Obviously Jeffrey Goldberg is no rosy-eyed optimist when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but he’s also spent the last few years trying to assure everyone that President Obama is dead serious about preventing the bomb. Which is why it’s surprising to see this relatively tough criticism of the administration in his latest column:
Romney was handed an additional gift last week by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the past three years, I’ve been impressed with Obama’s seriousness on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which he treats the subject, and the measures he has taken to keep the regime from crossing the atomic threshold. But last week, in the vice-presidential debate, Biden attempted to portray Representative Paul Ryan as a hysteric on the subject, even though Ryan’s seriousness on Iran matches the president’s.
In so doing, Biden downplayed the importance of confronting Iran. Biden said that when Ryan “talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?”
Goldberg writes that Biden “downplayed the importance of confronting Iran,” and calls this a “dramatic, deviation from the administration’s line on Iran.” He notes that Biden was wrong in both substance (an Iranian bomb isn’t that far off when you look at the work they’ve done so far) and tone (yes, it actually is a big deal).
It’s definitely unsettling to hear the vice president dismiss concern over a nuclear Iran as “bluster” and “loose talk,” the same terms used by people like Stephen Walt to smear journalists like Goldberg as warmongers. But was Biden off-message, or just clumsily parroting the administration’s internal sentiment? Keep in mind that “bluster” and “loose talk” were the same two words used by President Obama to dismiss Republican critics of his Iran policy at AIPAC last spring. Kind of a coincidence, no? Recently, Obama also referred to Israeli concern over the nuclear program as “noise.” The difference may just be that Obama phrased his administration’s line a bit more carefully, which wouldn’t be a surprise considering, well … Biden.