(CNSNews.com) – From the claim that the U.S. “kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon” to an assertion that the Taliban “is not our enemy,” former Vice President Joe Biden may find himself defending some of his past foreign policy stances as the 2020 presidential contest gets underway.
Biden, 76, on Thursday joined the crowded field and is viewed as a strong if not leading contender. This will be his third presidential run, after unsuccessful bids for the Democrat nomination in 1988 and 2008.
In previous campaigns, Biden teams have portrayed the candidate as a foreign policy heavyweight. During his 36-year Senate career, Biden served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001-3 and again in 2007-8.
Some of his public remarks on foreign policy issues have raised eyebrows, however.
During a vice presidential campaign debate with then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in October 2008, then-Sen. Biden (D-Dela.) was asked to critique the outgoing Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East.
As he did so, he made a puzzling comment about Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite terrorist group in Lebanon.
“When we kicked – along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack [Obama] said, ‘Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know – if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.’ Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel. The fact of the matter is, the policy of this administration has been an abject failure.”
The comment was not challenged, and it remains unclear what he was referring to, but since its establishment as Iran’s proxy shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution Hezbollah has not been expelled from Lebanon by the U.S., France, Israel, or anyone else.
In 2006 Israel fought a month-long war against Hezbollah, during which there was briefly some debate over whether an international force should be deployed to the area.
Opposing the Iraq ‘surge’
In 2002, Biden voted in favor of U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein but he later turned against the war.
He also opposed Bush’s “surge” of troop reinforcements in 2007, and in September of that year Biden told NBC News that Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the strategy, was “dead, flat wrong” for characterizing it as a success.
The surge produced a noteworthy and sustained decline in U.S. combat fatalities, and was generally – although not universally – viewed as a military success.
China’s “one child” policy
During a 2011 visit to China as vice president, Biden referred to the communist government’s population limitation regime but with no mention of its coercive nature. Rather he expressed an understanding for the policy, saying he was not “second-guessing” the Chinese over the issue.
“Your policy has been one which I fully understand – I’m not second-guessing – of one child per family,” he said in response to student’s question about economic issues. “The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”
While he argued that the controversial policy was “not sustainable” for economic reasons, Biden was silent on the abuses used to enforce it, such as forced abortions, involuntary sterilizations, and prohibitive fines for violators.
After Republican criticism, Biden’s office said in a statement, “The Obama administration strongly opposes all aspects of China’s coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization. The vice president believes such practices are repugnant.”
(On taking office two years earlier, President Obama restored funding to the U.N. Population Fund, withheld by President George W. Bush’ administration over its links with China’s population control programs.)
The Taliban is ‘not our enemy’
According to the Pentagon, 1,883 U.S. military personnel have been killed in action in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom was launched in October 2001, after the Taliban’s al-Qaeda allies carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
The vast majority of the fatalities were attributed to the Taliban and its Haqqani network affiliate.
In late 2011, Biden was quoted as telling Newsweek magazine in an interview that the Taliban “is not our enemy.”
Speaking about the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, Biden said, “we are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America and their allies, that’s good enough. That’s good enough. We’re not there yet.”
“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical,” he continued. “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.”
At the time Republican 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the comment “bizarre, factually wrong, and an outrageous affront to our troops carrying out the fight in Afghanistan.”
In an editorial reacting to Biden’s words, the independent Daily Outlook Afghanistan newspaper asked, “Who are Taliban if not Enemies?” and pointed to the massive loss of life of security forces and civilians, and destruction of infrastructure at the hands of the group.
The Trump administration is currently negotiating with Taliban officials in a bid to find a political settlement to end the long conflict there. President Trump has called the Taliban “our enemy” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently described the group as “terrorists.”
International pressure on Iran?
As early as Feb. 2005, Biden suggested in a Fox News Sunday interview that apart from sanctions, a willingness by the U.S. and allies to “sign on to a genuine nonaggression pact” with the regime in Tehran may be “the only other possibility” in response to its troubling nuclear activities.
That same month, Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway cited Biden as saying that Iran has “emotional needs” which the world needs to address “with a nonaggression pact.”
Seven years later, while campaigning for a second term in 2012, Biden defended the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, telling a conservative Jewish audience that when it took office in 2009, “there was virtually no international pressure on Iran.”
“We were the problem,” Biden said, emphasizing the word “we.”
“We were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe. The international pressure on Iran was stuck in neutral,” he told the Rabbinical Assembly’s annual convention.
“America’s leadership was in doubt. We were neither fully respected by our friends nor feared by our opponents. Today it is starkly, starkly different.”
Despite Biden’s portrayal, the Bush administration managed three times to achieve unanimous (15-0) U.N. Security Council votes for sanctions resolutions against Tehran over its nuclear activities – in Dec. 2006, Mar. 2007, and Sept. 2008. (The third resolution did not impose new sanctions but reaffirmed the previous ones.)
A fourth Iran resolution passed in Mar. 2008, with a single abstention (Indonesia).
By contrast, at the time Biden made those remarks, the Obama administration had in its column just one Iran sanctions resolution, in Jun. 2010, which both Turkey and Brazil opposed, while Lebanon abstained.