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A Snapshot of Joe Biden's Foreign Policy Judgment

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as running mate hasn’t helped him in the polls, and it has highlighted Obama’s lack of experience in matters of foreign policy and national security, but more than that it has given Republicans additional grounds to question Obama’s judgment.  At first glance the addition of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a man with 35 years in the Senate, might seem the perfect balance to a ticket headed by a candidate with very little experience.  The fit might look perfect on paper, but the reality does not quite live up to the promise.  A look at Joe Biden’s recent foreign policy judgment says a lot more about a possible Obama presidency than the fact that Biden has been in the Senate for 3 ½  decades.


The Hill reported of Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention this week:  Biden “got confused about some very simple military terminology” stating that Obama advocated for “two additional battalions in Afghanistan” when “in fact, Obama called for two extra brigades – a small verbal slip, but a significant numerical one. A brigade is composed of a varying number of battalions.”  Although an embarrassing mistake for a man hailed for his national security knowledge, that slip of the tongue was probably just that, a verbal slip.  The same cannot be said for some of Biden’s past statements.

October 2001:  Shortly following the September 11 attacks, Michael Crowley reported of Biden in The New Republic:   “At the Tuesday-morning meeting with committee staffers, Biden launches into a stream-of-consciousness monologue about what his committee should be doing, before he finally admits the obvious: ‘I'm groping here.’  Then he hits on an idea: America needs to show the Arab world that we're not bent on its destruction. ‘Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran,’ Biden declares. He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face.” 

And more recently:

April 2007: Biden told reporters “"The surge is not succeeding, and the president refuses to see that."

July 2007:  Biden said he had been “shot at” in the Green Zone in Iraq, but later had to “revise” that claim


September 2007:  Just before Gen. David Petraeus was scheduled to report to Congress, Joe Biden said President Bush's war strategy is failing and that Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, is "dead flat wrong" for warning against major changes.  "The reality is that although there's been some mild security progress, there is in fact no security in Baghdad or Anbar province where I was dealing with the most serious problem, sectarian violence.”  Biden claimed that Bush’s purpose for the surge was to buy time long enough to push the burden of the war onto the next president.  Biden said, "I will insist on a firm beginning to withdraw the troops and I will insist on a target date to get American combat forces out.”

September 9, 2007:   From an interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you what you said in Iowa last week.  “If we do not change course in Iraq soon, you’re going to see, two years from now, helicopters hovering over our embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad with people hanging” onto “the ladders just like Vietnam.  Mark my words.”

SEN. BIDEN:  Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, I believe that.  Look, let me tell you, Tim, there is no possibility—no possibility—of a central government governing Iraq in any near term…

MR. RUSSERT:  General Petraeus said in a letter to his troops that we have not had the political reconciliation we thought we would have at this time. It’s been much slower, but there is some hope.  And then he added this:  “My sense is that we have achieved tactical momentum and wrested the initiative from our enemies in a number areas of Iraq.  We are, in short, a long way from the goal line, but we do have the ball and we are driving down the field.” Is that what you expect him to say tomorrow?


SEN. BIDEN:  I expect him to say that.  And I really respect him.  And I think he’s dead flat wrong.  The fact of the matter is that there is—that this idea of these security gains we’ve made have had no impact on the underlying sectarian dynamic.  None.  None whatsoever…  And can anybody envision a central government made up of Sunni, Shia and Kurds that’s going to gain the trust and respect of 27 million Iraqis?  It’s not going to happen.

MR. RUSSERT:  Your presidential campaign is on the air with a political ad about Iraq.  Let’s watch it for a second.


NARRATOR:  (From Biden political ad) In a world this dangerous, with a crisis as tough as Iraq, hard truths need to be told.  Joe Biden says this war must end now.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  This war must end now.  In, in ‘05, this is what Joe Biden was saying:  “We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq.  I think that would be a gigantic mistake.  Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out—equally a mistake.” You’ve changed your mind.

SEN. BIDEN:  Well, I have changed my mind, but I haven’t changed my mind in any fundamental way

September 26, 2007:  The Senate passed Biden’s amendment "calling for creation of a federal system of government in Iraq with regions divided along ethnic lines."


On the result of Biden’s statements and actions, Michael Rubin recently wrote:

“The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate …found that Iran had pursued a nuclear weapons program until 2003. Although Biden's embrace of engagement coincided with Iran's nuclear warhead work, he acknowledged no error. He told reporters on Dec. 4 that Bush had "misrepresented" the intelligence in a drive to war and declared the same day, "You cannot trust this president."  Such poor judgment was not lost on Iranian leaders. Indeed, one of Khatami's top aides suggested that they came to count on it…Biden’s political games have made him Tehran’s favorite senator. As Gen. David Petraeus struggled to unite Iraqis across the ethnic and sectarian divide, Iran’s Press TV seized on Biden’s plan for partitioning Iraq and featured his statements with the headline “US plans to disintegrate Iraq.” Biden’s attack-dog statements about U.S. policy failures emboldened Iranian hard-liners to defy diplomacy. In the Dec. 7, 2007, official sermon, Ayatollah Mohammad Kashani speaking on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader, declared, “This Senator [Biden] correctly says Israel could not suppress Hizbullah in Lebanon, so how can the U.S. stand face-to-face with a nation of 70 million? This is the blessing of the Guardianship of the Jurists [the theocracy] . . . which plants such thoughts in the hearts of U.S. senators and forces them to make such confessions.” The crowd met his statement with refrains of “Death to America.”


In April 2008 Biden remained convinced the surge was a failure.  As an early rebuttal to upcoming testimony by Gen. David Petraeus Biden said, "The purpose of the surge was to bring violence in Iraq down so that its leaders could come together politically… Violence has come down, but the Iraqis have not come together." He later added, "There is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon."  

By July 2008,  Iraq had “met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.”  According to a report this week, “The U.S. military will hand over responsibility for the security of Anbar Province, once a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and one of the most violent regions in Iraq, to the Iraqi government as early as Monday, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.”

Many have recently pointed to comments Biden made about Barack Obama in August of 2007:  "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. It's awful hard, with only a little bit of experience to have a clear sense of what you would do on the most critical issues facing us today."   That is very true, but Obama’s choice of Biden to be his foreign policy expert gives us a good idea of how an Obama-Biden administration would handle such matters if elected.

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