Joe’s World
On Vice President Biden’s foreign-policy “advantage”

Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Boca Raton, Fla., September 28, 2012.


Daniel Foster

Three: Moving Backward on Free Trade
In the 1990s, Biden was fairly good on free-trade issues, voting to give the president “fast-track” authority on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), to regularize trade relations with China, and to expand trade in the Third World. He even voted for NAFTA. But about the time the globalized world reached a near-consensus on the net benefits of free trade, something — something — happened around January of 2001 that changed Biden’s mind, and over the next two presidential terms, he reversed his support for presidential “fast track” authority and voted against FTAs with Oman, Singapore, Chile, and the whole of Central America.

Four: Opposing the First Gulf War
Operation Desert Storm was a model of “liberal intervention.” It was necessitated by a human-rights crisis created by a brutal aggressor; it had clearly demarcated scope and objectives; it was built on a massive international coalition, signed off on by the U.N., and prosecuted in such a way as would limit American casualties. That didn’t stop Senator Joe Biden from voting against an authorization for the use of force, complaining that the U.S. was being asked to bear too much of the burden inside the coalition.

Five: Holding Every Possible Position on the Second Iraq War
This one’s a comparatively fresh and open wound for the vice president, but let’s review: Senator Biden considered the Hussein regime in Iraq a critical threat to national security and helped raise the alarm about Hussein’s WMD in the run-up to the war. He then voted for the authorization of the use of force. When things went sideways during the occupation, Biden then called his initial support a mistake. He later advocated cutting Iraq into three ethno-religious autonomous zones, a plan that leaders from the three ethno-religious groups in question opposed. Then he voted against the surge that averted a strategic defeat in 2006. When he became vice president, he took a lead role in negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would keep a significant American military presence in Iraq beyond 2011, at one point telling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in a conference call that he’d “bet you my vice presidency [that Iraqi prime minister] Maliki will extend the SOFA.” Maliki did no such thing, and Biden, like Obama, now seems content to pretend that this was the administration’s plan all along. No word on whether Clinton intends to collect the vice presidency.

Bin Laden Bonus
And those are just the greatest hits. If one loosened the standards to include not only substantive policy mistakes but also gaffes, this could become a ten-part series: from the embarrassing (wrongly consoling the Irish prime minister for the death of a mother who was very much alive) to the head-scratching (the bizarre claim in his 2008 debate with Sarah Palin that the U.S. and France had eliminated Hezbollah from Lebanon). But the best has to be the vice president’s admission that he counseled the president against launching the strike on Osama bin Laden that constitutes the administration’s most unambiguous foreign-policy accomplishment. In fact, by the end, Biden was alone among Obama’s senior advisers in opposing the strike. If nothing else, this should neutralize Biden’s best foreign-policy weapon. If he tries to repeat his convention quip about GM being alive and bin Laden being dead, Ryan should simply reply: “No thanks to you.”

You could say the same on nearly every question of import that has crossed Biden’s desk during his foreign-policy career. So tremble, Team Ryan, at the “advantage” conferred on Joe by his 40 years of experience on the wrong side of history.

— Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.


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