Updated: I removed a mis-placed reference to Libya pending more information and augmented my critique of Obama’s handling of the killing of Osama.
I know, I know: it’s not a fair fight, really. Charity almost compels me not to write something that puts “incoherence” and “Joe Biden” in the same sentence. Almost, but not quite.
Joe Biden, our inestimable Vice President, delivered a speech at New York University on the foreign policy accomplishments and abilities of Barack Obama. As is typical with Biden the speech was long and circuitous, and not in a phenomenology-is-long-and-circuitous-for-good-reason sort of way.
I’ll get the easy one out of the way. Biden said of Obama, “This guy has got a backbone like a ramrod.” … well…
And who can forget…
The ramrod *has,* however, come into play when ramming it down the throat of his base by keeping Gitmo open, continuing the Bush-era policies of extraordinary rendition, and even widening our unmanned drone strikes as a major component of war fighting (or even non-war quasi-assassinations).
And I’m not sure how he demonstrated a “ramrod” of a spine when his attorney general was forced to back off plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civil court in New York City after massive public and governmental pushback.
Oddly, Biden didn’t mention any of those accomplishments.
Biden did bring up the killing of Osama bin Laden, which Obama deserves some credit for. But only for saying, “do it,” when the evidence was overwhelming and moment was just right. (Even though there is evidence he put on asbestos underwear named “Admiral McRaven,” and that his chief concern in the whole affair was how it would play out for him in his reelection campaign.) But it’s not like it was years of Obama’s policies that kept Osama on the run and forced him finally to hole-up in a tiny compound with no internet, no phone, and walls with very high windows so he could walk around indoors without being seen. That was Bush. But that’s among the things this administration will steadfastly refuse to “blame” Bush for.
But that lone shining moment aside, let’s look at some highlights from the rest of Biden’s talk.
Biden: “He set in motion a policy to end the war in Iraq responsibly.”
That was actually made possible by the “surge” of 2007, which both Obama and Biden bitterly opposed. After the success of the surge the end of the Iraq war occurred on roughly the timetable that President George W. Bush had envisioned anyhow. So Obama didn’t set anything in motion that wasn’t already in motion. He simply managed not to screw it up.
Biden: “He set a clear strategy and an end date for the war in Afghanistan”
Really? What is it? Ever since Obama took office that war has meandered along with no clear picture of the objective or how to get out having left the Afghan government and security forces in a better position to stave off another takeover by the Taliban or forces sponsored by neighboring Iran. The only truly new development is that we have signaled our intention to get out in 2014, regardless of conditions on the ground, and our government is now in talks with the Taliban—the very regime we went there to topple for offering safe harbor to al Qaeda. So combine an announced clear timetable for departure with a blatant move to legitimize the sworn enemy and what do you get? A populace that trusts you less, and people in that populace more prone to align with the opposition that will still be around once you’re gone. A recipe for more problems…
Biden: “He cut in half the number of Americans who are literally serving in harm’s way.”
Overseeing the successful conclusion of the war in Iraq (thanks, Dubya!) and overseeing the bloodiest years of the war in Afghanistan (thanks, Barack!) will lead to a reduction in the number of troops in harm’s way: most by withdrawal, many by death.
Biden: “He repaired our alliances and restored America’s standing in the world and he saved our economy.”
The world has rarely, if ever, been more unstable than it is right now. Our historic allies have been insulted routinely by this President, while he bows and blows kisses to those who are fundamentally opposed to our way of life and system of governance. And our economy, thanks to his multi-trillion dollar deficits and flaccid job-growth policies is hardly “saved.” Only a fool or a deluded politician would believe what Biden said there.
Biden: “He saved our economy from collapse with some very unpopular but bold decisions that have turned out to be right, including the rescue of the automobile industry, all of which has made us much stronger not only at home but abroad.”
Truth is, those very unpopular decision also started under Bush (TARP, especially, which paved the way for the auto bailouts). But they won’t give credit to Bush for that, either, of course. Not that I’m endorsing TARP or disdaining the auto bailouts. I hate the corporatism it represents, I like letting market principles dictate business success, but I’m not so sure that bit of economic and societal pain in pursuit of a more healthy economic system would have been wise. However, the manner in which it was pursued, with the government deciding by fiat which creditors would get paid and which get shafted rather than observing conventional bankruptcy norms, really reeks of political payouts to Big Labor and corporate-political buddies. But still: the basis for it all was another Bush-era policy that Obama and his people perpetuated, which then produced results that they like, and they want to take full credit for it.
But Bush had nothing to do with the millions and billions in hand-outs to non-starter “green jobs” startups, killing the Keystone pipeline, the irresponsible and wholly uncalled for moratorium on off-shore drilling after the Gulf explosion, and the myriad ways the Obama EPA has sought to “crucify” energy companies, thus driving up energy costs, which drive up the price on everything, thus hurting productivity and jobs and ultimately the poorest among us. But that basic lesson in economics seems to have escaped him and his. Or they don’t care.
Which leads directly into the thesis, if you will, of Biden’s talk:
Biden: “If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
Yes, provided you include the groundwork Bush laid for both of those conclusions. (Leaving aside the conversation about whether it is a *good* thing that General Motors is still alive in its present configuration—the Volt? Really?)
Biden: “President Obama always means what he says.”
Wait, let me help: “President Obama always means what he says [in the moment when he says it, but not necessarily longer than that, especially if what he says proves to be verifiably false or politically damaging].” There, better.
Or, if he does always mean what he says, then he must really mean this “more flexibility” thing, too:
Because, you know, “ramrods” have flexibility.
Biden then goes into an attack on Romney, saying that Romney’s foreign policy would take us back to a time when we would “go it alone.” Of course, Dubya never did “go it alone,” assembling a coalition of more than 40 nations for the invasion of Iraq despite opposition from the French and Germans.
He says Romney would “waste hundreds of billions of dollars.” Which is, of course, pittance to this administration—until you propose wasting nearly a trillion on just one ineffective “stimulus” bill you’re not a serious candidate.
Of Obama, Biden says, “He has acted boldly, strengthening America’s ability to contend with the new forces shaping this century” … except the force of revanchist Russia, and “leading from behind” on “Arab Spring” matters.
Biden: “Under President Obama’s leadership, our alliances have never been stronger.”
… almost speechless. No one respects him, or us by extension. No one fears him, or us by extension. So if by “stronger” he means, “all those other nations acting in their own selfish self-interest know they can push us around and dictate policy and they like us better because of it,” then sure. Otherwise, our staunchest allies the Brits and Aussies aren’t exactly enamored of this guy’s “leadership” and treatment of them.
Biden: “At the same time, the President shut down secret prisons overseas…”
Except Gitmo, and the rest are unverifiable because, well, they’re secret, so it’s a comfy claim to make—cannot be disproven. And if they have shut down secret prisons they must have either transferred the prisoners to Gitmo, released them, or transferred them to other countries (note he did not list “ended extraordinary rendition”), so none of these are exactly admirable to an anti-war, anti-Gitmo base.
It was already banned.
“…and in doing so demonstrated that we don’t have to choose between protecting our country and living our values; and, as a consequence of those decisions, enhanced the security of our own soldiers abroad and the power of our persuasion around the world.”
We’ve had how many soldiers murdered in cold blood in Afghanistan by the Afghan soldiers they were training in the past few months? How, exactly, has he made our troops safer? Because the stats, at least in Afghanistan, tell a different story.
And powers of persuasion? His “powers of persuasion” were launched by “I won” and haven’t been much different since. He is about forcing his ideological agenda by any means necessary, not persuading people to come on board. If there has been anything different abroad it is because of others like Hillary Clinton and in spite of him.
Biden: “We plan for conflicts in the future with a new defense strategy, supported by the entire Defense Department’s senior leadership.”
People may not remember this, but Don Rumsfeld was up to the same thing, and was much reviled for it in hawkish circles, prior to 9/11. So this, too, was a Bush-era idea that was much modified when the planes hit the towers. Rumsfeld et al. did pursue a transformation of the military during the wars, but it’s a might-bit tougher to do during kinetic operations. It was, however, underway under Rumsfeld and then Gates, while Bush was President.
Biden then turned to Romney’s unfortunate remark about relying on the egg heads at Foggy Bottom who frequently have other-than-U.S.-interests in mind for foreign policy expertise. Biden is actually correct that the President is the chief diplomat and as such having some foreign policy chops of his own is very important. But it isn’t like Obama was a foreign policy expert in 2008—that was one of the main reasons Biden was chosen for the veep slot: he was seen as having the foreign policy chops to fill that gap in Obama’s rather thin resume. But I have no doubt that Romney would assemble a good team around him and be fine on foreign policy. The next part of Biden’s talk is, inadvertently on his part, why. In speaking about the President’s unique role in making the final decision on the big, important matters, Biden says:
And the President is all alone at that moment. It’s his judgment that will determine the destiny of this country. He must make the hard calls. I’d respectfully suggest President Obama has made those hard calls with strength and steadiness.
And the reason he has been able to is because he had clear goals and a clear strategy how to achieve those goals. He had a clear vision and has a clear vision for America’s place in the world. He seeks all the help he can get from experts as to how to realize that vision, but ultimately he makes the decision.
So it seems to me, Governor Romney’s fundamental thinking about the role of the President in foreign policy is fundamentally wrong. That may work — that may work — that kind of thinking may work for a CEO. But I assure you, it will not and cannot work for a President and it will not work for a Commander-in-Chief.
Biden is exactly wrong, of course. Since Biden has been a career politician he clearly doesn’t know what being a CEO actually entails. Presidents actually have to do the coalition building thing at least as much as they have to make the hard decisions unilaterally. Corporate CEOs, on the other hand, make the unilateral decision and pretty much as a matter of course, and then use whatever management style they prefer to bring the company into the reality caused by that decision. Romney’s experience as a CEO—and, as the Obama camp will remind us repeatedly this season, a cutthroat one at times—shows him *quite* qaulified and experienced at taking the advice, hearing the sides, having his own vision, and making a decision on his own.
Biden touted the Administration’s leadership (from behind, that is) on theaters of the Arab Spring, but simply toppling a secular Muslim autocrat only to see him replaced by Islamist hard liners who hate our very existence doesn’t seem like a very responsible way to go about things.
Anyhow, the speech continues in the same vein for a lot longer—Biden is nothing if not long-winded—but I think that hits the highlights.
Romney may not already be a foreign policy wonk, but three-plus years in Obama and Biden aren’t either.
But then, what can Biden really say, considering the conditions and outcomes?
Fortunately, we have an opportunity to get these bums out of office before they do further damage. Hopefully it’s not too late.