President Joseph Biden Speaks Openly About the Middle East

Back in September of 2003, eniGma’s Founder & CEO Yasmine Shihata got to have a sit down interview with former US Senetor Joseph Biden, long before his two terms as vice president to Obama. Just a month ago, Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States after making a historical win in the 2020 elections. To celebrate his inauguration and his presidency, here’s blast from the eniGma past…

One of the most respected voices on national security and civil liberties in the US, Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has earned national and international recognition as a policy innovator, effective legislator and party spokesman on a wide range of key issues. He is the top Democrat on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Victims’ Rights, and is a central player on one of the most important issues  facing the USA; from crime prevention and constitutional law to international relations and arms control.

As the Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is also the Democratic party’s chief spokesman on national security and foreign policy issues. Senator Richard Lugar, who currently chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said: “Senator Biden has a very strong commitment to a bipartisan foreign policy and serves as a good example for everyone in Congress. He has a very broad, comprehensive view of the world. He’s a good listener, but he’s also a strong and effective advocate of his position.”

And that conunent is indeed true. I got a  chance  to catch  up  with the senator at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, before he headed off on a trip to visit postwar Iraq. I found the Senator very knowledgeable about the Middle East and very charismatic when talking to others and explaining his point of view. He has the like­ ability of former President Clinton with his own unique style of argument; together all these attributes  seem  to  have  guaranteed him political success.

Senator Biden’s comments on the Middle East were both insightful and sometimes surprisingly open minded  for a man in his position. Read on to  get the  full  scope  of  his  views  on the Middle East; uncensored, unscripted and straightforward honest.

How do you describe yourself? Where in the political spectrum do you fit?

I’m in the democratic opposition party to the President of  the  United States. I consider myself an internationalist  who  believes very strongly in the need for international institutions but also feels very strongly that the international laws have to  be  maintained; when the international rules we all agree upon are breached, they must be enforced. So I find myself somewhat at odds with some traditional democrats and some Europeans right now who  believe that force should never be an option to be used. I believe  that force  is the last option but an  option  that  has  to  be part of this tool  kit  of international agreements; if you set rules and rogue nations or  individuals flaunt those rules they have no value unless the world enforces those rules.To put it in prospective, I was one  who  argued very strongly for the last president  to  use  force  in  Bosnia  because tens of thousand s of people  (I  might  add  they  were  overwhelmingly Muslims) were  being  slaughtered  in  a  genocide.  I  supported the war in Iraq but  would  not  have  done  it  the  way  the  President did it.We argued that there was no immediate urgency to do it, we should  have  continued  to  work  with  the  world  community  to gather greater support. So I find myself somewhat at odds with the traditional liberal wing of the Democratic Party and  very  much  at odds with the right wing in the Republican Party. So I don’t  know what you’d call me. One journalist  in  the  United  State  categorised me and people who think like I  do  as ‘neo-liberals’ (1  don ‘t  know what  that  means). The  bottom  line  is  there  is a  legitimate  need  for a muscular foreign policy  that  is  always  better  used  in  the  context of international organisations in consensus. But when it’s clear that international  rules  are  being  flaunted,  then  the   United   States should reserve the right to  use  force;  but  not  as  the  first  tool  and not as it’s major tool.

The counter argument is if you do follow international Then how come Israel has flaunted a lot of resolutions, without repercussions?

The notion of whether  Israel  has  violated  international  rules  is  in fact arguable. Let me explain what I mean by that; let’s take the notion   where   Israel   has  agreed   that   they  would   negotiate  under the UN resolutions. They did negotiate, you may not like the effect of the final judgment but I think in my private conversations with Arab leaders, if they could have Taba all over again, they would take it right now. They would  take it and  they would say  this is a fine settlement to the problem. But because of the lowest common denominator that prevailed on the Palestinian side,  Mr.  Arafat, there was a rejection of what was  offered. Everyone  has  to  admit at least Israel went 90% of the way.You could argue whether they violated international law, but it ‘s arguable. Let’s take Saddam by comparison, Saddam Hussein invaded another nation, the entire world said it was a breach of international  law, he sued for peace,  he made sworn agreements that he said he would  abide  by  under the UN, it was clear he was not abiding by them and there was no question that he was attempting to abide. He just flat out said ‘I will not  abide by them , period’. The  corollary  would  be that if tomorrow the prime minister of Israel said ‘I reject all UN resolutions, we’re no part of it, and I reject them flat out’.They didn’t say that,  they said we would in fact negotiate. Now a lot of Arabs don’t like the result of the negotiation. They don’t believe it  was  in  good faith. But it is a very different situation.

President Joe Biden with Yasmine Shihata

For many the violation is the octupation of Palestinian territories …

What is the violation of the. occupation? Look at the UN resolutions, every nation has a right to self-defense. Let’s define the occupation. There were two occupations in the minds  of  the  Arab world, one was after Israel was attacked they counterattacked and occupied territory that they won in victory. Today Syria says the Golan is occupied, today the Palestinians say that  the  mere  fact Israel is in Jerusalem, makes it an occupied city. But most of the world doesn’t believe that is an occupation. Most of the world believes that was a result of a war that was not caused  by  the Israelis; they responded to it and the  UN  resolution  said  you should negotiate this. Now there is a second type of occupation we talk about today; the Intifada occurred several times,  but  the  last one (which has continued now over three years) resulted with the Israelis moving back into territories they had moved  out of.  So when you ask people about occupation, it’s important to ask what  they mean about occupation.And so the second ‘occupation’ if you will, is one that is arguable in large portions of the world, done in response (to the Intifada) as self-defence. How  long would  Egypt, for exam{Me, stay out of the Sinai, if every fourth day buses are being blown up in Cairo and Egyptians    are    being    killed   and  someone sitting in the Sinai says ‘I take credit for that and I am very proud of having done that’?

So again I understand there’s a long history that’s hard to unravel here, and there are legitimate grievances on both sides  but the  notion  that this is an occupation without any justification is a hard case to make. It’s a hard case to make when you have somebody sitting in Northern Gaza firing rockets into an area killing innocent civilians and saying ‘by the way Israel you have no right to go there and nail them’. What other nation would sit by  and  say ‘it’s ok, we said we wouldn’t occupy’. My point is that it’s a different circumstance than if Israel tomorrow said ‘you know I don’t like Egypt’s attitude, and we’re gonna invade Egypt.’ That’s what Saddam did to  Kuwait. The response from that war, (which was an aggressive war by Saddam) was unambiguous and the commitments he made were unambiguous.

The reverse is true in Israel; some will say the UN had no right to recognise an Israeli state to begin with, isn’t that the core of the difference here? The core of the difference here is understandable; I’m not making a value judgement. It’s understandable the Palestinian people say ‘we were displaced by Israel with the sanction of the world, 60 years ago’. A legitimisation of the state of Israel by the rest of the world was never accepted, and you can argue understandably, by the Palestinians. That’s a different kind of occupation, that’s not occupation in the same sense.

Doesn’t the settlement of West Bank alter the idea of occupation as a defense for lsrael? Because it’s an alteration of reality and that’s not allowed under international law.

I think you are right, and I’ve been outspoken ” against ·It has been since the time  of  Prime  Minister  Begin.  I  got   in  public  and  national  arguments with him about permanent settlements;  my  argument  then was that if your security is at stake put  a  military garrison in  there; if you think you have to have it. But don’t put in a permanent settlement because that makes it virtually impossible to disengage in a way that would be bloodless. But we are where we are and I  do think (as I have publicly stated) Israel should dismantle settlements that are illegal since the last resolutions are clearly beyond any dispute. And they’re beginning in a very small way to do that.You can argue that why would anyone on the Palestinian side  believe  the man who made his mark politically by talking about Judean , Sumerian and greater Israel? I say for the same reason why Sadat moved over, and Rabin made a big change. Because the Israeli people understand their democratic future rests only in a two state solution and I think the majority of the Palestinians in their heart know that their only chance for peace is a genuine  two  state  solution. Now it has taken us a hell of a long time to get there but  the  reason why I believe that Mr. Sharon will in fact adhere to the Road Map (if in fact there is progress on  the terror side of it) is because the Israeli people will demand it of him.

Throughout the region, people are tired, Israelis and Palestinians, average people who pack their child’s lun ch for school and send them  out  the  door  and live in fear that their child will not come back; that they will be the by-product of an  air  missile  that was going after a Palestinian or that they’ll be on a bus that some ter­rorist blows  up. I  believe  we are at  a point where we push  through and insist on the Road. Map, it will marginalise the extremists. We  have a chance and we can’t go back and re-litigate what happened 60 years ago, which is the bulk of the con­cern on the Palestinian side.

Where  do  u  think  we  will  be in 5 to 10 years time, looking forward?

I have been around too long  to not have the humility to  stand back from that answer. But I can tell you where I hope we will be. I hope we will be in a place  where there are two independent states with contiguous borders that are viable and that there is increased democratisation generated from the Arab people in their own countries with  the support of the international community. And I  hope  we will have an international recognition that targeting  women and children for whatever justified reason is never justified. I hope the world community would have moved in that direction. That’s my wish and in my business, optimism is an occupational requirement. For were I not optimistic and I could not make myself believe that, then I should leave this business and go out in the private sector (and make a lot  of money and live  a lot better than I’m living now)!