Biden Time: Obama Finds His Dick Cheney

Article excerpt

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY didn't set out to hand its nomination to the least experienced major presidential candidate. But if Democrats wanted a nominee who stood from the beginning with the majority of their voters against the invasion of Iraq--and they did not want to nominate Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel--they had little choice. Barack Obama's response to the charge that he was unprepared to lead was simple: he alone among the viable contenders possessed the judgment to oppose the Iraq War before the shock and awe faded. Implicit in this rejoinder was a willingness to reject the soft neoconservatism that has come to dominate the Democratic foreign-policy establishment.

So what message did Obama send by picking Joe Biden as his running mate? A Gilda Radner-like, "Nevermind." Certainly, Obama could have done worse. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine would have given the Democrats a pair of leaders who began the decade in the Illinois state senate and on the Richmond city council. Evan Bayh would have given Obama a running mate who voted for the Bush tax cuts and a Republican opponent who voted against them.

It is nevertheless difficult to reconcile Obama's choice with a desire to shake up the Democratic establishment--Biden, a classic Washington pol, is a fixture of that elite. He has been in the Senate for six terms and first made a run for the Democratic presidential nomination 20 years ago, back when Neil Kinnock was actually the British Labour leader and not merely some fellow whose speeches Biden once cribbed.

Biden voted for the Iraq War, agreeing with the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein in 2002 was "a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security," as well as "an extreme danger to the world." As late as 2007, he was defending the original rationale for the war. On "Meet the Press," Biden said of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, "everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.... This was not some, some Cheney, you know, pipe dream."

In 2005, Biden told the Brookings Institution that withdrawing from Iraq would be a "gigantic mistake" and any "deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out" would be "equally a mistake." In the run-up to the 2008 Democratic primaries, however, he criticized Obama and Hillary Clinton for voting against Iraq funding bills that did not contain a timetable for withdrawal, arguing that it would result in American forces having to return at a later date. Such rhetoric is little different from John McCain's.

During the 1990s, Biden was clamoring for U.S. forces to intervene in the Balkans even before McCain did. He supported airstrikes against Serbia and the Kosovo war before Bill Clinton. Since then, he has favored humanitarian involvement in all the usual places, including Georgia and Darfur.

That's not to say he has never departed from our current foreign policy in any significant way. Biden worked with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar to craft a more restrictive war resolution that would have required President Bush to exhaust all diplomatic options before using force--though, again, he voted for the more permissive resolution that actually passed. He also worked with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to oppose the surge. Biden has advocated a soft partition of Iraq as a way of ending sectarian strife. And his call to make security aid to Pakistan conditional on results represents an effort to refocus the war on terror on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. …