In his 2014 memoir, Robert Gates, who served as United States Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011 – under both Presidents Bush and Obama – wrote of Joe Biden: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Following is an overview of Biden’s positions on a wide range of key foreign-policy matters.
In the 1970s, Biden was opposed to the U.S. providing financial and military aid to the South Vietnamese government in its war against the Communist North. As The Wall Street Journal notes: “Congress’s cut-off of funds [to South Vietnam] contributed to the fall of an American ally, helped communism advance, and led to mass death throughout the [Southeast Asia] region.”
In the 1970s as well, says The Wall Street Journal, “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, Biden was a leading opponent of the Reagan administration’s effort to fund the Nicaraguan Contras, a group of freedom fighters seeking to overthrow the Communist regime of Daniel Ortega. Biden also opposed President Reagan’s efforts to provide military assistance to El Salvador’s pro-American government, which was engaged in a conflict against the FMLN, a Marxist organization supported by the Soviet Union.
Also in the 1980s, Biden was strongly opposed to the funding of President Reagan’s missile-defense program, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). “The president’s continued adherence to [SDI] constitutes one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft,” said Biden.
Biden opposed the 1991 Gulf War, one of the most successful military campaigns in U.S. history. In 1993 he acknowledged, “I think I was proven to be wrong,” going so far as to state that President George H.W. Bush had made a “fundamental mistake” by failing to depose Saddam Hussein when he had the opportunity.
In October 2002 Biden voted in favor of authorizing the use of military force against Iraq, which was believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction. In 2003, Biden repeatedly voiced support for the Iraq War, which started in March 2003 with America’s “shock and awe” bombing campaign that lasted just over a month. In a July 2003 speech at the Brookings Institution, Biden was still confident that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been a good move: “Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force and I would vote that way again today. It was the right vote then and would be a correct vote today.” But by 2005 Biden was calling the Iraq War a “mistake.”
After launching his presidential campaign in 2019, Biden rewrote the history of his stance on the Iraq War. Now, he claimed that his 2002 vote to authorize force against Iraq was predicated upon President Bush’s private assurance that his only objective was to get weapons inspectors into that country, and not to engage in any type of military aggression. Said Biden in 2019: “From the moment ‘shock and awe’ started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress and the administration.”
In 2007, Biden opposed President George W. Bush’s “troop surge” strategy of sending more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq. That surge, which Biden characterized as a “tragic mistake,” in fact turned the tide of the war completely in America’s favor, resulting in dramatic declines in both civilian deaths and sectarian violence.
In early 2009, when some 150,000 American soldiers were still stationed in Iraq, President Obama put Vice President Biden in charge of bringing the U.S. troops home. As Antony Blinken, who was Biden’s national security adviser at the time, recalls: “We were sitting in the Oval Office one day and talking about [the troop presence in Iraq], and Obama looked at Biden and said, ‘Joe, I think you should do this. We need sustained focus from the White House. You know Iraq better than anyone.’” According to The Atlantic magazine: “Biden threw himself into the mission. He chaired meetings and oversaw negotiations.” In February 2010, Biden said: “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s going to be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. I spent — I’ve been there 17 times now. I go about every two months — three months. I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.”
But after President Obama and Vice President Biden had completed the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, the genocidal terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State) filled the vacuum and increased its terrorist activities in Iraq dramatically. As ISIS continued to expand the breadth of its dominion, especially in the northern and western parts of the country, it earned a fearsome reputation for unspeakable barbarism as manifested in kidnappings, forced conversions, mass slaughters, and public executions of the most brutal variety. The rise and expansion of ISIS — which occurred as a direct result of the Obama-Biden administration’s ill-advised withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 — resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the Middle East.
In a 2010 conversation with a Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Biden, while pushing for a swift withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, exhibited no concern for how such a move — which would likely have led to the restoration of Taliban power — would affect civilians in that country. “Fuck that, we don’t have to worry about that,” Biden reportedly told Holbrooke. “We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.” As Yahoo News notes, after the fall of Saigon in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, “hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese suspected of cooperating with or fighting for the U.S.-backed regime were forced into Communist ‘re-education’ camps.”
When President Obama authorized the May 2011 mission in which a U.S. Navy SEAL team ultimately killed Osama bin Laden, Biden was the only one of Obama’s advisors who opposed the plan. Mark Bowden — author of a The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden — wrote in October 2008: “It was widely reported in the weeks and months after the raid that most, or at least many, of the president’s top advisors opposed the raid. That is not true. Nearly everyone present favored it. The only major dissenters were Biden and [then-Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, and before the raid Gates would change his mind.”
According to Bowden, the two options under consideration were a drone strike and the special operations raid. Most of the President’s advisors favored the latter. But when it was Biden’s turn to speak at the Situation Room meeting, he told Obama: “Mr. President, my suggestion is: don’t go.” Wrote Bowden, “Biden believed that if the president decided to choose either the air or the ground option, and if the effort failed, Obama could say goodbye to a second term…. So in the end, every one of the president’s top advisors except Biden was in favor of immediate action.”
Biden confirmed the foregoing account in January 2012, when he acknowledged that he had directly advised President Obama against the bin Laden raid. “Every single person in that room hedged their bet except Leon Panetta,” Biden recalled. “Leon said go. Everyone else said, 49 [percent], 51[ percent]. He [Obama] got to me. He said, ‘Joe, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”
In a December 2011 interview, Biden downplayed the threat that the Afghanistan-based Taliban posed to the United States and its allies. “Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy,” said Biden. “That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests.”
When the NATO-led intervention in Libya was getting underway in 2011 — several months after the “Arab Spring” uprising in in that nation had begun – Biden advised that the U.S. should stay out of the conflict and let NATO proceed on its own. “If the Lord Almighty extricated the U.S. out of NATO and dropped it on the planet of Mars so we were no longer participating,” said Biden, “it is bizarre to suggest that NATO and the rest of the world lacks the capacity to deal with Libya — it does not. This is about our strategic interest, and it is not based upon a situation of what can the traffic bear politically at home.” But after Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi was killed in the fall of 2011, Biden said that NATO had “got it right” in Libya, even describing the war as a model of effective foreign intervention. “In this case, America spent $2 billion and didn’t lose a single life,” Biden stated. “This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has in the past.” In a CNN interview, Biden said of Gaddafi: “This is one bad guy, one really tough guy. He for 40 years had his folks under his thumb. And he’s dead, and it’s going to give the people of Libya the first chance in four decades to actually put together their own government, have a little bit of freedom. Little bit of opportunity.”
But upon the fall of Gaddafi, notes bestselling author and broadcaster Ben Shapiro, “Libya immediately collapsed into utter chaos ending with the burning of the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi and the murder of four Americans including ambassador Chris Stevens.”
In 2012, Biden mocked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s claim that Russia was a geopolitical adversary that posed a more serious threat to America than did Al Qaeda. Said Biden on CBS News’ Face The Nation: “He [Romney] acts like he thinks the Cold War is still on, Russia is still our major adversary. I don’t know where he’s been,” Biden said. “I mean, we have disagreements with Russia, but they’re united with us on Iran… one of only two ways we’re getting materials into Afghanistan to our troops is through Russia. They are working closely with us. They’ve just said to Europe if there is an oil shutdown in any way in the Gulf, they’ll consider increasing oil supplies to Europe. This is not 1956.” In another interview with The New York Times, Biden asserted that Romney saw the world “through a cold war prism” rooted in anachronistic 1970s thinking.
In early November 2013, it was reported that the Obama-Biden administration had begun softening U.S. sanctions against Iran (vis-a -vis the latter’s nuclear program) soon after the election, five months earlier, of that country’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. This move set the stage, in turn, for the United States — in conjunction with Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — to propose a short-term “first step agreement” with Iran at a November meeting in Geneva. The deal, which sought to freeze Iran’s nuclear program for approximately six months in order to create an opportunity for a more comprehensive and lasting bargain to be negotiated later, required Iran to stop enriching uranium to a weapons-grade level, to refrain for six months from activating its plutonium reactor at Arak, and to stop using its most advanced and powerful centrifuges. “In return,” said the London Telegraph, “America would ease economic sanctions, possibly by releasing some Iranian foreign exchange reserves currently held in frozen accounts. In addition, some restrictions affecting Iran’s petrochemical, motor and precious metals industries could be relaxed.”
On November 8, 2013, the Israeli government, which the Obama-Biden administration had not informed of the negotiations, was stunned to learn of the secret talks with Iran. News of the agreement led to the canceling of a joint media appearance between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One Israeli official was quoted saying that “the Iranians are leading the Americans by the nose.” Netanyahu, outraged at the prospect of this agreement, said that the Iranians “got everything … they wanted” – most notably “relief from sanctions after years of a grueling sanctions regime” – “and paid nothing.” “It’s the deal of a century for Iran,” Natanyahu added, “it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community.”
Eventually, this 2013 agreement would evolve into the famous Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015 – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – where the Obama-Biden administration joined the governments of Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany in signing an accord with Iran.
The Iran Nuclear Deal permitted Iran to keep some 5,060 centrifuges, one-third of which would continue to spin in perpetuity; allowed Iran to receive $150 billion in sanctions relief; permitted Russia and China to continue to supply Iran with weapons; gave Iran the discretion to block international inspectors from military installations; authorized only inspectors from countries possessing diplomatic relations with Iran to access Iranian nuclear sites; stipulated that the embargo on the sale of weapons to Iran would be officially lifted in 5 years; allowed Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program to remain intact and unaffected; lifted sanctions on critical parts of Iran’s military; did not require Iran to either renounce terrorism against the United States or affirm its “clear and unambiguous … recognition of Israel’s right to exist”; and stated that whatever restrictions were placed on Iran’s nuclear program, would begin to expire – due to so-called “sunset clauses” – at various times over the ensuing 5 to 26 years.
Biden took on the role of being the Obama administration’s leading public promoter of the Iran deal. He casually dismissed the concerns of critics – most notably Netanyahu – who warned that the sunset clauses for key parts of the agreement would “pave Iran’s path to a bomb.” Those people, Biden said, simply “don’t get it, they’re wrong.” On another occasion, Biden said: “I have come to the conclusion that in the context I’ve just cited, that this is a good deal. This is a good deal first and foremost for the United States, It’s a good deal for the world, the region, and its’ a good deal for Israel and the Gulf cooperation states.”
After President Trump decided to pull America out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Biden characterized Trump’s strategy as “a self-inflicted disaster” that would make “military conflict” and “another war in the Middle East” much “more likely.” “The seeds of danger were planted by Donald Trump himself on May 8, 2019 — the day he tore up the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Biden said during a January 2020 presidential campaign event, forgetting that the date on which the U.S. withdrew from the agreement was actually May 8, 2018. Biden added that Trump had “turned his back on our closest European allies” by selfishly “decid[ing] that it was important to destroy any progress that the Obama-Biden administration did.”
When Donald Trump announced in December 2017 that he not only recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but also planned to move the embassy to that city, Biden remained silent. Nor did he issue a statement when the embassy was actually physically relocated in May 2018. Then, in a November 2019 interview with PBS, Biden was asked if he, as president, would reverse Trump’s move. He replied: “Not now. I wouldn’t reverse it. I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
In 2019 Biden dismissed the notion that China could challenge American supremacy on the international stage. He said at an Iowa campaign rally: “China is going to eat out lunch? Come on, man. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west. They can’t figure out how they’re going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what. they’re not competition for us.”
In January 2020, Biden condemned President Trump for ordering the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the notorious general who headed Iran’s terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Said Biden in a statement: “The [Trump] Administration’s statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action will almost certainly have the opposite effect. President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond…. Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict throughout the Middle East.”
In the spring and summer of 2021, the Biden administration withdrew the U.S. entirely from Afghanistan, but it did so in a manner that was catastrophic for America, its NATO allies, and the world at large. For details about this debacle, click here.