Biden in ’08: Because Iraq Matters

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It only seems as if Joe Biden has declared himself a candidate for President a half dozen times already. But now it’s official. He’s all the way in — no exploratory committee for him! — and he’s got the requisite web site at joebiden.comup and running and accepting donations.

In a Democratic field that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, does it matter that Biden is running? The answer to that question, I think, is an emphatic “yes” — Biden’s presence in the race is a plus. As I’ve written before on Swampland, Delaware’s senior senator has spent more time thinking through a plan for how to deal with Iraq than any other Democrat in the field — and probably more than any elected Democrat in Washington. His plan, co-authored by Les Gelb, calls for a soft partition of the country into three states — Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish — with near-total autonomy from the Baghdad-based central government. The plan also calls for the redeployment outside of Iraq of all but 20,000 U.S. troops by the end of 2007.

Both Clinton and Obama have announced their own proposals on Iraq in recent days. Each has merits, but Biden’s benefits from having been tested on the open market now for many months. Instead of being dismissed or ignored, it’s been picking up supporters.

Biden’s presence in the Democratic race means that the first-tier candidates will be forced to grapple not just with explanations for how they voted in 2002 but with questions about how they would end the war in a way that doesn’t do further damage to vital U.S. interests.

I don’t doubt Biden is in the race to win, even though the odds for now look long against him. He made for a reasonably compelling candidate in the 1988 race before the Neil Kinnock plagiarism scandal forced him to bow out. If he runs well but loses, his foreign policy experience would put him on many VP short lists. Had John Kerry won in 2004, the job of secretary of state would have gone either to him or Richard Holbrooke. He’d be a serious candidate for State again in 2009.

Biden’s ability to raise enough money to compete is a real question. Hailing from tiny Delaware doesn’t help when your top two rivals call New York and Chicago home. And he’s not likely to set the netroots on fire the way Howard Dean did.

But the biggest threat to Biden’s chances might be the man himself — more specifically, his mouth. It’s not just that he’s long-winded. It’s that he’s prone to saying impolitic things, as he did last summer. And in a must-read piece in the latest New York Observer, Biden is quoted referring to Obama the candidate as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Drudge is having a field day with the “clean” part. I’m sure Biden intended nothing but praise, but the comment is strange enough that he’ll no doubt have to issue a clarifying statement soon. Not exactly how he planned to spend his announcement day.