Biden Talks Tough to Brezhnev?
"And with regard to my experience, hey, Bill, in 1979 I was -- I led a delegation of 19 senators negotiating the START agreement with Brezhnev."
--Joe Biden, engaging in some one-upmanship with Bill Richardson during the Democratic debate, October 30, 2007.
Like job applicants inflating their resumes, presidential candidates are not above stretching the truth a little when it comes to talking about their qualifications for the commander-in-chief position. A good example is the Senator Joseph Biden. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden certainly has a lot of experience in foreign affairs. But did he really negotiate the START treaty with Soviet dinosaur Leonid Brezhnev? We found a few problems with his claim.
This was designed as a put-down to Bill Richardson, who loves to talk about the dictators he has personally gone "head to head" with, from Saddam Hussein to Kim Jong Il, the American citizens he has sprung from captivity, and the loose nukes he tracked down as secretary for energy. But this particular game of one-upmanship went a little awry. We counted at least four significant errors in a single sentence.
- It was not the START agreement that was up for discussion in 1979. It was the SALT II agreement. The START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) talks did not even begin until 1982, under Ronald Reagan. They are two entirely different sets of arms negotiations. A wonkish point perhaps, but someone who prides himself on going head to head with Brezhnev should get his Cold War treaties right.
- Biden did not meet Brezhnev when he led a Senate delegation to Moscow in August 1979. By that stage, the Soviet leader was well into his dotage, and certainly not up to having long talks with visiting American senators about SALT II. Biden and the other senators met with Soviet prime minister Alexei Kosygin.[See AP, Aug.30, 1979; WP, Aug. 31, 1979.]
- There were six senators in the delegation, not 19.
- The senators did not "negotiate" the SALT II treaty, which had already been negotiated and signed in Vienna in June 1979 by Brezhnev and Jimmy Carter. The most they did was haggle over the terms of ratification by the Senate.
"Negotiating treaties is the responsibility of the Executive branch," said arms control expert Jack Mendelsohn, who served with the SALT II the negotiating team in Geneva for several years. According to Mendelsohn, Biden's involvement in the treaty was more like dealing with a troublesome "hangnail." The treaty could not be ratified "until we clipped the hangnail off."
Anyone who is not an arms control junkie is welcome to stop reading here, and skip to the Pinocchio Test. For Cold War nostalgics, the hangnail in question consisted of a concern among American hardliners that the Soviets would evade treaty limitations on missiles by vastly expanding production of shore-based naval attack planes called Backfire bombers. Moscow insisted that the Backfires could not reach U.S. territory, but the hawks were convinced otherwise. (They did not take the Soviets up on their offer to put a U.S. general in the cockpit and see how far the plane would go before it ran out of fuel.) Eventually, the Soviets agreed to limit production of Backfires to 30 a year.
In the end, Biden's efforts were for naught, as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and the Senate never ratified the treaty.
The Biden campaign declined to comment on the record.
The Pinocchio Test
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden can justifiably claim considerable foreign policy expertise. It is a long time ago now--the "Evil Empire" has given way to the "Axis of Evil"--so we can forgive him for mixing up SALT and START. Nevertheless, he does seem to have inflated his resume and overstated his dealings with Brezhnev. Two Pinocchios.
BONUS QUESTION FOR POLITICAL JUNKIES: Who is wearing the Biden Halloween mask in the picture at the top of this post? Bill Richardson? Al Gore? Leonid Brezhnev? We will post a photograph with the answer, as soon as the mystery man has been correctly identified by a reader. Post your guesses below.
Unfair. We suspect that "Mark," who guessed the mystery man correctly, is from the Biden campaign.
| November 5, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: 2 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, History
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