BY choosing Sen. Joseph Biden as his vice-presidential running mate, Barack Obama
sent three messages. The first two are implicit admissions that Hillary
Clinton had a point in the primaries. The third tells us more of what
Obama means by "change."
Biden is supposed to make up for Obama's lack of the knowledge and
experience needed to leader on national security and international
affairs. And the Delaware senator, with his humble working-class
origins, is also meant to reassure the "simple folk" that Obama seems
to be losing.
But the third message is that "change" means a return not to the
Camelot of President John Kennedy, but to the foreign policies of Jimmy
Carter. For Biden, an early supporter of Carter in his quest for the
presidency in 1976, shares the former president's view of the world and
the United States' place in it.
In 2004, I was astonished to hear Biden doing his own bit of
America-bashing in front of an audience at the World Economic Forum in
Davos. The US, he claimed, had no moral authority to preach democracy
in the Middle East. "We don' have much of a democracy ourselves, " he
said mockingly. "Remember our own presidential election; remember
Biden has the experience of more than three decades in the US
senate, at least two of them dealing with foreign affairs and defense.
But experience is no guarantee of good judgment. And Biden has been
wrong on almost every key issue.
* In 1979, he shared Carter's starry-eyed belief that the fall of
the shah in Iran and the advent of the ayatollahs represented progress
for human rights. Throughout the hostage crisis, as US diplomats were
daily paraded blindfolded in front of television cameras and threatened
with execution, he opposed strong action against the terrorist mullahs
and preached dialogue.
* Throughout the 1980s. Biden opposed President Ronald Reagan's
proactive policy against the Soviet Union. Biden was all for détente -
which, in practice, meant Western subsidies that would have enabled the
moribund USSR to cling to life and continue doing mischief.
* In 1990, Biden found it difficult to support President George
Bush's decision to use force to kick Saddam Hussein's army of
occupation out of Kuwait.
* A decade-plus later, the senator did vote for the
liberation of Iraq from Saddamite tyranny. But as soon as terrorists
started challenging the new democratic system in Iraq, he switched
sides and became a critic of the whole war effort. He claimed that the
Iraq war was lost and suggested that the US partition the newly
liberated country into three or more mini-states.
Biden's misreading of the situation in Iraq shows that experience
is no substitute for judgment. He judged the situation on the basis of
headlines and CNN footage - not the long-term, geo-strategic interests
of the United States. In short, he lacked what President Harry Truman
called "strategic patience."
* For more than a decade, Biden has adopted an ambivalent attitude
towards the Islamic Republic in Tehran, now emerging as the chief
challenger to US interests in the Middle East. Biden's links with
pro-Tehran lobbies in the US and his support for "unconditional
dialogue" with the mullahs echo Obama's own wrong-headed promise to
circumvent the current multilateral efforts by seeking direct US-Iran
talks, excluding the Europeans as well as Russia and China.
Had Biden had his way, "the Evil Empire" would still be around and
Saddam Hussein still in power. The US would still be begging the
mullahs of Tehran for forgiveness of unspecified "past sins" - and more
American hostages would be seized in the Middle East while the mullahs
celebrate their first atomic bombs.
By choosing Biden, Obama, the candidate of hope, has transformed
his promise of change, into a back-to-the-future pirouette - back to