- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2020

Joseph R. Biden Jr. undoubtedly brings to the table a wealth of experience in foreign policy, but it remains to be seen whether that experience proves to be the asset he hopes or a liability that could undermine his White House ambitions.

Political analysts say the former vice president and Democratic presidential front-runner could be deeply vulnerable on matters of war, world affairs and geopolitics.

President Trump and his Republican allies will take direct aim at Mr. Biden’s record, and analysts warn that the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party are likely to be turned off by reminders of his vote in the Senate to authorize the Iraq War, his recent appearance before a pro-Israel lobbying organization and other examples of a checkered foreign policy record that is likely to be dissected in a general election.

“I think the biggest vulnerability is not what Trump and the Republican might throw at him, but this … bloody battle with the left wing of the party. It’s going to alienate a lot of potential voters,” said Stephen Zunes, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco who studies the intersection of politics and foreign policy. “Even those who vote for him are going to be less likely to contribute money or campaign” for him.

“It’s going to hurt him among Democrats who are considerably more anti-interventionist than Biden is.”

Mr. Biden’s history also is fertile ground for Republicans. Voters are certain to be reminded that he opposed the 2011 U.S. military raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — though the former vice president in recent years has tried to change the narrative on that issue and has downplayed reports that he initially urged President Barack Obama to hold off on the assault.

Having spent decades in the Senate, including a stint as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and eight years as Mr. Obama’s No. 2, Mr. Biden has made his knowledge of world affairs a central selling point in his campaign. On the stump and on the debate stage, Mr. Biden has routinely argued that he is personally familiar with world leaders, knows key global issues inside and out, and is uniquely qualified to stand toe-to-toe with Mr. Trump on a debate stage.

In highlighting his record, Mr. Biden is opening himself up to a fresh wave of criticism about whether experience in and of itself is truly a benefit. That question is hardly new, and even the former vice president’s colleagues from the Obama era have been scathing in their critiques.

“I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wrote in his 2014 book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” The Obama White House vehemently rejected Mr. Gates’ assessment of Mr. Biden.

The Biden campaign did not respond a request for comment from The Washington Times.

The ghost of Iraq

Mr. Biden’s long Senate career and eight years as vice president provide a laundry list of potential points of attack for Republicans and sources of frustration to an increasingly liberal Democratic Party. But the vast majority of his record, analysts say, simply won’t matter to voters in November.

Chief among several key exceptions is Mr. Biden’s 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq. That vote has long haunted Democrats. It helped derail John F. Kerry’s 2004 presidential hopes and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Democratic primary battle with then-Sen. Obama, an outspoken opponent of the war.

Mr. Biden has tried to explain that vote by arguing that he supported only a limited authority to send weapons inspectors into Iraq.

President George W. Bush “looked me in the eye in the Oval Office and promised me all he wanted to do was get the authority to send the inspectors in,” Mr. Biden said on the campaign trail in Iowa in January.

The former vice president’s handling of the Iraq War vote stands in contrast with that of Mrs. Clinton, who ultimately apologized for her stance.

“He has fudged his record on that throughout the campaign,” said Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. “He hasn’t even gone as far as Hillary Clinton, who said, ‘If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done what I did.’ She was very clear in 2008.”

Mr. Biden this month received a sobering reminder of how thorny the issue could be in the presidential race. During a California campaign stop on Super Tuesday, Mr. Biden was confronted by military veterans who questioned why they should vote for someone who supported the Iraq War and concluded that Mr. Biden should be disqualified from the race.

Mr. Biden also faces continued attacks from his last remaining major rival in the Democratic primary, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who is a vocal opponent of the Iraq War.

Beyond the war itself, Mr. Biden may face questions about stances he has taken on Iraq, including a plan he floated in 2006 to decentralize the country and divide it into three ethnic and religious blocs.

Mr. Biden also could face a backlash from liberal voters over his recent address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mr. Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and other former presidential hopefuls skipped the event.

Mr. Sanders explained his absence by saying the pro-Israel group opposes basic rights for Palestinians. In the process, he highlighted a change in the Democratic Party toward a greater focus on the rights and future of Palestinians.

“In terms of the base, there’s been a big, big shift in the Democratic base around Israel and Palestine,” Mr. Zunes said. “I think a disproportionate number of party activists are particularly focused on these issues. I think that would lower the enthusiasm gap somewhat [for Mr. Biden] given his hawkish record on foreign policy.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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