- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday warned President Bush that he would face a "difficult fight" with congressional Democrats over his defense budget and denounced the administration's missile-defense plan as a "theological mission."

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who took over the committee leadership from Sen. Jesse Helms after the Republicans lost control of the Senate earlier this year, asked Mr. Bush to re-prioritize his budget proposal to reflect the military's "real needs" and the hard economic times.

In a major speech on U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century, Mr. Biden praised the president for some of his actions so far, such as the handling of the reconnaissance-plane crisis in China in April and efforts to improve relations with both India and Pakistan. But he lashed out at the administration for identifying priorities — namely, missile defense — that are "a little out of whack."

"Our real security needs are much more earthbound and far less costly than national missile defense," Mr. Biden said at the National Press Club. "We could provide our Army, our Navy, Air Force and Marines virtually everything they need in the immediate future for a more stealth, more significant-lift-capacity military to deal with the real threats we face and still spend less on all of that than we will spend on a national missile-defense system."

Mr. Biden rejected the notion that American foreign policy should be based primarily on the "principle of national self-interest that defines strength as rigid adherence to inflexible theory."

He said U.S. interests can be "furthered when we meet our international obligations and when we keep our treaties."

Mr. Biden also dismissed the administration's "premise" that "deterrence no longer works." No head of a rogue state would dare to fire ballistic missiles at the United States because "he knows he'd be annihilated within a matter of 30 minutes," he said.

The Democrat-led Senate Armed Services Committee last week voted to reduce by $1.3 billion Mr. Bush's request to increase missile-defense funds by $3 billion to $8.3 billion. The action led Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to call for a presidential veto of the bill.

But Mr. Biden said missile defense should be "weighed carefully" against other military priorities "before we go raising the starting gun that will begin a new arms race" and "before we dip into the Social Security trust fund to satisfy the administration's almost theological allegiance to missile defense at the expense of more earthbound military and international treaties."

"The other day they sent up a budget that tells us they are going to increase our missile-defense initiative," Mr. Biden said. At the same time, he added, "they cut the program that exists between us and Russia to help them destroy their chemical weapons, keep their scientists from being for sale and destroy their nuclear weapons."

Mr. Biden's remarks were the latest in a series of attacks by Democrats on Mr. Bush's foreign and defense policy. In July, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sharply criticized the president just as he was beginning a European trip. Later that month, Mr. Daschle accused Mr. Bush of "abdicating" world leadership.

Mr. Biden said yesterday the United States can't disregard the responsibilities that "flow from our ideals."

"We can't lose sight of the fact that leadership requires engagement, and partnership demands inclusivity," he said. "America must remain at the table, because walking away comes at a price."

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