Soft on Iran: Serious concerns in Israel about Joe Biden

August 28, 2008

* Ha’aretz: “Biden’s positions and record do not auger well for Israel’s security”
* One Israeli intelligence expert calls Biden’s views on Iran “a disaster”
* Iran’s Press TV (a major propaganda arm of the regime) heaps praise on Biden



1. With Biden, Obama ticket gets even riskier for Israel
2. Is Biden really such a foreign policy expert?
3. McCain: Getting it right on Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq
4. Biden, dangerously naïve on Iran?
5. Concern in the Israeli media
6. Ha’aretz: “Biden’s positions and record do not auger well for Israel’s security”
7. Michael Rubin in The Washington Post: Biden is “Tehran’s favorite senator”
8. Amir Taheri: “Biden shared Jimmy Carter’s starry-eyed belief”
9. Gallup Daily: No bounce for Obama in Post-Biden polls
10. McCain should pick a woman as his running mate
11. New Hillary for McCain ads

[Note by Tom Gross]


As I have pointed out in previous dispatches, several of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisors may spell bad news for Israel should he be elected president ten weeks from now.

Even though some have now left his official team, such as Samantha Power who was sacked for telling a British newspaper that Hillary Clinton was a “monster,” I understand from reliable sources that Obama and Power remain in close touch and she will likely play a role should he be elected president, possibly a senior one. So may other anti-Israel advisors.

In contrast to these advisors, Senator Joe Biden, who Obama last week picked as his vice presidential candidate, has a record that has often been supportive of Israel. For example, Biden argues that Israel alone cannot end of the conflict and the Palestinians also have to decide they are interested in genuine peace.

However, Biden’s views and track record on the issue that Israelis are most concerned about – Iran – are of grave concern.

Even the leftist daily Ha’aretz today says (in reference to Iran): “The man Obama has chosen for his running mate may not be wise on policy issues of top concern for Israel.”



After 36 years in the Senate, Joe Biden clearly has experience, but I fail to understand why so many media (from the left-leaning New York Times to the right-leaning London Daily Telegraph) are unquestionably stating that he has good foreign policy judgment.

But on many key issues, Biden got it wrong:

* In the 1980s, he opposed Ronald Reagan’s tough stance against the Soviet regime. Biden advocated détente and called for Western subsidies that would have enabled the Soviet empire to survive longer.

* In 1990, Biden opposed the senior George Bush’s decision to use force to liberate Kuwait after Saddam Hussein invaded it.

* Last year Biden strongly opposed the troop surge strategy in Iraq, which is now widely considered a success.

Were Biden to have had had his way, eastern Europe and Kuwait may have remained occupied for many additional years and the death toll in Iraq during the last year would probably not have decreased so dramatically.



By contrast, on most of the big issues Republican presidential candidate John McCain has got it right.

* For example, in 1993, McCain called on U.S. troops to leave Somalia, saying “the U.S. has no viable military options in Somalia.” President Clinton attacked McCain’s policy as a “headlong rush into isolationism.” 19 American soldiers were ambushed and killed in Mogadishu, America then pulled its troops out, and McCain was proven right.

* In 1982, McCain argued (correctly) with President Reagan that American troops in Lebanon were sitting ducks. Hundreds were to die at the hands of suicide bombers.

* Last year, McCain argued (correctly) that America could stabilize Iraq and dramatically decrease the violence if the troop surge went ahead.



By far the most dangerous problem facing the world today is the nuclear arms race we are about to see in the Middle East involving some very untrustworthy and unstable regimes. Already seeing the weakness of the West towards Iran’s nuclear program, at least seven other Middle East countries have begun nascent nuclear programs of their own.

The armies of many of these regimes are prone to infiltration by Islamic jihadists, some of whom would like nothing more than to maximize the number of “martyrs” by sparking off a nuclear war. The danger posed by the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East is far greater than the threat of nuclear conflict during the Cold War, when the military chiefs of Russia, China and others maintained tight control over their nuclear weapons and didn’t actually want to use them.

And yet Senator Biden has consistently voted against significant legislation that attempts to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear program:

* Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the 1998 Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, which was intended to punish companies or organizations that provided missile technologies to the Iranian regime. The bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. 96 senators out of 100 voted for it, but Biden was not among them.

* In June 2004, Biden was among the minority who refused to sign the “Letter Urging the President to Highlight Iran’s Nuclear Program at the G-8 Summit.”

* Last year, Biden opposed the Senate resolution that labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. That resolution passed 76 to 22. His vote, he said, was designed to make it difficult for George W. Bush to attack Iran’s nuclear program.



Israelis are concerned that, like Obama, Biden fundamentally misunderstands the threat posed by an Iran determined to obtain nuclear weapons.

Most Israeli papers have expressed anxiety over Obama and Biden. For example, an editorial in Yisrael Hayom (titled “Obama’s running mate: not exactly great news for Israel”) notes that Biden strongly opposes possible military action against Iran and says “It is doubtful if his joining Obama will pave additional ways to the heart of the Jewish voter.”



Yossi Melman, the intelligence correspondent for Ha’aretz (and a longtime subscriber to this email list), writes today:

“[Biden’s] positions regarding Iran, whose acquisition of nuclear weaponry tops Israel’s list of security concerns, cannot be encouraging to the policy makers in Jerusalem. This is especially so in the context of the danger that in 2009, when Biden could well be vice president, Iran is liable to reach or even to go beyond the ‘technological threshold’ - i.e., to achieve the capability that will enable it to develop nuclear weapons.

“... If the Obama-Biden team is elected, the combination of the new president’s inexperience in foreign policy and his vice president’s positions and record do not auger well for Israeli’s foreign and security policy, which is trying to persuade the U.S. administration that a tough policy toward Iran must be pursued – increasing the sanctions on Iran and, if necessary, as a last resort, attacking its nuclear installations.”



Michael Rubin, one of the world’s foremost experts on Iran (and also a longtime subscriber to this email list), writing in The Washington Post on Tuesday, points out that for more than a decade now Biden’s attitude toward the Iranian regime has been soft and conciliatory:

“Biden’s record on the Islamic Republic of Iran – perhaps the chief national security threat facing the next president – suggests a persistent and dangerous judgment deficit.

“Biden’s unyielding pursuit of ‘engagement’ with Iran for more than a decade has made it easier for Tehran to pursue its nuclear program, while his partisan obsession with thwarting the Bush administration has led him to oppose tough sanctions against hard-liners in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

“... Biden’s attack-dog statements about U.S. policy failures emboldened Iranian hard-liners to defy diplomacy.”

Rubin adds that the regime in Tehran has noted favorably Biden's positions. For example, Biden was praised by one of the country’s most important clerics, Ayatollah Mohammed Kashani, who is close to the spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, on an official television channel last December.

Iran’s Press TV (which broadcasts in English and is considered a major propaganda arm of the Islamic government for shaping positive public opinion beyond the borders of Iran) seized on Biden’s opposition to President Bush’s policy in Iraq, the criticism he expressed of Israel’s moves in Lebanon and in particular his statements opposing any potential military action by America or Israel against Iran’s nuclear program. (As is the custom following the cleric’s words praising Biden, they were greeted by his audience with cries of “Death to America.”)

Attempting to secure points against Bush’s presidency above concerns for American national security has made Joe Biden “Tehran’s favorite senator,” says Rubin.



Tehran-born Amir Taheri, another of the world’s leading experts on Iran (and also a longtime subscriber to this email list) is also scathing of Biden’s record. Writing in The New York Post, Taheri says:

“In 1979, Biden shared Jimmy Carter’s starry-eyed belief that the fall of the shah in Iran and the advent of the ayatollahs represented progress for human rights. Throughout the hostage crisis, as U.S. diplomats were daily paraded blindfolded in front of television cameras and threatened with execution, he opposed strong action against the terrorist mullahs and preached dialogue.

“For more than a decade, Biden has adopted an ambivalent attitude towards the Islamic Republic in Tehran, now emerging as the chief challenger to U.S. interests in the Middle East. Biden’s links with pro-Tehran lobbies in the U.S. and his support for ‘unconditional dialogue’ with the mullahs echo Obama’s own wrong-headed promise to circumvent the current multilateral efforts by seeking direct U.S.-Iran talks, excluding the Europeans as well as Russia and China.”


Tom Gross adds:

It could be that Biden, an experienced politician, would change his approach and suddenly take a tougher line on Iran were he to actually become vice-president. But this is a big risk to take. McCain, on the other hand, has for decades consistently advocated clear and strong foreign policy positions, including and in particular against the Iranian regime.



Surprisingly, Barack Obama has received no bounce in voter support resulting from his selection of Biden as his running mate, according to the Gallup poll daily tracking from Aug. 23-25, the first three-day period after Obama's Saturday morning vice presidential announcement.

It showed 46% of national registered voters backing McCain and 44% supporting Obama, not appreciably different from the previous week’s standing for both candidates.

Usually presidential candidates have enjoyed a small (though short-lived) bounce from their running mate announcement. In 2004, John Kerry enjoyed a four-percentage point bounce after selecting John Edwards. In 2000, Al Gore gained a 5-point bounce after picking Joe Lieberman, and there was a 3-point bounce for George W. Bush after he chose Dick Cheney. Bob Dole received a whopping 9-point bounce in 1996 after bringing Jack Kemp onto his ticket.

It seems that if Obama fails to win November’s election, he may yet regret not picking Hillary as VP.



Republican presidential candidate John McCain is scheduled to announce his choice of running mate tomorrow. The favorites are said to be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who has twice won the governorship of a liberal swing state. Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman is also said to remain a possible choice.

However, if I were McCain I would choose Carly Fiorina as a running mate, because:

(1) She is untainted by Washington politics and therefore represents real “change” unlike the senators Obama, Biden and McCain, and apparently a large part of the electorate wants change.

(2) She is a woman, and many American electors feel this is the year that a woman should have been on one of the party’s ballots.

(3) And most of all because she has real experience in economics, which would compliment McCain’s foreign policy expertise.

After working as a secretary and a receptionist, the 53-year-old Fiorina worked her way up to become one of America's most prominent businesswomen. As vice-president at AT&T in 1996, she directed the strategy and orchestrated the initial public offering (IPO) of Lucent, the most successful IPO in U.S. history at the time. Then she gained much experience as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard (HP) until she stepped down in 2005.

Other women under consideration by McCain (although like Fiorina all are considered long shots) are Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and eBay’s Meg Whitman.



Obama has vastly more funding than McCain and he is already blitzing TV networks in key states with advertising in much greater numbers than McCain is able to do.

McCain’s supporters are trying to counter this with advertising over the internet. For example:

(1) A “Hillary for McCain ad.”

(2) A second “Hillary” ad.

(3) Joe Biden on Barack Obama.

(4) “Do you know enough to elect Barrack Obama?”

(All notes above by Tom Gross)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.