David, it is always possible that Joe Biden has developed a sophisticated sense of nuance and precision, but I will exhaust the most obvious explanations first. A few items should be kept in mind:
Just as significant as what Biden said is what he didn’t. Unlike Obama intimated in Cairo, he never said that the U.S. would view an Israeli strike as illegitimate. He never said the U.S. would try to dissuade Israel from taking such action. Certainly, both he and the administration would know that the public’s interpretation of the remarks, as well as the interpretation by diplomatic circles, would be that Biden is condoning, if not encouraging, an Israeli strike.
Admiral Mike Mullen, in a separate appearance, deemed a potential Israeli strike as ” very destabilizing” — quite a different tone from Biden’s. Is Mullen or Biden closer to the administration’s view? Let’s say the better bet is on Mullen, who isn’t known for talking off the top of his head or making unintentional headlines.
But let’s hope Biden is displaying some evolution in U.S. policy. Far better to give Israel a restrained but understanding message than to declare to the world that no one country has a right to tell another it can’t possess nuclear weapons (and that means, you, Israel!) which was the Obama message in Cairo.
We will have to wait and see whether Obama’s thinking on Iran and Israel is maturing or whether once again Biden is off the reservation.