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Biden, Obama And Darfur

Flashback, April '07:

Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic presidential candidate, called Wednesday for the use of military force to end the suffering in Darfur.

"I would use American force now," Biden said at a hearing before his committee. "I think it's not only time not to take force off the table. I think it's time to put force on the table and use it."

In advocating use of military force, Biden said senior U.S. military officials in Europe told him that 2,500 U.S. troops could "radically change the situation on the ground now."

I spoke yesterday with a Hill Democrat steeped in foreign affairs who said he'll be watching closely to see how Biden and Obama's different foreign policy experiences and views interface. Although Biden is no neocon hawk, over the years he's been quite comfortable with the use of force to achieve American goals. His foreign policy outlook was forged in the 80s and 90s, as the Democratic party battled post-Vietnam syndrome, and while did he oppose the first Gulf War in 1991 he came to fully embrace the second-term Clintonite philosophy of projecting American power overseas strongly. Indeed when it came to the Balkans, Biden was a step ahead of that curve, advocating a "lift and strike" policy of ending the US arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims and bombing the Serbs. Obama, obviously, has been shaped in a very different era, leaving him very oriented towards soft power over hard power. Biden may have moved in that direction of late, but his past instinct has been a little less force-averse.

Thus, Darfur will be a particularly interesting test. Obama often talks about the horror there, but has never called for direct U.S. intervention. Instead, he supports tougher sanctions against the Khartoum regime and a "large, capable UN-led and UN-funded force with a robust enforcement mandate to stop the killings." He also backs a no-fly zone, which apparently might be enforced with "help" from the U.S. But no American boots on the ground.

My source tells me that, in a closed-door meeting some months ago after his primary campaign ended, Biden vowed that he would use his Senate Foreign Relations Committee perch to hound a president Clinton or Obama into real action on Darfur. Now he's got the opportunity to be far more than a gadfly. Keep an eye on this.

P.S. Please read my colleague Richard Just's authoritative masterpiece on why nothing gets done about Darfur.

Michael Crowley