Biden Means Business As Usual

by , August 26, 2008

To anyone who really believed Barack Obama’s candidacy represented “hope” and “change,” the selection of Joe Biden as his running mate should put that illusion to rest. Antiwar activists point to Biden’s vote in favor of authorizing Bush to go to war with Iraq, but even worse was his behavior in the run-up to the invasion.

Today he wails that he didn’t know, that nobody knew the truth about Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction,” but it cannot be said that Biden was all that eager to discover the truth, either. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 2002, Biden was in a position to ensure that a real debate took place on the issue. Yet, in the hearings held by his committee, not a single antiwar “expert” was called: all were spear-carriers for the War Party.

Biden was chosen for the number-two spot because he is thought to strengthen the Obama campaign in the area of foreign policy, where the candidate is considered weakest. Biden is presented as a man of experience, and a foreign policy maven to boot. However, it is precisely in the realm of foreign policy that Biden falls far short. Biden supported the president’s war policies, at least in terms of ends if not means, and he made that clear enough in a speech in the summer of 2005:

Remember the $18.4 billion that Congress appropriated at the urgent request of the president of the United States in the fall of ’03 for which I helped floor-manage and took on the responsibility along with others to push hard because I believe there is a nexus between the reconstruction and the physical safety and possible success of our military in the region. Just $6 billion of that $18.4 billion has been spent.”

We aren’t spending enough money on Iraq, said Biden, and, by the way, we need more troops, not less. Over and over again we heard from Biden – a favorite on the Sunday talk shows – that the president wasn’t “leveling with the American people” and being honest about what it would take to “win” in Iraq. Unlike Bush, Biden had – and has – a very clear idea of what “victory” in Iraq would have to mean: “Success, as I define it, is leaving Iraq better than we found it.”

Is it really possible for us to leave Iraq better than we found it after killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – and discovering that the rationale for the war was based on lies?

As Americans began to grumble about the war, and some Democrats started talking about an immediate withdrawal, Biden stepped into the breach as the voice of maturity and responsibility:

Many Americans have already concluded that we cannot salvage Iraq. We should bring all our forces home as soon as possible. They include some of the most respected voices on military matters in this country, like Congressman Jack Murtha. They’re mindful of the terrible consequences from withdrawing. But even worse, in their judgment, would be to leave Americans to fight – and to die – in Iraq with no strategy for success. I share their frustration. But I’m not there yet. I still believe we can preserve our fundamental security interests in Iraq as we begin to redeploy our forces.”

The Democrats, claimed Biden, could carry out the policies of the War Party more responsibly, more efficiently, and with more dramatic flair:

As David Brooks reminded us in the New York Times yesterday, ‘Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans to spread out maps before them and he described, step by step, what was going on in World War II, where the U.S. was winning and where it was losing. Why can’t today’s president do that? Why can’t he show that he is aware that his biggest problem is not in Iraq, it’s on the home front’?”

Why can’t President Bush be more like FDR – you know, the president who lied us into war, as Clare Booth Luce famously remarked, yet did it with real finesse? He also put antiwar protesters on trial for “sedition” while rounding up “enemy aliens” (mostly American citizens of Japanese descent), seizing their property, and putting them in concentration camps. Is this really a tradition Biden would like to see revived?

Biden has been one of the War Party’s most reliable servants, endorsing as “absolutely correct” then-President Clinton’s attack on hapless Yugoslavia – like Iraq, another example of a war in which the “enemy” represented no danger to the U.S. and whose crimes were vastly overstated. This earned him the approbation of John McCain, who, on April 11, 1999, declared to Tim Russert on Meet the Press: “We need Joe Biden for secretary of state.” An astounded Russert asked: “Is that an offer by President McCain?” McCain replied: “Absolutely!”

McCain wasn’t joking, and his comments underscore the essential unity of Washington’s bipartisan foreign policy consensus, which is firmly anchored in an interventionist outlook, a militarist mindset that assumes unlimited American power and a position of unchallenged preeminence. Yet reality – economic reality – is setting in, and even the most stalwart advocates of America’s role as the world’s policeman are losing their pretensions. Not, however, Sen. Biden, whose most recent noteworthy contribution to the Iraq war debate was a proposal to divide Iraq into three separate quasi-independent nations, one for each of the three main ethnic-religious factions. The problem is, he didn’t bother consulting with the Iraqis before floating this idea, and the Iraqis were apoplectic.

Obama’s claim that he’s the harbinger of a new politics is, unfortunately, belied by his choice of a running mate. A truly new politics, one that goes beyond the red-state/blue-state dichotomy that polarizes our politics between two false choices, would have at least seriously considered Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, who has all but endorsed Obama and seemed to be in the running at some point. Now that would’ve been truly outside the box – but far too much to expect from the ossified party hacks who seem to have commandeered the Obama campaign, if not the candidate himself. Hagel, for all of his faults, was and is vehemently against the Iraq war, and, what’s more, had the balls to stand up to the warmongers in his own party. A former Army infantry squad leader with a gruff persona and a personal history that rivals McCain’s in its all-American machismo, Hagel as VP would’ve sent seismic shudders through the GOP’s base, already visibly cracking.

The “new politics,” it turns out, is pretty much the same as the old politics, of which Biden – a Washington insider for the past 35 years – is the exemplar. The War Party is jazzed at this sign that Obama isn’t going to give them much trouble, especially when it comes to their latest project: demonizing Russia. Just before winning the vice-presidential sweepstakes, Biden took a trip to Georgia and returned bloviating at top speed, sounding for all the world like John McCain. As the Washington Post reported:

“Some Democrats have been pleading with Obama to use McCain’s tough response to the Russian invasion of Georgia to paint him as a trigger-happy interventionist who would risk bringing a war-weary nation into military conflict in regions where the United States has no interest.

“For those Democrats, Biden’s conclusions from his trip may be a disappointment.

“Consultations with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, Georgian Parliamentary Speaker David Bakradze, and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft left the Democratic senator seemingly as angry as McCain is.

“‘I left the country convinced that Russia’s invasion of Georgia may be the one of the most significant event to occur in Europe since the end of communism. The claims of Georgian atrocities that provided the pretext for Russia’s invasion are rapidly being disproved by international observers, and the continuing presence of Russian forces in the country has severe implications for the broader region. The war that began in Georgia is no longer about that country alone. It has become a question of whether and how the West will stand up for the rights of free people throughout the region.'”

Georgian atrocities? Oh, never mind those! A Georgian invasion? It never happened – just ask those “international observers.” It’s time to get on Russia’s case. It’s time to start saber-rattling and spreading the conflict throughout the region. That’s what Biden, who poses as a foreign policy expert, wants U.S. policy to be, and what it will be if and when Obama gets in the White House. No, he’s not Cheney, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be Cheney-esque.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

It’s all too easy for Johnny-come-lately “antiwar” politicians and their cheering sections to come out against a wildly unpopular war, but where were they in 2002, as the war drums were beating and it was downright dangerous to oppose the war plans of the current administration? Where was Joe Biden? I’ll tell you where he was: he was on the Senate floor demanding the “liberation” of Iraq.

This just goes to show that the antiwar movement cannot put its trust in politicians: they’ll sell us out every time. I did have some hope in Obama, in the beginning, I’ll admit it, but that has quickly dissipated into a sinking feeling that the War Party – already shifting away from a focus on Iraq, and taking up a new campaign to target Vladimir Putin’s Russia – is way ahead of us on that front and has all its bases covered.

Yes, I know, it’s depressing. We all want change, especially when it comes to our war-crazed foreign policy, yet it doesn’t at all look as though we’re going to get it, come November, much to my regret. So, what now?

Well, we may not be able to influence the councils of power in Washington, but what we can do is build and maintain our own institutions and make our case directly to the American people and people worldwide. Which is precisely what Antiwar.com is all about. Speaking of which…

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Read more by Justin Raimondo