2008 Vice Presidential Debate – A Foreign Policy Breakdown

The first and only 2008 Vice President Debate is over, and between Governor Sarah Palin’s “shout out” to third-graders from a particular elementary school and imploring “Joe Six-packs” and “Hockey Moms” to band together or Senator Joe Biden’s quip about the “ultimate bridge to nowhere” and comments about how much time he spends at the Home Depot in Wilmington, Delaware the two actually spent quite a bit of time discussing their respective positions on foreign policy.

On Iraq

Republican nominee Sarah Palin insisted that “we have a good plan” in Iraq. She further declared that the success of the surge was “proven” and claimed incorrectly that American forces in Iraq were back down to pre-surge levels. She also praised General David Petraeus as a “great American hero,” and insisted that there was a plan in place for withdrawal.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden claimed that the deal presently being negotiated by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki was essentially Senator Barack Obama’s plan. He also insisted that there needs to be a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, which Gov. Palin condemned as “a white flag of surrender.”

Sen. Biden promised “we will end this war,” while Gov. Palin insisted that the US military commanders would be the ones who will tell the President when the war is finished. Gov. Palin also claimed “deep respect” for her opponent’s family and their service in Iraq. Her respect for Sen. Obama, however, she said was a different matter. Sen. Biden retorted that Senator John McCain had been “dead wrong” on the war in Iraq.

Sen. Biden also insisted his vote in favor of the use of force in Iraq was not really a vote in favor of war, to which Gov. Palin quipped that the Senator “was for it before he was against it.”

Later, the two clashed on whether the war in Iraq was the center of the war on terrorism. Sen. Biden predicted that any future attack against the homeland would come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, while Gov. Palin maintained that both Gen. Petraeus and al-Qaeda agree that Iraq is the real center of the conflict.

On Iran

Both candidates agreed that Iran could not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Gov. Palin went the extra mile, declaring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “not sane” and insisting that Iran couldn’t even be allowed a civilian nuclear energy program. She also attacked Sen. Obama for saying he would meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions.

Sen. Biden denied the charge, insisting that Sen. Obama would not meet with the Iranian President without certain preconditions being met. He also claimed that Iran was not close to getting a usable nuclear weapon, however in a later comment he claimed the nation was drawing “closer to a bomb.”

On Pakistan

Both candidates likewise agreed that stability in Pakistan was a major concern. Sen. Biden went further in this declaration however, warning that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was a threat to Israel and that a stable government needs to be established there to win the hearts and minds of the tribal area residents.

On Afghanistan

The two candidates clashed bitterly regarding a quote by General David McKiernan regarding whether or not “surge principles” in Afghanistan would be successful. Sen. Biden maintained correctly that Gen. McKiernan cautioned that an Iraq-style surge would not be successful in Afghanistan, while Gov. Palin insisted that the quotes in no way meant that an adaptation of “surge principles” to Afghanistan might not work.

Sen. Biden called for “more money” and “more troops” in Afghanistan, while Gov. Palin attacked Sen. Obama as “reckless” for pointing out that US forces had killed Afghan civilians in air raids.

On Israel

Both candidates declared their love for Israel, with Sen. Biden claiming to be “Israel’s best friend” in the United States Senate. Biden also condemned the Bush Administration’s policy on Israel as an “abject failure” and bragged that he and Sen. Obama had opposed the elections in the West Bank which brought Hamas to power. He also supported a call to place NATO troops in Lebanon to protect Israel from Hezbollah, and said the failure to do so had led to Hezbollah gaining a legitimate role in Lebanon’s government.

Gov. Palin, meanwhile, said that the US must take steps to assure Israel that it will never allow a “Second Holocaust,” which she accused Iran of plotting. She also praised Israel as a “peace-seeking nation” and cited their relationships with Jordan and Egypt as a successful track record of making peace with their neighbors.

On Sudan

Sen. Biden expressed his support for military intervention in Darfur, responding to a question about whether Americans would support it with “the American public has a stomach for success” and saying that “we should rally the world” to halt the genocide in Darfur. Gov. Palin gave a slightly more reserved “all options are on the table” comment with respect to the situation in Darfur, while trumpeting her efforts to divest the Alaska Permanent Fund from Sudanese investments.

On Bosnia

Sen. Biden used his support for US military intervention in Bosnia during the 1990s as an example of a successful US war he helped to start. He called himself a “catalyst for change” and termed the situation “genocide,” insisting that the Bosnian strategy “worked.” He also claimed that Bosnia and Kosovo have “relatively stable” governments.

On Nuclear Arms Control

Gov. Palin insisted that dictatorships which hate America for its tolerance mustn’t be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. In particular she mentioned Iran and North Korea. She said a nuclear attack would be “the end all be all” of too many people, and claimed that America’s nuclear arsenal was simply for deterrent purposes, which she termed a “safe, stable way to use nuclear weapons.”

Sen. Biden attacked Sen. McCain for opposing American participation in the test ban treaty, saying that the world needs a “nuclear arms control regime.”

What Was Missing:

Conspicuously absent from the debate was any substantive mentioning of Russia, the expansion of NATO, the war in Georgia, or the prospect of a new Cold War. Also unmentioned were the US role in the conflict in Somalia, the role of AFRICOM, or any foreign policy with respect to Venezuela, Colombia, or any other nation in South America.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.