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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/ 5/2007

Biden Talks Tough to Brezhnev?

By Michael Dobbs

Sen. Joe Biden with mystery Halloween guest.

"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.

The Facts

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.]
  3. There were six senators in the delegation, not 19.
  4. 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.

(About our rating scale.)

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.

The man behind the mask.

By Michael Dobbs  | November 5, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, History  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama Nabbed by the Patriot Police
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Chuck Hagel

Posted by: Mark | November 5, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Gee, give the guy a break. After 36 years in the Senate, numerous treaties and bills and resolutions, a guy can get a little confused. Heck even Russians don't remember Kosygin. Two Pinnos is way too harsh.

Talk about inflating your resume!!??!! Two words: Hillary Clinton. She didn't even bother erasing his name from the top, just wrote in "All this stuff applies to me, too. (Unless you think it's bad, then I had nothing to do with it.)"

Posted by: jade7243 | November 5, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, it's Hagel.

Posted by: Reader | November 5, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Chris Dodd

Posted by: julia | November 5, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

The person wearing the mask is Chris Dodd.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 5, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Is that Carper?

Posted by: peter | November 5, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Ted Danson to me. Although it anyone's guess why we'd care about Ted Danson's endorsement. Cheers was a long time ago.

Posted by: JasonL_in_MD | November 5, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Mark is right - it is Seantor Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska). Incidentally, Senator Biden is reputed to have said "How about Hagel for V.P.?" - what about that for bi-pasrtisanship!


Posted by: Des O'Dwyer | November 5, 2007 5:34 PM | Report abuse

It really confuses me that this great man has not the attention he deserves. He is the most knowledgeable among both the Democratic and Republican candidates. During the last debate I lost count of how many times I heard the words "Joe's right".

My view of the race:

One candidate refuses to release HER records that prove her experience (or lack there of).

Rudy... just watch it:

Q: Is Richardson smart?

"No and this is how I'll" prove it.
Richardson claims to know a LOT about foreign policy. BUT:

"Bill Richardson crossed his legs, and Saddam Hussein walked out of the room. The Congressman from New Mexico had unwittingly insulted the Iraqi President with his body language. He had shown his sole, an offensive gesture in some Arab cultures, and started off his negotiations to free two jailed Americans in Baghdad on the wrong foot."



NEGOTIATION 101: Don't Insult the other party when the lives of two soliders depend on it.

My question is why not Biden?

If you don't know who Joe Biden is and where he stands you should not vote.

I have to admit I might have been just a bit harsh. Then again you are too harsh.

Posted by: You are TOO harsh on Biden. I'll do it for the rest. | November 6, 2007 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Biden supporter,

Perhaps Bill was smarter than you think, and knew all about this ancient Arab custom. He might have been trying to send Saddam a not-too-subtle diplomatic message.

Posted by: Richardson groupie | November 6, 2007 7:57 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: pinko | November 6, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Biden is still the best candidate for president.

Posted by: Alex | November 6, 2007 8:54 PM | Report abuse

"Unfair. We suspect that "Mark," who guessed the mystery man correctly, is from the Biden campaign" No I do not work for the Biden campaign. With your claims of unfairness mixed with paranoia, I think you work for the Clinton campaign

Posted by: Mark | November 7, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I like the general idea of published fact checking, but the Pinocchio scale needs work: How is it consistent to hit Richardson with four Pino's for exaggerating the environmental performance of the state government he leads relative to other states and a treaty that's not in force, but let Biden slide with two for misstating the essential details (who he was with, who he met, what they did, and what impact it had on US foreign policy) of something he claims to have experienced personally, and that he claims demonstrates his fitness for the job?

Posted by: Mike | November 9, 2007 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I love Fact Checker! I'm writing to say that you should file "Biden Talks Tough to Brezhnev?" under History in your list of Issues (but also keep it in Candidate Records).
Okay, one more suggestion: Don't bother spending time rebutting anything Bin Laden says; I think it's safe to assume that virtually no one who reads this would trust him on any issue.

Posted by: Kacey | November 16, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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