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Jacob Heilbrunn

Jacob Heilbrunn

Posted: August 23, 2008 03:37 PM

Joe Biden: Obama's Cheney?


Barack Obama's selection of Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden doesn't simply shore up his foreign policy credentials, as Steve Clemons notes. It may also setup a showdown over foreign policy in an Obama administration. Like George W. Bush, Obama has little foreign policy experience, though he has proven that he has the right instincts, vigorously opposing the Iraq War, even as a host of other Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, jumped onto the Bush war bandwagon.

But Biden has several decades of experience dealing with foreign leaders and a seasoned staff that he would bring with him to an Obama administration. It could be that vice-president Dick Cheney serves as his model. Biden might even be tempted to set up his own parallel foreign policy establishment, as did Cheney -- to the detriment of the Bush administration. Having witnessed the catastrophic consequences of Cheney's power-grab, however, Biden may well avoid going down that road. Nevertheless, Biden will clearly be a powerful figure in an Obama administration, focused on foreign policy. The coming months will show how smoothly Biden works with the other foreign policy figures in Obama's orbit, including former national security advisor Anthony Lake and former State Department official Susan Rice. Lake is outwardly genteel, but an experienced infighter who may be seeking to redeem his reputation from the hammering that the Clinton administration took early on over its failure to end the conflict in Bosnia. Biden, on the other hand, will be thirsting for the chance to put his stamp on foreign policy.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama made a safe choice with Biden. It's wrong. It was a bold one that will further test his ability to coordinate his campaign effectively--something he has done brilliantly so far.