Monday, July 06, 2009

Say, What?

Writing a check with his mouth that his feet can't cash is nothing new for Joe Biden. He was famous for his irreverent and careless statements when he was a senator, but most people assumed that as Vice President he would be more circumspect because what he says will now be construed as White House policy. That's why his comments yesterday on ABC's "This Week" were so stunning. From the NY Times:

Plunging squarely into one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. suggested on Sunday that the United States would not stand in the way of Israeli military action aimed at the Iranian nuclear program.

The United States, Mr. Biden said in an interview broadcast on ABC’s “This Week,” “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do.”

"Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," he said, in an interview taped in Baghdad at the end of a visit there.

The remarks went beyond at least the spirit of any public utterances by President Barack Obama, who has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program should be given to the end of the year. But the president has also said that he is “not reconciled” to the possibility of Iran possessing a nuclear weapon — a goal Tehran denies.
[Emphasis added]

Now, it is entirely possible that Vice President Biden had just lapsed into his old ways because he was tired. He spoke, after all, from Baghdad at the end of his trip to visit the troops and his son. If that was the case, he'll be facing a tongue lashing from another famous mouth, the one on Rahm Immanuel, for his failure of discipline, and we can expect a "clarifying" statement to issue from the White House.

However, even if the vice president's comments were not an expression of a stiffening policy from the White House, they might as well have been. The effect will potentially be the same: Israel will assume it has just been given a blank check to do what certain elements in that country have wanted to do for several years, launch an attack on suspected nuclear sites in Iran. Those elements are now in charge of the Israeli government, so such an attack is certainly not out of the question. That attack will be carried out with weaponry largely supplied by the US and paid for by US taxpayers, a fact that is well known by countries in that region and in the world.

Mr. Biden did include the standard White House line with respect to diplomatic engagement of Iran, reminding the Iranian leaders that the offer to talk is still on the table. President Obama, also speaking on Sunday, reiterated the preference for talks with Iran, as another NY Times article makes clear, but will that be enough to offset the free pass seemingly given to Israel?

That's still an open question, one that had better be answered in a hurry, if only through quiet diplomatic channels. If it isn't, we're in for more cowboy diplomacy, only this time it will involve a surrogate.

And that's not the kind of change that was promised.

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