Joe Doesn’t Know Foreign Policy

In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on

The news is full of conjecture about when Vice President Joe Biden will dethrone Hillary Clinton. The inevitability of this occurred long before the email scandal, and if Biden runs, he becomes the Democratic Party’s nominee.

It is therefore odd that so little attention is being paid to Biden’s foreign policy and national security views, since he will be forced to defend Obama’s doctrine of decline. If a Clinton victory would add both teeth and corruption to U.S. policy, and Sen. Bernie Sanders would turn retreat into a rout, what would Biden do? The answer is very little. He would take the Obama foreign policy and try to manage it. If you can imagine the Obama years in foreign affairs as taking a well-tuned watch and shattering it, Biden will try to paint the hands back on. The watch is still quite broken, but does not appear to be quite such a disaster.

One has to combine his views as a senator, presidential candidate and vice president to create a picture of what Biden foreign policy would look like. It is not only unappealing, but also lackluster.

You can sum up Biden’s view on foreign policy through something he said when he running for president in 1988: “People think the Republicans are too tough but not very smart, and the Democrats are not tough enough.” Twenty years later he talked of “clarity” in foreign policy. Like many Democrats, he voted for the Patriot Act and its renewal, as well as the invasion of Iraq. However, just as Hilary Clinton has “evolved” on gay marriage, Biden has “evolved” on Iraq, and in 2007 sponsored the Iraq War Policy Bill and Iraq War Policy resolution that expressed strong disagreement with the increase in military intervention there.

Iraq is a great test case for studying a Biden foreign policy: He condoned the war, and like Secretary of State John Kerry, when the going got tough, opposed it. He then almost fantastically advocated the famous division of Iraq into three parts: Kurdish, Shia and Sunni. These three would be autonomous but still maintain the fiction of a central government. The press has been mostly silent on this advocacy of a slide into the abyss. Let us review: Biden goes against the surge, which stabilized Iraq, while proposing its division into three parts. Does anyone seriously think that this would not have done the unimaginable: hand both the Iranians and the Islamic State group a greater victory than they already are enjoying today?

Biden seems a bit more hawkish when it comes to fighting the Islamic State group and also in giving Ukraine more weapons. He is a firm supporter of Obama’s Iranian deal, while being against national missile defense, known for mocking President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative proposal in the 1980s.

Afghanistan serves as another touchstone where Biden had it wrong. He fought against the surge into Afghanistan, later siding with Obama for the drawdown, and continued to claim that the best solution would be off-shore counterterrorism against al-Qaida, effectively ceding Afghanistan back to the Taliban. The icing on the Afghan cake was his opposition to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Various wags have stated that the one noteworthy aspect to Biden’s long tenure relating to foreign affairs, from serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vice president of the United States, is how often he was on the wrong side of any major question.

All of this is bad enough already to not take Biden seriously in the realm of national security and foreign affairs, but this is compounded by his total lack of creativity, dynamism and imagination in a specialty he has been engaged with for decades. The amazing piece is that after so many years in the trenches of foreign policy, there is only a sense of a ship with neither a captain nor a rudder; a trajectory that travels north, then south, then in-between, but with no real destination in mind.

Biden has been described by some in the pundit class as a foreign policy realist; this is perhaps bolstered by the aforementioned desire to divide Iraq and a long standing love affair with the nuclear doctrine of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). However, it is not clear that realists would claim him. Realism, at least its core, tries to cut as much fat from world affairs as possible and reduce everything to power struggles. If true, Biden had it wrong about power on almost every occasion that he inserted himself into the equation: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, North Korea and America’s role as leader.

The combination of an inability to gauge real power in international relations with a disorganized and bland foreign policy would produce the same level of confusion to the international system as the current occupant of the White House.