It's sometimes tempting to forget, until a foreign policy issue arises and Vice President Joe Biden takes an active role, that he was not only the most experienced Democrat on international affairs among the 2008 Democratic presidential field, but arguably the most experienced Democratic foreign-policy mind involved in government at the time, having served as chairman or ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee for a decade.
Now Biden is in Israel as part of a five-day trip to the Middle East, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders have just agreed to indirect talks, taking a break from his usual milieu of stimulus-project roll-outs across the U.S.
This exchange, at a joint appearance this morning with Israeli President Shimon Peres, was a small reminder of the foreign-policy relationships and credibility Biden brings with him on the trip:
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: First of all, you know you talked about my being a friend of Israel from the time I was a young senator.
PRESIDENT PERES: What was it, 32?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thirty years old -- 29, actually. But I arrived at the Senate educated by a righteous Christian, my father, who -- we spent our dinner table -- we assembled at our dinner table in the evening to have discussions and incidentally eat rather than eat and incidentally have discussions. And -- but Israel captured my heart. I make no bones about it. That does not mean I do not understand and have a great empathy for the circumstances of the Palestinians, but Israel captured my heart and my imagination.
And my first visit here as a young senator, I sat before the desk of Golda Meir as she was chain smoking and pulling maps up and down behind me, explaining to me the Six Day War. And there was a young man sitting to my right, his name was Rabin. So I have had the great privilege of not only knowing you, but knowing every Prime Minister and President since the days of Golda Meir.
That's not to go all fan-worshippy on Biden just because he knew Golda Meir, but as far as domestic U.S. politics are concerned, Biden often gets talked about as a well-intentioned, gaffe-prone buffoon who had to get on the same page with his new boss early on in the Obama administration; but some of Biden's same qualities that lead his harshest critics not to take him seriously--his affinity for speaking off the cuff, his mild gregariousness, overt graciousness, and general air of self-deprecation--can serve him well in the foreign-policy arena, as in situations like his joint appearances with Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Here's how that appearance began:
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Vice President Biden, Joe, welcome to Israel and welcome to Jerusalem. We've been personal friends for almost three decades. Can you believe it has been that long?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: No. You're getting older, Bibi, I don't know how.
As is the case with Hillary Clinton, the long-standing relationships Biden enjoys are something that a young president like Obama undeniably lacks. For all the times Biden is dismissed by his domestic critics, the weight and value of personal friendships with world leaders, of having been around the block, can't be ignored.