Joe Biden has been in office practically forever—literally about one-fifth of the lift of our republic. He’s seen it all: wars and hostage-takings, allies flipping to become enemies and vice versa. So there’s really no excuse for the dangerously hair-brained idea Joe Biden proposed in late 2001 as America reeled from the 9-11 attacks.
It’s almost impossible to imagine it now, but in the weeks after 9-11, the United States was a more unified place than it is at present. We had been attacked on our own soil. The Bush 43 administration was less than a year old and dealing with one of the most shocking and profound challenges and crises in American history. Most of the country was glad Bush had prevailed in Bush v. Gore just a few months prior to the attacks, as the new administration brought foreign policy experience to bear that a Gore administration simply would not have had access to. Despite the fact that the Clinton administration had just spent 8 years in power, the Democrats had few recognized foreign policy experts. That mattered a lot more in those days when foreign policy largely stopped at the water’s edge and identity politics had not subsumed and eaten up our entire national discourse.
One hand the Democrats did turn to for foreign policy expertise was Sen. Joe Biden. By 2001 he had already been in office for decades, long enough to be present at the invention of “borking” Republican nominees for the Supreme Court, and long enough to have served during the Cold War, the oil embargo, the Iran hostage crisis, the Reagan and Bush administrations and the fall of the Soviet empire, and even the previous war against Iraq. He’d been in office when Iran and Iraq had gone to war with each other. He’d been in office when Iran flipped from being a staunch American ally to a radical, implacable enemy. He’d seen it all.
That doesn’t mean Joe Biden ever got anything right. He was already known for running his mouth without a filter and plagiarising some of his best speeches.
In the weeks after 9-11, as Democrats turned to the old hand Biden to offer a steady voice, he offered up…this, captured by The New Republic on October 2001.
At the Tuesday-morning meeting with committee staffers, Biden launches into a stream-of-consciousness monologue about what his committee should be doing, before he finally admits the obvious: “I’m groping here.”
Well, that’s a poor choice of words given Biden’s known history.
Then he hits on an idea: America needs to show the Arab world that we’re not bent on its destruction. “Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran,” Biden declares. He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face.
Where to start with this quality of thinking? For starters, Iran is not and never has been a part of “the Arab world.” Iran is not Arab. It’s Persian, with a history and culture distinct from Arabia. In fact, the Arab world distrusts Iran and vice versa. Iran did fight that long, destructive war with Arab Iraq in the 1980s, and Biden was in office for the entire thing.
Iran and the Arab world do share the Muslim faith, but even there, there are important differences. Iran is majority Shiite; Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab world is majority Sunni. The Shia and Sunni have been at each other’s throats for more than a millennium over doctrinal differences.
Biden, the so-called foreign policy expert, should have known all this in 2001, and never even entertained such an idea let alone said it aloud.
It’s not difficult at all to game out what Iran would have done with $200 million in no-strings-attached cash from America if Biden had been allowed to send that check. As Biden sat at that very table, Iran had a delegation in Moscow to buy $300 million worth of Russian weapons. Iran would probably have used Biden’s check to make its purchase from Putin quite a bit cheaper.
Or it might have turned that $200 million into a whole lot of bombs and weapons for Hizballah to use to attack Israel. Or Iran might have plowed that money into its nuclear program, or it might have funneled it through Hizballah’s global drug trade to make a sizeable pile of American cash even bigger, so it could create even more mayhem for the U.S., Israel, and our allies. The mullahs are fiendishly clever. They would have come up with something we would not have liked.
Sending Iran a no-strings-attached check for $200 million would certainly not have been a show of strength. The actual Arab world would have thought America had lost its mind.
In retrospect, it’s a very good thing Joe Biden wasn’t president and therefore was unable to carry out this obviously terrible idea.
There’s no evidence Biden’s thinking has improved at all in the 19 years since then.