Wilmington, Del. The Everly Brothers are singing, the hamburgers are sizzling and so is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lightning started a serious fire at Joe Biden's house the day before, but here at Buckley's Tavern the heat is in the senator's reflections on the Iraq aftermath that he hopes and expects will be President Kerry's problem in less than six months.
"Very bad" is his terse estimate of the current situation, in which Iraq's government has "sovereignty but very little capacity." Prime Minister Allawi is "good -- tough -- but no democrat." Rather, he is "in the Mubarak mold." The Egyptian model may not be what the Bush administration's nation-builders and democracy-exporters hoped for, but Biden believes it is not an outcome to be disdained.
He relishes being home -- he commutes by train to Washington daily -- but he travels widely, recently to the police academy in Jordan where Iraq's constabulary is being formed. There, he says, the Iraqis who were sent for the initial class included a convicted murderer. When the man's past was discovered, he was sent home. But he was sent back to the academy with the second class. An instructor who was supposed to teach the police skill of "evasive driving" found that most trainees could not drive at all. So who, Biden wonders, is going to protect the 25,000 or more polling places when Iraq has elections?
Improvisation is the sour fruit of bad planning. Biden says he was told by a senior U.S. military officer in Iraq that his tank drivers are now doing infantry work, his infantry is doing engineering work and his engineers are doing civil affairs work. Biden was bewildered by the administration's resistance to the idea that after a swift military victory, which he expected, the problem in Iraq would be "not the day after but the decade after." He says that because Kerry does not know the Iraq situation he will inherit, Kerry cannot tell the nation how long its Iraq commitment will last, "unless he inherits Lebanon" -- chaos -- "and decides to get the hell out of there."
Surely John Edwards overestimates the difference that the mere fact of a "fresh president" -- Edwards' phrase -- will make in healing the rift with the likes of Germany and France. Edwards recently said breezily that "with a new president, we have the credibility to go to friends around the world, potential friends, to NATO, for example, and get them involved in helping provide security." Biden's more sober view is that it will be "a helluva hard sell. I don't think Bush can put it together at this point -- although, maybe -- but maybe Kerry could embarrass NATO into a greater involvement. Not massive -- hundreds of trainers instead of a couple."
However, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute writes that "of the 2.5 million personnel nominally under arms in Europe, at most 3 percent are deployable." In Britain, the last European nation with a living martial tradition, the government has announced a 10 percent cut in the armed forces. London's Daily Telegraph editorializes that "after fighting three wars in five years in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq," and peacekeeping in Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone, the military services' "reward is to suffer even more drastic retrenchment than they did after the end of the Cold War."
Kerry entertained the Democratic convention with his chant (about various blessings from government) that "help is on the way." But his running mate is an innocent abroad if he thinks significant security help for Iraq will be on the way from NATO nations -- their welfare states buckling under the weight of aging populations -- once there is a "fresh president." Biden has no such delusions about the primacy of personality in international relations. Does Kerry?
Biden, 61, has served in the Senate during the tenures of seven presidents and is mentioned in speculation about becoming secretary of state in a Kerry administration. But he loves the Senate, where next year only five members will have more seniority -- he was 29 when elected in 1972, 13 days before becoming old enough to serve. If Democrats recapture control of the Senate, and they might, he would be especially reluctant to pass up being chairman of Foreign Relations.
But a Kerry administration would need what Biden has, a disinclination to allow his wishes to be the father of his thoughts -- a failing of the Bush administration when planning for postwar Iraq, and a failing of the Kerry-Edwards tandem in planning for a post-Bush foreign policy. So lightning could strike.
George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.