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A Biden Candidacy and Foreign Policy

U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine

Damon Linker tries to make the case for a Joe Biden presidential bid:

On foreign policy, Biden might be even more interesting. Not many people remember it now, but back during George W. Bush’s second term, Biden proposed that Iraq be broken up into three semi-autonomous regions — one Sunni, one Shiite, and one Kurdish. It was a bold proposal that was quickly forgotten once W’s troop “surge” finally managed to tamp down the insurgency that was tearing the country apart at the time.

I suppose you could call Biden’s partition plan a “bold” proposal. It was also a lousy idea at the time he made it and remains one today. There has been some renewed talk of of something like a partition of Iraq, which is usually the Western policymaker’s fallback position when dealing with an intractable foreign conflict. It’s typically a bad sign when people start to ask, “But what if we split up the country?” It suggests that they think they have the wit and understanding of the country to divvy up its territory and resources competently when numerous governments have proven over the decades that no one knows how to do this well. In Iraq’s case, it starts from an assumption that a state that has now been in existence for almost a century is too “artificial” to survive and should be broken up into three equally “artificial” and arbitrarily-drawn sections. Linker claims that this shows that Biden is capable of “outside the narrow, unimaginative, ideological boxes that too often determine foreign policy thinking inside the Beltway,” but proposing to partition a country as a “solution” to armed conflict is an example of just that sort of thinking. So if one wants to tout the virtues of Biden, it’s probably best not to mention that he thought this was a solid plan.

If there is a limited foreign policy case to be made for Biden that sets him apart from Clinton, it is that as a member of the Obama administration he has tended to be more cautious and reluctant to commit U.S. forces in dubious causes. He was reportedly an opponent of intervening in Libya:

“It didn’t go to core interests,” a senior White House official says in explaining Biden’s views. “It wasn’t something he thought was necessary to do.”

Biden apparently got that one right, and he was one of the few Democrats in the administration to get it right. However, if he were to run for president, he couldn’t talk about this without criticizing Obama’s judgment. He was likewise a skeptic of escalating in Afghanistan, which is what Obama chose to do. The trouble here is that Biden gave Obama some sensible advice, which Obama then chose to ignore. As Obama’s vice president, Biden isn’t going to highlight the things that Obama got wrong because the core argument for a Biden candidacy is that he will continue Obama’s policies.

Besides, Biden’s overall foreign policy record for the last twenty years isn’t that much better than Clinton’s. Like Clinton, he voted for the Iraq authorization, and he backed the interventions in the Balkans. He was as much in favor of NATO expansion into the former USSR as anyone. As vice president, he lobbied on behalf of the administration to get the House to approve the failed train-and-equip program for arming Syrian rebels. He faithfully defended Obama’s debacle of a Syria policy during the vice presidential debate in 2012, and boasted about cooperating with the Gulf states and Turkey that were already working to make Syria a jihadist playground:

We are working hand in glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes and he will go, there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaida-sponsored government that follows on.

In all these cases, Biden showed no inclination to break with conventional Washington assumptions about what the U.S. should be doing in the world (because he shares those assumptions), and there is not much reason to expect anything different from a Biden candidacy or administration.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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