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Biden and Foreign Policy Restraint

Peter Beinart makes a very questionable claim:

Among today’s Democratic foreign-policy elite, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden represent opposite poles.

That is quite an overstatement. There is some truth that Clinton and Biden have been on different sides in foreign policy debates inside the administration, but this hardly makes Biden the champion of foreign policy restraint that Beinart would have us imagine him to be. Biden was reportedly opposed to intervention in Libya, and Clinton was strongly in favor of it, but on the whole Biden’s record has not been noticeably different from that of other Democratic hawks over the last twenty years. Like so many other Democrats that opposed the Gulf War that soon found that to be a political liability, Biden turned into a reliable hawk in virtually every policy debate since then. A supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he also made a point of agitating for military intervention in Sudan during his last presidential campaign. When Obama chose him as his running mate, it was widely understood that he was being added to bring on someone both more experienced in Congress and someone with more hawkish credentials. If Biden is now supposed to represent restraint, it doesn’t mean very much.

I read the 2012 interview that Beinart cites as proof when it first appeared, but for all Biden’s reported admiration for Kennan he has usually taken positions in contemporary foreign policy debates that Kennan did or would abhor. Biden backed the same interventions in the Balkans that Beinart cites as proof of Clinton’s hawkishness, and he supported every round of NATO expansion that Kennan considered to be reckless and unwise. If Biden is a “Kennanite,” the label has no meaning. Like the unpersuasive case that Obama is a realist, the case for Biden as advocate for foreign policy restraint requires us to ignore most of the evidence from Biden’s own post-Cold War career. It is possible that Biden might still be preferable to Clinton on foreign policy grounds, but the difference between them is one of very slight degree. The truth is that there are no potential Democratic presidential candidates that can be plausibly described as advocates for a restrained foreign policy, and the fact that Beinart is reduced to presenting Biden as one confirms this.

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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