weeks ahead. It was scathing about the lack of progress in many areas. But it was also constructive… Biden talked about building the coalition at home that is necessary if we are to get through the 2006 election cycle without a rush to the exits.

Biden’s speech brought to mind something Franklin Roosevelt told the country on Feb. 23, 1942: “Your government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us.”

That’s how democracies should fight, even in the age of polling.