How Does He Help?

Hearkening back to the selection of Dick Cheney as George W. Bush’s running mate, the media have parroted the same line: Joseph Biden brings “gravitas” to the Obama ticket. Unfortunately, the Biden pick is to gravitas what a forest fire is to home equity. In reality, Biden emphasizes every one of Obama’s vices while muffling his own virtues as a candidate. He shares most of Obama’s weaknesses, including foreign policy miscalculations, while remaining out-of-touch with most American values. He has proposed giving Iran $200 million “no-strings-attached.” His plan to partition Iraq galvanized the entire nation against him. Although he is an honorable foreign policy thinker who has come to many competent conclusions, they set him strongly at odds with his candidate and his party’s base. He is famously in love with himself, and is out-of-touch on most social issues, especially abortion, energy, and immigration. And his family scandals are already beginning to take a toll on the ticket.

However, Biden is a more complicated (and more competent) study than his running-mate. Other commentaries on Biden have rehearsed Biden’s common knowledge faults: his well-detailed history of plagiarism, loquaciousness, self-absorption, and recent criticism of Obama’s record. So, too, will this one (eventually). But let’s begin with Biden’s alleged strong suit: national security and foreign policy.

This pick was meant to erase lingering doubts about Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief raised by the Russia-Georgia imbroglio (which catapulted McCain in all the polls) and give Obama foreign policy experience by osmosis. It is true that Joe Biden is more seasoned on foreign policy than Obama – a strikingly modest accomplishment – but it is precisely for this reason that Biden has come to much different conclusions about what must be done in Iraq. Biden’s harshest criticisms of Obama in the 2008 primaries centered around the latter’s desire to set a certain withdrawal date (March 31, 2008, in fact). As others have related, Biden scorched Obama at one Democratic debate: “My impression is [Obama] thinks that if we leave, somehow the Iraqis are going to have an epiphany” and live in harmony, he said; “I’ve seen zero evidence of that.” As I have noted in these pages, Biden actually made something of a statesman-like defense of Iraq. “We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq. I think that would be a gigantic mistake,” he told an audience in 2005. “Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out — equally a mistake.”

As late as last year, Biden affirmed Saddam was a threat and that we went to war because of his violation of UN Security Council resolutions. In doing so, Biden endorsed a central thesis of the book Party of Defeat, which I co-authored with David Horowitz. Biden told the late Tim Russert:

[I]f Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon…

I also believed he was a threat in that he was – every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of – after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating.  Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t.  The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not.  And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening.  They were pulling away.  They were saying, “Well, wait a minute.  Maybe he’s not so bad.  Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone.  Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.

This is exactly what David Horowitz and I argue in Party of Defeat: that America went to war primarily because of Saddam Hussein’s violation of more than a dozen UNSC Resolutions and because of the international community’s reluctance to enforce its own standards. For being willing to engage this reality, he deserves more praise than the vast majority of far-leftists, and even mainstream Democrats, who refuse to confront the thesis of Party of Defeat in any way. (Perhaps Biden will force their hand.)

Biden also made clear, whatever role WMDs played, they were not a distraction or a bad-faith ploy by the administration. In the same interview, Biden even defended Dick Cheney, of all people, citing the international community’s assessment of Saddam’s WMDs, equally as flawed as our own. “[E]veryone in the world thought he had them [WMDs]… This was not some, some Cheney, you know, pipe dream.” For this alone, he deserves credit as a clear-headed foreign policy thinker and, above all, an honest critic. In this, he differs from the man at the top of the ticket. Obama endorsed a deadline for withdrawal and still looks at retreat as his highest policy goal.

And the untold story is, this is one major reason Biden went no further in the primaries. Even if ’08 weren’t a two-person race between Clinton and Obama, Biden could have gotten no traction with a sensible foreign policy during a time when the party’s grassroots clamored for the candidate who would withdraw troops the fastest. What else could have inspired Mike Gravel to make a run for office?

Nor is everything in Biden’s foreign policy background laudable. He and Carl Levin added language to a bill containing a deadline for withdrawal. He called for “de-authorizing” the war before an audience of AFSCME union members, which would have effectively washed our hands of the region. And last year he brazenly declared “this administration’s policy and the surge” – which he vehemently opposed – “are a failure.” One year later, it appears the surge has expelled al-Qaeda from Iraq and given America a safe way to begin withdrawing our troops.

The Delaware senator is best known for his plan to partition Iraq into three separate ethnic states – a bad idea, though defensible as a last resort. One military authority summed up his plan as, “Cut up Iraq, then cut out.” Biden’s plan won him international attention: nearly all Iraqi politicians hate his guts because of it. The Left-leaning news service Reuters reports:

“This choice of Biden is disappointing, because he is the creator of the idea of dividing Iraq,” Salih al-Mutlaq, head of National Dialogue, one of the main Sunni Arab blocs in parliament, told Reuters.

“We rejected his proposal when he announced it, and we still reject it. Dividing the communities and land in such a way would only lead to new fighting between people over resources and borders. Iraq cannot survive unless it is unified, and dividing it would keep the problems alive for a long time.”

…Ezzet al-Shabender, a member of parliament from the secularist Iraqi List of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, actually credited the broad-based disgust triggered by Biden’s proposal for helping Iraqi politicians bury their differences.

“His project was the reason behind the unity of many political blocs that once differed in viewpoints,” he said, comparing it to the Balfour Declaration, a 1917 British note that backed the creation of Israel and is regarded across the Arab world as the ultimate colonial injustice.

“Such a person, if he would assume the vice-presidency post, would not serve to improve Iraq-USA relations.”


When it comes to dealing with the threat of terrorism, Biden has had some bewilderingly self-defeating ideas. Shortly after 9/11, Biden had an ingenious idea on how to respond to the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history, announcing to his staff:

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.

Of course, Iran is and has long been the number one state sponsor of terrorism: kidnapping Americans inside a protected embassy, issuing a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, giving hundreds of millions of dollars (now an estimated $1 billion) to Hezbollah, and “providing material support to the Taliban.” Any monies the U.S. gave to Iran would likely have been funneled to organizations dedicated to murdering inhabitants of the Great Satan. This is the Left’s definition of trickle-down economics. And to Joe Biden, it’s one helluvan idea.

The story concludes his staff objected on numerous grounds – none that Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism – “But Joe Biden is barely listening anymore. He’s already moved on to something else.”

In every other way, choosing Joe Biden highlights the worst of Obama’s own traits. He is a self-adoring windbag frequently caught plagiarizing his speeches, and he clearly has an exalted opinion of his own importance. And then there’s Biden.

Biden’s rambling questions at the Senate Judiciary Committee – where he has helped block Constitutionalist justices – are the stuff of legend, and not in a good way. Does adding a confirmed blowhard to the ticket help Obama, when he has been accused from the Iowa Caucuses of basing his campaign on his ability to give a good speech (and then only on the teleprompter)?  Biden’s 1988 plagiarism, which echoed his collegiate plagiarism, reminds others of charges that Obama presents “change you can Xerox.” But most unfortunate for Obama is Biden’s inside-the-Beltway elitism and liberalism, shared by the Obamas, which puts them outside the American mainstream and will make it hard for them to turn any red states blue in November. Yes, Biden had a charming, middle class Irish Catholic upbringing in Scranton. During the Eisenhower administration. Since that time, he’s gone on to law school, spent a half-dozen years in the practice, then hung his hat in the Senate cloakroom for 35 years.

It’s hard to think of a greater separation line with most Americans than this political elitism. Still, Biden manages. On essentially every other issue, Biden is a knee-jerk liberal, with some respectable nuances:

  • He looks down on gun-owners and has frequently voted for gun-control measures, reminding voters of Obama’s assessment of “bitter” gun-and-Bible-toting rednecks. So long West Virginia;
  • He voted against a human cloning ban (!);
  • He opposes drilling in ANWR;
  • He is against requiring a photo ID from those registering to vote;
  • He voted to continue sending federal funds to sanctuary cities;
  • He opposes recognizing English as our official language – reminding voters of Obama’s assertion that their children had better learn Spanish;
  • He voted to extend Social Security benefits to illegal aliens.
  • He opposes school vouchers;
  • He voted against parental notification laws and against legal consequences for those who would transport minors across state lines to get an abortion;
  • He voted nay on a Constitutional amendment banning flag burning;
  • He is a defender of Affirmative Action and the Equal Rights Amendment;
  • He remains stubbornly against tort reform to curb nuisance lawsuits, including suing gun manufacturers.

It will be harder for Obama to sell his message of “change” with a 35-year Senate member and Washington insider on his ticket, and a convention speaker lineup that looks like a replay of the last three conventions: Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Carter, Kennedy. Snore. (Oh, and Pat Leahy, unions, and abortionist lobbyists!)

By far Biden’s biggest fault is that he comes across to the average American as an Eastern Seaboard liberal who thinks – no, he knows – he’s better than you. This, coupled with his policy positions, essentially insulates him from appealing to the heartland, or even outside traditionally blue states. This is something Evan Bayh could have done – a bona fide Hillary-supporting moderate from a red state who, theoretically, could have put Indiana into play.

For his every vice, Joe Biden has a number of redeeming virtues, as well. He supports a partial birth abortion ban, opposes gay marriage (though not civil unions), backs the Cuban trade embargo, opposes federal funding for abortion, voted to recognize the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, and has spoken out against Hugo Chavez’s crackdown on free speech in Venezuela at a time when his colleagues were taking oil shipments from Caracas. He is a thoughtful and seasoned lawmaker who would be perfectly competent to serve as President of the United States. And for all his evident pride and lack of discipline, his rhetorical misfires often occur while making a good-natured joke (the “Indian accent” remark) or a passionately held political belief. Joe Biden is undeniably an honorable, if regularly off-base, politician.

The nation would be face a much better choice in November if he and Obama switched places on the ticket. However, the Democratic base would never abide a man that independent.

This article originally appeared as the lead story on Monday, August 25, 2008, on FrontPage Magazine.