Ethics & Public Policy Center

Biden Was Wrong On the Cold War

Published in Wall Street Journal on September 4, 2008



The choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has electrified many conservatives and strengthened John McCain's claim that his administration would be far more reform-minded than Barack Obama's. At the same time, it has triggered accusations that Gov. Palin is far too inexperienced to be vice president, and has little knowledge of national security issues.

Mrs. Palin's lack of mastery of national security issues is often contrasted with Mr. Obama's vice presidential pick, Joseph Biden Jr. Mr. Biden has served in the Senate since 1973, is currently chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and is often described as a “statesman.”

In fact, decade after decade and on important issue after important issue, Mr. Biden's judgment has been deeply flawed.

In the 1970s, Mr. Biden opposed giving aid to the South Vietnamese government in its war against the North. Congress's cut-off of funds contributed to the fall of an American ally, helped communism advance, and led to mass death throughout the region. Mr. Biden also advocated defense cuts so massive that both Edmund Muskie and Walter Mondale, both leading liberal Democrats at the time, opposed them.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. was engaged in a debate over funding the Contras, a group of Nicaraguan freedom fighters attempting to overthrow the Communist regime of Daniel Ortega. Mr. Biden was a leading opponent of President Ronald Reagan's efforts to fund the Contras. He also opposed Reagan's efforts to send military assistance to the pro-American government in El Salvador, which at the time was battling the FMLN, a Soviet-supported Marxist group.

Throughout his career, Mr. Biden has consistently opposed modernization of our strategic nuclear forces. He was a fierce opponent of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Mr. Biden voted against funding SDI, saying, “The president's continued adherence to [SDI] constitutes one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft.” Mr. Biden has remained a consistent critic of missile defense and even opposed the U.S. dropping out of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty after the collapse of the Soviet Union (which was the co-signatory to the ABM Treaty) and the end of the Cold War.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and, we later learned, was much closer to attaining a nuclear weapon than we had believed. President George H.W. Bush sought war authorization from Congress. Mr. Biden voted against the first Gulf War, asking: “What vital interests of the United States justify sending Americans to their deaths in the sands of Saudi Arabia?”

In 2006, after having voted three years earlier to authorize President George W. Bush's war to liberate Iraq, Mr. Biden argued for the partition of Iraq, which would have led to its crack-up. Then in 2007, Mr. Biden opposed President Bush's troop surge in Iraq, calling it a “tragic mistake.” It turned out to be quite the opposite. Without the surge, the Iraq war would have been lost, giving jihadists their most important victory ever.

On many of the most important and controversial issues of the last four decades, Mr. Biden has built a record based on bad assumptions, misguided analyses and flawed judgments. If he had his way, America would be significantly weaker, allies under siege would routinely be cut loose, and the enemies of the U.S. would be stronger.

There are few members of Congress whose record on national security matters can be judged, with the benefit of hindsight, to be as consistently bad as Joseph Biden's. It's true that Sarah Palin has precious little experience in national security affairs. But in this instance, no record beats a manifestly bad one.

Mr. Wehner, a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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