Some Things That Might Surprise You About Biden’s Foreign Policy Positions

If you assume that all politicians can be placed on a binary left-right continuum, then a recent piece by Bill Barrow and Elana Schor will undoubtably make sense. Their point is that Joe Biden is to the right of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on foreign policy.

Biden, long part of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, is being pitted against progressives more skeptical of the use of military intervention. Biden’s long record — in the Obama administration and in the Senate before that — isn’t necessarily a selling point for many progressives in the party’s base.

It is true that, as vice president, Biden supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Sanders and Warren opposed. But the Democratically-weighted Conference of Mayors endorsed the deal, while the 71 percent of Democrats said they supported it. Many of those people probably feel vindicated now that we are witnessing the dire effects of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the agreement.

The place where Biden is most vulnerable is that he voted to give George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. But as David Corn recently noted, it is actually a bit more complicated than that. Initially Biden worked on a bipartisan bill with Senators Lugar and Hagel to reign in the administration.

They proposed an alternative to Bush’s resolution that would only allow Bush to attack Iraq for the purpose of destroying WMD and only after seeking UN approval. If the UN turned Bush down, he would have to come back to Congress and prove Saddam posed a WMD threat so “grave” that only military action could eliminate it. Bush couldn’t just hop into war on his own.

That legislation was thwarted by Dick Gephardt, who sided with the president in a public display of support, making it difficult for Biden’s Republican colleagues to place themselves ‘to the left’ of the Democratic house leader. In the end, however, Biden must be held accountable for voting in favor of the measure giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq, something even he has admitted was a mistake.

Where Barrow and Schor rely too heavily on assumptions about Biden rather than facts is in their suggestion that he has long been part of the foreign policy establishment and favored military intervention. Here is what Paul Richter and Noam Levy wrote about Biden back in 2008 when Obama chose him as a running mate.

What appears to bind Biden and Obama in the realm of foreign affairs, however, is a shared belief in strong cooperation with America’s traditional allies and in the use of force only as a last resort. The Democratic standard-bearers reject the belief of President Bush and some other conservatives that the United States should not hesitate to act unilaterally if other nations demur.

John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, which advocates arms control, said the Delaware Democrat “is someone who won’t give the neocons the time of the day.”

Over the years, Biden has called for U.S. military intervention to stop the bloodshed in the Balkans and Darfur. But he voted against authorizing George H.W. Bush’s war in Iraq and was a leader of the opposition to Bush II’s troop surge in 2006.

During some of the most controversial foreign policy decisions of the Obama era, Biden consistently counseled against military intervention. He spoke out against a troop surge in Afghanistan and followed that up with attempts to negotiate a power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Biden also counseled against U.S. military involvement in Libya and Syria.

Regardless of how you feel about Biden’s candidacy in 2020 or any of these positions, to claim that he has a history of aligning with the foreign policy establishment in favor of military intervention is not only inaccurate, it is lazy. The record of the former senator and vice president is available for everyone to review.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.