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Good Joe v. Bad Joe: Biden At His Best, Minus A Quibble

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On Wednesday, Joe Lieberman published a piece on the opinion pages of WSJ which essentially accused the entirety of foreign policy positions held by the current Democratic Party of being essentially a stab in the back to the entirety of foreign policy positions of the Democratic Party of FDR, Truman, and JFK. Interestingly, LBJ wasn't included in the litany of Democratic golden oldies. Joe may have succeeded in performing a lobotomy on himself, resulting in a weird sort of frontal stupidity, but that doesn't mean he isn't still wily.

Today, Joe Biden, has a superb answer to Lieberman, also in the pages of the WSJ, one in which Biden touches all the right bases, not more, not less, and then heads confidently for home plate, leaving that other Joe in the dust.

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I haven't always been as admiring of Joe Biden as I've grown to be in the past two years; like Hillary, Biden voted for the AUMF, and worse than Hillary, Joe gave out all sorts of confusing signals, after the UN inspectors went back into Iraq, about his own support for an invasion and the potential positives for the region in a post-invasion reconstructed Iraq.

I call this the "if done the right way" argument of many liberal quasi-hawks, among whom I would place Josh Marshall, for instance, who, though skeptical, still thought the neo-cons were maybe, sorta, on to something eminently desirable when they talked about the domino effect of taking on Saddam Huessin, which might just produce a reconfigured democratic Middle East, if only it was done right, although Marshall did decide, minutes before the actual invasion, that a negative domino effect was the more likely outcome.

There were so many indications screaming at any observer that it wasn't going to be done the right way, and in the best of circumstances, the right way was a hideous gamble with the life of a nation of 25 million people, that I found myself very angry at Joe Biden. However, as I often try to argue here at Corrente, because both being human and being political are dynamic processes, we should always be ready to reevaluate our own perceptions.

Whereas Lieberman's starting point is the assumption that the Democratic Party of today has drifted perilously far from the principled foreign policies of a golden past, and then asks and answers the question of how such a puzzling turn of events could have happened, Biden takes that assumption, turns it inside out, and stuffs it right back in Lieberman's furrowed-brow but probably smiling face.

On Wednesday, Joe Lieberman wrote on this page that the Democratic Party he and I grew up in has drifted far from the foreign policy espoused by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy.

In fact, it is the policies that President George W. Bush has pursued, and that John McCain would continue, that are divorced from that great tradition – and from the legacy of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Precisely. Except. Herein my quibble.

I understand the at-this-point-obligatory bipartisan nod to Republican foreign policy high-points, and there is some truth to what Biden is saying here. In the end, Ronald Reagan abandoned neo-con obsessions to make a deal, several deals, with Gorbachev, whose reforms, probably not possible without Reagan's final willingness to do business with his Russian opposite, led ultimately to the fall of what I think it is fair to call the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. Until then, Reagan's policies only strengthened the hands of the most intractable, old-line, Kremlin power centers, wasted enormous amounts of American taxpayers money on an inept, and, as it turned out, inapt, military buildup, no matter the constant claims by the American right-wing that it was precisely that build-up which brought the Soviet Union to its knees.

As to Bush-pere, yes, he built an international coalition to fight the first Gulf War, but how worthwhile a war did it turn out to be, especially in light of the way it energized an Osama Bin Laden, especially in light of the way it was fought, the way it was ended, with this country taking everything from the Iraqi people, except Saddam? Yes, Bush 43 didn't stand in the way of nuclear non-proliferation, and he had a genuinely internationalist foreign policy, but one can trace many of the worst strains of his son's foreign, (and domestic) policies straight back to the first Bush administration.

Rather large footnotes to be called "quibbles" you might be noting to yourselves, but I'm still content to call them that, okay, maybe big quibbles, because I think Biden is correct to assume that his gracious nod to an identifiable non-partisan mainstream of American foreign policy to which the post-9/11 neo-con War-On-Terror conceit stands in stark contrast allows him to take on Lieberman's stab-in-the-back theorizing even more fiercely than without it.

Sen. Lieberman is right: 9/11 was a pivotal moment. History will judge Mr. Bush's reaction less for the mistakes he made than for the opportunities he squandered.

The president had a historic opportunity to unite Americans and the world in common cause. Instead – by exploiting the politics of fear, instigating an optional war in Iraq before finishing a necessary war in Afghanistan, and instituting policies on torture, detainees and domestic surveillance that fly in the face of our values and interests – Mr. Bush divided Americans from each other and from the world.

I find it hard to imagine a better phrased or more complete indictment of the Bush/McCain/Lieberman response to 9/11.

Biden does get even better, though, when he finally takes on the central conceit of the neo-con Bush post-9/11 foreign policy.

At the heart of this failure is an obsession with the "war on terrorism" that ignores larger forces shaping the world: the emergence of China, India, Russia and Europe; the spread of lethal weapons and dangerous diseases; uncertain supplies of energy, food and water; the persistence of poverty; ethnic animosities and state failures; a rapidly warming planet; the challenge to nation states from above and below.

Instead, Mr. Bush has turned a small number of radical groups that hate America into a 10-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.

The intersection of al Qaeda with the world's most lethal weapons is a deadly serious problem. Al Qaeda must be destroyed. But to compare terrorism with an all-encompassing ideology like communism and fascism is evidence of profound confusion.

Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals. Messrs. Bush and McCain lump together, as a single threat, extremist groups and states more at odds with each other than with us: Sunnis and Shiites, Persians and Arabs, Iraq and Iran, al Qaeda and Shiite militias. If they can't identify the enemy or describe the war we're fighting, it's difficult to see how we will win.

I imagine that some of you will find yourselves unhappy with the notion here that Biden seems to validate - that we are in some kind of war that can be won or lost. But I'll give the good Joe that rhetorical feint, because his is one of the best attacks on the very notion of a war on terror that I've yet seen from any elected Democrat. And Biden is after something even bigger; a compelling description of the total failures of the Bush foreign policy, which Lieberman has to pretend don't exist, and McCain will claim aren't his fault, although we should trust him to fix them.

The results speak for themselves.

On George Bush's watch, Iran, not freedom, has been on the march: Iran is much closer to the bomb; its influence in Iraq is expanding; its terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant in Lebanon and that country is on the brink of civil war.

Beyond Iran, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 – are stronger now than at any time since 9/11. Radical recruitment is on the rise. Hamas controls Gaza and launches rockets at Israel every day. Some 140,000 American troops remain stuck in Iraq with no end in sight.

Because of the policies Mr. Bush has pursued and Mr. McCain would continue, the entire Middle East is more dangerous. The United States and our allies, including Israel, are less secure.

The election in November is a vital opportunity for America to start anew. That will require more than a great soldier. It will require a wise leader.

There's more but I'll let you discover Biden's thoughts about Iran on your own. In fact, the entire piece is worth a read, despite my perhaps excessive quotes.

Lieberman's piece I'll discuss more fully in a separate post by explaining why it was wily of bad Joe not to mention LBJ, and then by comparing bad Joe's piece to JFK's actual foreign policy, and in particular to the extraordinary commencement speech he gave at the American University in June of 1963, less than six months before his death.

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Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

We taunt you with puppies and kittehs for weeks, and when you finally show up, everyone is so engrossed in the most recent train lekkage that you are virtually ignored.

I've always liked Biden, support for the Bankruptcy Bill aside, he is confrontational and bombastic. He scores a lot of good hits on Repubs, and would campaign effectively as a VP.

It's wonderful seeing him put LIEberman in his place.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

Submitted by lambert on

I'm not sure where this is heading, but I'll be interested to hear about the JFK speech. Sometime in 2008 Bad lambert! Bad.

I've never thought Biden was insane. And it's nice to see a Democrat calling a little bullshit.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Nice. Biden's a decent guy, and enjoyable when he stays focused. I much prefer to read him than listen to him. Lieberman, now, there's an interesting specimen. As though once he'd escaped the cage of the Democratic Party, Ugly Joe took over. Saw an interview last week of Reid, and he was asked if there was anything Lieberman could do that would warrant kicking him out of the caucus. Reid looked straight into the camera and said, "Well, yes; there is." Nothing more. Guess Joe's trying to find out what that might be.

Look forward to your next post.