Election 2008

Bob Child/AP
Democratic vice presidential candidate
Sen. Joe Biden

Biden at Home and Abroad

August 29, 2008 02:46 PM
by Liz Colville
Senator Biden’s foreign policy experience was a key factor in Sen. Obama’s decision to name him as his running mate. But what does Biden’s resume spell for other nations?

What Biden’s Experience Means Overseas

The 2008 election comes in the midst of record low opinion of the United States in the Middle East. Biden’s nomination may reassure Americans that an Obama ticket will include international experience, but Biden’s actual views may pose a challenge. Gulf News, based in the UAE and distributed to numerous Gulf region countries including Qatar, Pakistan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, reported on the Biden nomination from an Arab standpoint, sharing several opinions from political pundits, leaders and citizens around the region. Some agreed the nomination was a “positive sign. … It means Obama will pay great attention to foreign policy and the region’s issues. But on what basis? This is yet to be known.”

Others dismissed Biden’s view that Iraq should be divided by ethnicity, which he explained in a 2006 New York Times op-ed, as far-fetched or unlikely to be implemented. Some are “disappointed” by Obama’s choice because it suggests that “there will be no change” if he becomes president; Biden is associated with old Washington ways and is thought by some to be pro-Israel and anti-Arab.

But some argue that Biden’s experience may not be entirely relevant. “The position of the Vice-President in the US is, to a great extent, an honorary position,” Palestinian analyst Hani Al Masri said to Gulf News.

After the announcement, Associated Press interviewed several leaders attending a U.N. climate change convention in Accra, Ghana, intended to create a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol, about the Biden choice. Dominique Moisi, a French political analyst, said he believed the decision was owed to events happening prior to the nomination, namely the Russia-Georgia conflict. “Russia’s invasion of Georgia reinforced the American worry about international tensions,” he said.

Others at the U.N. convention agreed that Biden is the equivalent of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Russia—an experienced advisor to help guide his country’s leader. A member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party, Eckhart von Klaeden, said Obama’s choice reflects a decision to “organize all elements of the Democratic party behind him.”

Context: ‘Heavyweight on foreign policy’

Biden’s three decades in the Senate have been marked by continual involvement in U.S. foreign relations. In particular, he’s been on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for several terms and now leads it. NPR writes that such responsibilities have allowed the vice presidential candidate to secure “substantial contacts with world leaders.” At least to the Obama camp, these credentials outweigh the negative aspects of his political resume, such as his penchant for “digressing into irrelevant personal anecdotes.”

Biden’s initial support of the war in Iraq could come back to haunt him; in this area his stance is similar to Sen. Clinton’s. He attempted to address his flip-flop in his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 26, criticizing the direction of President Bush’s policy on the war, particularly the surge authorized in 2007, and praising Obama’s initial denouncement of an Iraq invasion. “The Bush-McCain foreign policy has dug us into a very deep hole,” Biden said, “with very few friends to help us climb out. … John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.”

Biden’s own plan for Iraq, etched out during his own presidential bid, which was suspended early this year, would “federalize the country and split it in thirds according to the three dominant ethnic groups,” according to the Wall Street Journal. During his campaign Biden was “critical of the rapid U.S. troop withdrawal once advocated by Sen. Obama” and “chided Sen. Obama for casting a vote against funding the war, suggesting it was a stunt in an August interview with Radio Iowa.”

Biden’s view of Iraq goes further than his political platform, and this could affect his statements about the war and rebuilding process. His son Beau, who is a captain in the Delaware National Guard, has been enlisted for a tour of duty in Iraq starting in October.

Background: The Meaning of the Obama-Biden Ticket

Biden’s nomination arguably centers on his tenure on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and speaks to Obama’s relative inexperience on the world stage; during the Georgia-Russia conflict, Biden made a two-day trip to Georgia, which created more buzz around the idea that he was in serious contention for the VP spot.

Obama introduced Biden
as his running mate at a rally in Springfield, Ill., on August 23. Obama’s rhetoric presented his fellow senator as not only experienced in foreign policy, but in line with his out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new political message. “I have seen this man work,” Obama said. “I have sat with him as he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and been by his side on the campaign trail. And I can tell you that Joe Biden gets it. He’s that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids and the corridors of the Capitol; in the VFW hall in Concord, and at the center of an international crisis.”

The national reaction to Obama’s choice was a “mixed bag,” wrote CNN on Aug. 23, compiling opinions from its partner user-generated news site, iReport.com. Many expressed sadness and frustration that Obama had not chosen Sen. Clinton to be his running mate. Others favored rumored choices like former Gen. Wesley Clark. But the choice of Biden “sealed the deal” for Kelly Evans’ support of Obama, despite being a Republican. Lisa Perez agreed, saying “[Biden's] Irish-Catholic, working-class roots are ones that I can relate to as an Hispanic voter.”

Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention
in Denver, Colo., on Aug. 27, was the senator’s attempt to define his position further, as well as to accept the party’s nomination. Biden, noting that he and Senator McCain have been friends for thirty years, analyzed the Republican candidate’s platform. “John thinks that, during the Bush years, quote, ‘We’ve made great economic progress.’ I think it’s been abysmal. And in the Senate, John has voted with President Bush 95 percent [of the time]. And that is very hard to believe.”

Reference: Election 2008 Special Section


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines