Sen. Joe Biden – note that is Senator Biden, not former senator, or vice president-elect, or distinguished citizen of Delaware – is entirely within his rights to travel overseas in the coming days to prepare for his new responsibilities. In fact, he is fulfilling his duty in taking the trip. The criticisms of his trip have a forced, partisan quality to them that do not even cross the threshold of being serious.
At least four separate arguments support Biden’s decision to travel to an overseas combat theater. Any one of them would probably suffice to justify his plans. This isn’t a close call.
First, he is in fact a senator. Today, not just yesterday or last year. The people’s representatives are supposed to make trips like this to exercise their responsibilities and obligations. And no one could seriously consider this trip a junket that he is sneaking in at the last minute for personal enjoyment.
Second, the nation is at war. In these circumstances, any important elected official should learn as much about overseas combat operations as possible. If there were any grey in this situation, which there is not, those serious about winning the war should advocate that officials err on the side of learning as much as they possibly can. That applies to executive branch and congressional officials, Democrats and Republicans, as well as war critics and war supporters.
Third, Biden will presumably be listening and studying, not pronouncing or deciding, on his trip. Admittedly, he has to be careful not to overstep his current role in his public statements; for a few more days we still have a different vice president and a different administration. So those who are constructively and politely reminding the senator of this fact are correct. Somehow, though, I doubt that Sen. Biden really needs the reminder.
Fourth, to this administration’s early critics, let’s not try to have it both ways. I joined the critics of then-Sen. Obama last year in underscoring that he had not been to Iraq and Afghanistan enough; Fox News had the famous ticker tracking how long it had been since his last visit. If Obama was wrong then to let two-and-a-half years elapse between trips, Biden is presumably correct now to ensure that there is no gap in the incoming team’s understanding of conditions on the ground, and to take a fact finding trip as he prepares for his solemn duties in the coming weeks and months.
There is plenty to debate about Iraq and Afghanistan and other theaters in the war; let’s get back to the serious questions, and not this one.