At a campaign event masquerading as an NBC News town hall this week, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden dropped this statement:
I have taken on the people we’re worried about. I’ve taken on the Castros of the world, the Putins of the world. I’ve been straightforward with them. I let them know it stops here. It stops with me. It stops with me as president.
The notion that Biden has stood up to the Putins or Castros — or Assads or Mullahs or Xis — in any genuine way is nothing but a retrofitted fantasy.
Since no one holds Biden to account for his long senatorial record, we are left to focus on his tenure in the Obama administration, which the former vice president is eager to take credit for anyway.
This was an administration obsessed over a “reset” with Vladimir Putin — an idea strongly influenced by Biden. Under the precepts of this “reset,” the Obama administration spent two years trying to kill the Magnitsky Act — the sanctions bill named after Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered by the Russian government — before acquiescing to bipartisan pressure.
This isn’t the opinion of Donald Trump or Mitt Romney, but Bill Browder, the driving force behind the sanctions, who noted that the Obama administration, “starting with Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry, did everything they could do to stop the Magnitsky Act.” It was Browder who wrote that “ever since Barack Obama had become president, the main policy of the U.S. government toward Russia had been one of appeasement.”
It was Obama who let Putin’s stooge Dmitry Medvedev know that the administration would have more “flexibility” on undermining missile defense after the election. By that time, Obama had already canceled the sale of American missile-defense systems to former Warsaw Pact allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. “Russia’s Putin praises Obama’s missile defense decision,” read the headlines at the time that don’t describe someone “standing up” to Putin.
Medvedev had little reason to “transmit” any of president’s thoughts to “Vladimir.” By that time, the U.S. had already promised to shrink its nuclear arsenals — even though the Russian stockpile had already been deteriorating.
Until Russia invaded Crimea, in fact, Obama had been completely acquiescing to Putin on nearly every question involving Syria in an effort to save both the Russian “reset” and the Iran deal. The Obama administration wasn’t exactly “standing up” to Putin when it called off strikes against Assad’s forces after the dictator’s nerve gas attack on civilians — the infamous “red line” incident — and let Russians oversee the dismantling of chemical-weapons programs. Needless to say, Syria was back at it soon enough.
It was Obama who capitulated to Russia’s accession into the World Trade Organization. “President Obama has made Russia’s W.T.O. membership a top priority for U.S.-Russia relations in 2011,” an administration official explained at the time.
Biden led that effort, telling the Russians in 2009 that it was “time to hit the reset button” after eight years of U.S. antagonism (George W. Bush, who had once looked into Putin’s steely eyes and perceived a “very straightforward and trustworthy” person, had reversed course.) Biden told Medvedev that accession to the WTO was “the most important item on our agenda.” His tough talk included things such as: “For my entire career, when I sat with a Russian leader, I was sitting with one of the most powerful men in the world, and that’s how we still think of you — I mean that sincerely.” Considering the “reset” was based on the notion that Russia was no longer a superpower, I think maybe Biden wasn’t being entirely sincere.
Obama’s famous 2012 debate quip about how “the 1980s are now calling” to ask for Romney’s foreign policy back didn’t merely trigger some gentle mocking on Twitter. The entire Obama foreign-policy crew sought to make a detailed case for why appeasing Putin was important.
Every foreign-policy issue during the Obama years was predicated on a false choice: war and appeasement.
One of the people making that argument was Biden. The vice president gave a stump speech in 2012 mocking the idea of treating Russia as a geopolitical foe, contending that CEOs such as Romney lacked the foreign-policy expertise to forge peace. There is a long book to be written on how disastrously wrong Biden and the expert class have been about foreign policy — starting with Iraq, and extending to Israel, Iran, Syria, the Gulf States, and beyond.
But the best part of the speech, however, was Biden gleefully telling the crowd that he had a bumper sticker which summed up the case for reelecting Obama: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
Well, of course, we now know that Biden advised Obama not to kill bin Laden. “Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go,” Biden had told Obama. Or, in other words, Biden supported sending thousands of American troops to Iraq but wouldn’t have signed off on having SEALs go in and take out one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. It’s weird to see someone with that kind of record bragging about his foreign-policy acumen.
I don’t recall Biden standing up to Castros, either. Though I do recall Obama standing with a Castro in front of giant mural of the terrorist murderer Che Guevara (“There was a collective gasp in the press room,” one Associated Press reporter recalled) and yucking it up with the dictator at a baseball game featuring athletes held prisoner by that regime.
The stated reason for the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with the Communist nation was that such policies were a relic of the Cold War, not that it was high time the Cuba people were freed from their socialist tyranny.
None of this means that Biden doesn’t occasionally say the right things. After 50 years, Biden has said all the things, after all. And it doesn’t mean every policy decision or reset is a necessarily a mistake. But the Democrats’ newfound antagonism towards Russia is predicated on partisan expediency. The fact is that there is no consistent record of Biden standing up to Putin or any dictators — save Saddam Hussein — in any real way.