Although Biden, like Clinton, supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, those calamitous wars have instilled in him a new devotion to the cautious realism that men like Scowcroft and Baker exemplify. In 2009, according to Bob Woodward, the then-secretary of state argued passionately for sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, at one point pounding her fist on the table and declaring, “We must act like we’re going to win.” Biden, by contrast, didn’t think defeating the Taliban was either possible nor necessary, and argued for a narrower mission focused on al-Qaeda alone. What she feared most in Afghanistan was chaos and barbarism. What he feared most was quagmire.
Biden, according to Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s book, HRC, was also skeptical of a Western air campaign in Libya. Clinton supported it. Biden considered the raid on Osama bin Laden too risky. Clinton pushed Obama to go for it. Clinton, perhaps remembering the way her husband’s decision to arm Croat forces helped enable a peace deal in the former Yugoslavia, urged Obama to arm Syria’s rebels. Biden expressed caution once again. “Over the last few years, and especially amid the Arab Spring, events have forced the Obama White House to choose between its prudential instincts and its great ambitions,” Traub writes. “In almost every case Biden has sided with the skeptics.”
It would be a good thing for Democrats, and the country, if the private debate between Biden and Clinton went public. Otherwise, it’s likely that during the campaign Clinton will take stances more hawkish than Obama’s—partly because Ukraine has made hawkishness fashionable again and partly because that’s where her own instincts lie—but barely anyone will notice.