When he was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden pointed out the real threat to America
Editors' Note: Gil Klein, author of Tales from the National Press Club, is former president of the Club and a frequent contributor to American Heritage.
Every president since Theodore Roosevelt has spoken at some point at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
With his election this month, I thought I would check out Joe Biden’s record. Since the President-elect has been a fixture of Washington politics for nearly 50 years, it was not surprising that he has spoken many times at the Club.
One speech seemed especially remarkable. Following the 2000 election, Biden spoke at the Club after taking over as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Biden’s speech on September 10, 2001 focused on the Bush administration’s proposal to drop objections to China’s plan to build up its nuclear missile capability if China in turn would not object to our development of the strategic missile defense system, called “Star Wars” when President Reagan first proposed it.
Biden warned that this proposal was tantamount to gutting the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that limited nuclear weapons, and would lead to a new arms race.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union presented the United States with an unparalleled opportunity to advance its ideals around the world, Biden reminded the Club that day. It should accept that role by living up to its obligations and treaties. Making such a deal with the Chinese would be a sign that America would “go it alone whenever it felt like it” to meet what he called an “almost theological allegiance” to the Strategic Defense Initiative.
“I don’t believe our national interest can be achieved in splendid indifference to the rest of the world’s views of our policies …” he said. “How we perform on that stage is as much about our honor, our decency and our pride as it is about strategic policy.
“Our interests are furthered when we meet our international obligations and when we keep our treaties... when we stand together as democracies, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious beacons of hope, not some dark house next door.”
He noted that the Defense Department’s Joint Chiefs of Staff have said a strategic nuclear attack on the United States is much less likely than many other forms of conflict for which the United States should be spending its money to prepare.
“We will have spent all of that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threat to the country comes in the hold of a ship, the belly of a plane, or smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial and a backpack,” he said. “And what defense do we have to those things?”
So, what was the surprise after Joe Biden’s speech? Just look at the date: Sept. 10, 2001.
Twenty-one hours after that luncheon was over, the first plane commandeered by Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network crashed a hijacked airliner into the World Trade Center, changing the world in an instant.