In the realm of foreign policy, Joseph Biden brings to Barack Obama's presidential bid something it lacks at the top—long experience with a range of countries, problems, and foreign leaders.
During his short-lived presidential nomination run—and before he was tapped this weekend to be Obama's vice presidential running mate—the Delaware senator argued that the failures in Bush administration foreign policy and troubling trends overseas mean that foreign policy should be front-and-center in this year's race for the White House.
Obama's selection of Biden signals that the Democrats will indeed try to turn disquiet over falling U.S. standing in the world, Washington's troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other anxiety-producing events like Russia's invasion of Georgia to their political advantage.
Biden, a loquacious commentator on world affairs, may also serve as a useful source of foreign policy critiques of his Senate colleague and friend, Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Already, Biden has sought to tie McCain with Bush's unpopular Iraq record. "When it comes to Iraq, there is no daylight between John McCain and George W. Bush. They are joined at the hip," Biden said in April. On that occasion, Biden also asserted that McCain "remains wedded to the Bush administration's myopic view of a world defined by terrorism."
Biden contends that Bush has neglected big issues like Russia's renewed power, climate change, energy and food shortfalls, and the impact of a rising China and India. He brands the Bush foreign policy as one of "incompetence."
Still, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden enjoys a generally good reputation for fair-mindedness with Republicans, yielding a cordial working relationship with the ranking member, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. Both are known as serious students of international affairs, and both have often been cited as potential secretaries of state in future presidential administrations.
Biden has been a leading Democratic spokesman on Iraq. His "Biden plan", which he touted during his presidential run, urged that Iraq be divided into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parts under a very loose federal system. The plan was controversial, in part because it suggested that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had made it nearly impossible for Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups to remain under a single government. He also opposed the McCain-backed troop surge.
Unlike Obama, who opposed the 2003 invasion, Biden originally voted to authorize the military operation. He insisted that his support was intended to allow the United States to go after weapons of mass destruction only—a rationale trumpeted by the Bush administration that did not materialize. For nearly five years, he has been a fierce critic of the Bush policy on Iraq.
On Iran, Biden has warned against the consequences of a military strike on the Islamic republic, which is expanding a nuclear program in defiance of the United States and other countries.
He considers Russia's autocratic shift to be one of the most worrisome in recent years, but his rhetoric has been less bellicose than McCain's. Biden made a quick visit to Tbilisi, the embattled capital of Georgia, which may have served to showcase his involvement with the issue. Biden is calling for $1 billion in aid to Georgia, a proposal endorsed by Obama. Biden has also made a mark pushing for fast U.S. action on global climate change.
Should he become vice president, Biden's most important foreign policy impact might come on the intertwined challenges of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In contrast to Iraq, Biden has called for deeper U.S. involvement in both, echoing Obama.
Biden has, in the past, compared Pakistan to prerevolutionary Iran and called for a tripling of aid—while standing more aloof from the previous, military-dominated government of just-resigned President Pervez Musharraf, a Bush administration ally. Next door in Afghanistan, he has also pushed for intensifying economic aid and beefing up the NATO counterinsurgency effort against Islamic militants in the Taliban.