"Today, I want to talk about an American president's single most important responsibility: keeping our nation safe, and our citizens secure," said Vice President Joe Biden. Standing behind a sign that read, "A Strong & Secure America," the president's chief attack dog gave a speech on foreign policy, criticizing Mitt Romney while bolstering President Obama's record abroad.
Biden came out swinging, using a Romney quote from 2008 to frame his comparison between the GOP presidential hopeful and Obama. The vice president noted that on his first run for the White House, Romney said:
“Well, if we want somebody who has a lot of experience in foreign policy, we can simply go to the State Department and pluck out one of the tens of thousands of people who work there. They, of course, have been doing foreign policy all their careers. But that’s not how we choose a president. A president is not a foreign policy expert.”
This illustrates how Romney would take a back seat on foreign policy, Biden said: "In my view, the last thing we need is a president that subcontract our foreign policy to some expert at the State Department." He pointed out that Obama listens to advisors, but always makes final decisions on his own. (I noted later on, however, that Biden said he had been honored to have Obama designate him the task of strategizing the withdrawal from Iraq. So...what was that about outsourcing?)
Another line hitting Romney: "Americans know we cannot afford to go back to the future," implying that Romney would take a George W. Bush-style approach to foreign policy, heavy on military force and light on "asking the tough questions." However, Biden also said, "What would Governor Romney do? Well, the truth is, we don't know for certain." So perhaps...he wouldn't jump right into war? The messages were certainly mixed.
In terms of specific policy implementation, Biden emphasized Russia, arguing that Obama had successfully "reset" our relationship with the democratically challenged country, while Romney remains stuck in a Cold War mindset. He called Romney "woefully misinformed" on missile defense, and made fun of Romney's wariness toward Russia. Of course, coming on the heels of "I-Will-Transmit-This-To-Vladimir-Gate," as well as the UN Security Council stand-off on Syria, Russia is perhaps not the Obama administration's strongest foreign policy pursuit.
Biden also argued that Obama had fulfilled his promise to withdraw from Iraq "responsibly," and had restored our popularity worldwide. I had to laugh out loud at one line, however: "President Obama always means what he says." Note that in this speech touting all of Obama's foreign policy victories and fulfilled promises, there wasn't a single mention of a centerpiece of Obama's original campaign: Guantanamo Bay. Means what he says, indeed.
On Syria and Iran -- both hot-button issues over which this administration has faced sharp criticism for inaction -- Biden tried to argue that the president had behaved in a sterling manner, issuing the toughest possible sanctions and the like. Yet he glossed over Obama's ambivalence on human rights abuses in both places, both during Iranian election violence and in the current Syrian revolts, where he was late to the party on condemning Assad -- mind you, a man whose hatred for the US stretches back decades. Instead, Biden touted the Libyan airstrikes, a military operation that the president took on unilaterally, not bothering to consult Congress, as he is constitutionally bound to do.
Naturally, Osama bin Laden's death ruled the day, which is unsurprising since it's the one trump card the Obama administration can play on foreign policy. Biden pointed out that Romney said, in 2008, "it's not worth moving heaven and earth to catch one man," in reference to bin Laden. Contrast that with Obama's decisive, "courageous" actions to have him killed!, argued Biden.
Once again, however, Biden oversold bin Laden's death, again calling it one of the bravest decisions he'd seen of a president in his lifetime, and arugably one of the bravest ever made. Now, I'm not going to argue that killing bin Laden was a bad idea -- that's an argument only a fool would make, say, one such as Joe Biden! But his exaggerated claim that it's one of the boldest, most courageous decisions made in the history of this country? What about George Washington during the Revolutionary War? Lincoln during the Civil War? FDR during World War Two? Or how about Truman and the atomic bomb? Obama authorized the Navy SEALs -- the most competent military men in the world -- to conduct a covert raid on bin Laden's compound after gathering extensive intelligence on the matter. He was absolutely, without fail, right to make that call. But the stakes and risks associated with Obama's decision were considerably lower than those examples I already cited, and Biden undermines Obama's role in bin Laden's death when he conflates "right" with "bravest."
All in all, Biden's attacks on Romney preview the general tenor foreign policy debates are likely to take during the campaign for the general election. We "don't know for certain" what Romney will do as Commander in Chief, but he will be an overexcited hawk, a la W, who jumps into war without "asking the tough questions," and hands off the decisions to State Department lackeys. Yep, I think that covers it.
Of course, there's plenty of room for Romney to strike back. Syria is a gaping hole in this administration's foreign policy record, and Romney is good friends with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, who could prove useful in countering Biden's claims that "no president has done more for Israel" than Obama. Foreign policy is certainly shaping up to be a central issue to the campaign, leading to some new speculation that Romney's VP pick will have experience in that area -- General Petraeus' name has been added to the chatter. If Romney does go for a foriegn policy expert, Obama better up his game. Bin Laden will only get him so far.