Saturday, August 23, 2008
Is Obama-Biden Ticket Good for Pakistan?
Barack Obama has picked Joseph Biden as his running mate for the 2008 presidential race. Who is Joe Biden? How will Biden influence Obama administration's policy toward Pakistan?
Senator Joseph Biden, 65, is a senior senator from the small state of Delaware on the East Coast. He is currently the chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that plays a huge role in formulating US foreign policy. Biden voted in favor of the Iraq war resolution in 2002, a vote he now regrets. He has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration for its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The choice seems to be an attempt to balance the ticket by combining charisma and inexperience of Obama with foreign policy and national security credentials of Biden. The choice clearly has echoes of Kennedy-Johnson and Bush-Cheney successful tickets from the 60s and earlier this decade. The other attributes Biden brings are his white, Catholic and working class background and his birth state of Pennsylvania, considered a battleground state that voted for Hilary over Obama in recent primaries.
Biden was a leading critic of Obama's Pakistan policy in the early stages of the Democratic primary. The Delaware senator and then-presidential candidate blasted Obama for saying, in an August 2007 speech, that he would attack terrorists in Pakistan with or without its government's consent, if Musharraf failed to act on intelligence.
"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for Republican rival John McCain, in the campaign's first official reaction.
While some Pakistanis see Biden as a friend of Pakistan because of his recent anti-Musharraf and pro-democracy stance, he is considered pro-India by many Pakistani-Americans because of his lead role in the US-India nuclear deal. He recently vowed to push the deal in the Congress “like the devil”. While most non-proliferation experts oppose it, Biden even supports giving India special NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) exemptions which would effectively allow Indian government to greatly expand India's nuclear weapons program. Biden is also a co-sponsor of a bill to triple non-military aid to Pakistan.
Joe Biden definitely understands the complexity and the nuances of US-Pakistani relations. He is likely to restrain Obama’s hawkish impulses on Pakistan, as shown by his criticism of Obama’s statement about sending US troops into Pakistan in pursuit of militants. But Biden will still be number 2, and only time will tell how effective he will be in the VP role. Please read my post on Obama's Two Faces.