Biden revises claim he was ‘shot at’ in Iraq

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) — whose garrulous ways have led to a number of verbal gaffes over the years — has revised a dramatic comment that he was “shot at” in the Green Zone during a trip to Iraq.

Biden made the brief comment during the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate two weeks ago, as he was emphasizing how difficult it would be to redeploy U.S. citizens and troops out of Iraq if the U.S. decided to withdraw in six months.

{mosads}“Let’s start telling the truth,” he said. “Number one, you take all the troops out — you better have helicopters ready to take those 3,000 civilians inside the Green Zone, where I have been seven times and shot at. You better make sure you have protection for them, or let them die, number one.”

When asked for a detailed account of the experience, Biden described three incidents on two separate Iraq trips in which he felt that he was shot at or might have been shot at. Only one of them took place inside the Green Zone, he said, and involved a “shot” landing outside the building where he and other senators were staying. He added that the vehicle he was traveling in the day before might also have been hit.

Biden said the incident happened in the morning while he and at least one other senator were shaving. Although he said it shook the building, he wasn’t rattled enough to duck and cover.

“No one got up and ran from the room—it wasn’t that kind of thing,” he said. “…It’s not like I had someone holding a gun to my head.”

Thinking about it now, he said, a more accurate comment would have been: “I was near where a shot landed.”

Biden aides have provided greater details of the three incidents in an e-mailed account: In December 2005, Biden and his staff spent the night in the Green Zone. At about 6:30 a.m., they heard mortars fired a few hundred yards away, which shook the aides’ trailer and rattled the building where Biden was getting ready for the day.

“A soldier came by to explain what happened and said if the mortar fire continued, they would need to proceed to a shelter,” according to the aides.

During the same December 2005 trip, a bullet narrowly missed the helicopter that Biden and his aides were flying in en route to the Baghdad airport from the Green Zone. But the most harrowing episode, according to an aide present, took place in December 2004, while Biden was leaving Iraq in a C-130 cargo airplane. The plane’s anti-missile system was triggered, indicating that they had been fired upon by a surface-to-air missile.

“When mortars are fired into the Green Zone or surface-to-air missiles are fired at a plane, they don’t have names or addresses on them,” Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander wrote. “The nuance of being shot at or shot near means nothing in a war zone. The point Sen. Biden was making is that Iraq is a dangerous place — for our troops, for Iraqis, for everyone.”

Patrick Campbell, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Biden should be careful about how he describes his experiences, especially when making political points.

“Veterans don’t like it when people mischaracterize their service, people who overstate what happens to them,” he said. “We
have names for them.”

Campbell also said the word “shot at” implies that “someone with an AK-47 pops up and is taking shots at you.” He thought Biden was more likely referring to mortars or rockets that insurgents periodically launch into the Green Zone but are more random in nature, as his aides later described.

For Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and a longtime political observer, Biden’s comment about being “shot at” simply reaffirms his reputation as loose-lipped and long-winded.

“There he goes again, as Ronald Reagan would say,” Hess remarked. “Unfortunately, it fits into his profile, and that’s exactly why he should be terribly careful about statements that may not quite parse out or deconstruct under scrutiny.”

Earlier this year, Biden stirred controversy by calling Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), an opponent in the race, “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and is a nice-looking guy.”

Yet even some would-be critics are giving Biden some benefit of the doubt.

Brookings Institution scholar Michael O’Hanlon, who co-authored a July 30 New York Times op-ed that argued in favor of continuing the Bush’s administration surge strategy, said Iraq is a dangerous place for civilians traveling there, even though that risk is nowhere near what soldiers on the ground face every day.

 O’Hanlon said the typical U.S. soldier or Marine on patrols for a year has about a 1 percent chance of dying and a 10 percent chance of being seriously wounded.

Even though Biden is a long shot for the Democratic nomination, he is one of the leading Democratic voices on foreign policy. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to suggest a detailed plan to split up Iraq along ethnic lines with a federal government only for common interests. Hess said these credentials make him a contender for vice president or a top-level cabinet post in any Democratic administration.

“He’s quite an honorable man and he has been [to Iraq] a lot more than many other senators and deserves credit for that,” Hess said. “All he had to do is rein in his rhetoric — get it right.”

Tags Barack Obama

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