The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”
Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.
Yesterday at a memorial service for Boston bombing victims, Joe Biden described the Tsarnaev brothers as “twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis.”
You know what they say. If it worships like a duck, radicalizes like a duck, plans like a duck, arms like a duck, bombs like a duck, and kills like a duck—it’s a knock-off.
In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:
Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.
In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.
Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)
Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”
The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.
Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?
I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.
While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:
We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.
Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.
While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.
The Obama administration may now have among its members a secretary of defense who can’t get its position on containment of a nuclear Iran straight. But the administration continues to lay down markers on its commitment to stopping Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as if Chuck Hagel’s nomination was an aberration, rather than a signal that is being interpreted in Iran to mean that it need not worry about President Obama’s threats. Vice President Biden’s speech at the annual AIPAC conference today in Washington contained more pledges that the president wasn’t bluffing on Iran. While nothing Biden said, let alone the utterances of the president on this subject, guarantees that the U.S. will ever act to stop Iran, the accumulation of their rhetoric is going to make it even harder for them to back away from their promises.
The vice president arguably went even further than the statement President Obama made at last year’s AIPAC conference when he specifically disavowed containment as an option. While Biden’s typically long-winded and meandering speech contained some highly questionable statements, such as his defense of engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, his remarks also took the administration another step down the road to confrontation with Iran. Instead of merely alluding to the use of force by saying that all options were on the table, he made the case that the current futile diplomatic process with Tehran was defensible because it gave the administration the ability to tell the world that it had done everything possible to avoid conflict before resorting to force.
The Almaty talks between Iran and the G5+1 have come and gone. And, despite statements to the contrary by American officials, there is no reason for optimism.
(In one chapter in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes which Encounter will publish next year, I compare all the State Department statements evaluating its high stakes diplomacy with Iran, North Korea, and the PLO with declassified contemporaneous accounts and find that in most cases, the State Department spokesman simply lied in order to suggest momentum for future talks).
The United States offered concessions, which Iranian negotiators pocketed before walking away. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s swatting down of Vice President Biden’s offer of negotiations made brief headlines, neither the New York Times nor Washington Post had the institutional memory to recall that, in the wake of President Obama’s outstretched hand, Khamenei had used a speech on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure to say much the same thing and to issue the demand that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf as a precondition to talks.
In April 2009, Politico dryly reported that Vice President Joe Biden had once again tripped over his words: “These sorts of comments are what the Obama administration fears from Biden, who after more than three decades in Washington is known for making gaffes.” It sounded like it must have been harmless enough–if this is what the administration “fears” from Biden, but nevertheless chose him to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, it couldn’t have been much more than an honest mistake or maybe an unintentionally offensive comment, the latter being Biden’s specialty.
In fact, Biden’s comment was a suggestion that with the so-called swine flu spreading, this was the appropriate moment for the entire country to panic, assume a bunker mentality, and perhaps–just to be safe–put mass transit out of business during a global economic crisis when unemployment in the United States was 9 percent and rising:
With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:
Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.
This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.
When Barack Obama announced the selection of Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, the New York Times, echoing the conventional wisdom at the time, included among Biden’s attributes the following: “it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.”
That was a widely held view and reportedly something the Obama team considered a significant mark in Biden’s favor. And it was sensible of them to do so. Sharing the White House with Hillary Clinton, for example, or a popular moderate Democrat like then-Senator Evan Bayh, would have almost surely meant nominating his successor who would want an agenda and to perhaps even share in the credit for Obama’s legacy. So instead Obama nominated Biden to be his vice president and Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. And wouldn’t you know it, they may both run for president anyway, touting their respective legacies and sharing in the glory of Obama’s own legislative victories. The only difference–and what might be the source of endless future headaches for Obama–is that he has a clear preference for Clinton over his own vice president, the latter now launching his own possible bid from the White House and simultaneously in need of restraining.
So what did Obama miss when he nominated this pair of Washington insiders? He forgot about something he really shouldn’t have: the natural ambition of politicians and the way access to the White House only magnifies it. And it’s what makes stories like this National Journal piece arguing against the likelihood of either Clinton or Biden running in 2016 less than convincing:
In October 2008, in a highly publicized and eagerly anticipated vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Biden said something that would have been notable were it not for his reputation for bluster and braggadocio. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about the job description and value of the vice presidency of the United States, Biden said this:
With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I’m sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. Let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration. I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he’ll be making, I’ll be sitting in the room to give my best advice. He’s president, not me, I’ll give my best advice.
In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.
This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.
The White House isn’t wasting any time on the gun control debate. After meeting with gun-rights advocates today, CBS News reports that Joe Biden will present his gun control proposals to President Obama as soon as Tuesday:
After consulting with a series of stakeholders in the ongoing debate over gun control, Vice President Joe Biden will present his recommendations for reducing gun-related violence in America to President Obama on Tuesday, he said today.
The vice president, speaking to reporters before a meeting on gun violence with sportsmen and women, and just minutes before another school shooting was reported, outlined a series of the recommendations he said are emerging in the course of his conversations with various stakeholders in the conversation. Among those possible proposals include universal background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and increased federal capabilities for effectively researching gun violence. Biden also stressed ongoing discussions about the importance of including the mental health community in the conversation.
Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.
Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):
Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.
Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.
The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous.
It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.
The loathsome Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who engineered the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Iraq in 2007, is reportedly back in Beirut, no doubt basking in his new-found freedom to plan fresh terrorist outrages. His release from Iraqi custody, while not unexpected, is nevertheless dismaying. The U.S., after having released all other detainees, turned him over last to Iraqi custody in 2011 hoping against hope that the Iraqis could somehow be persuaded to keep him locked up. Fat chance.
What makes the whole situation really pathetic is that Vice President Biden called Prime Minister Maliki in recent days pleading for Daqduq not to be released. The fact that he was set free anyway is hardly a sign of Maliki’s respect for the rule of law. It is a sign of how little influence the U.S. now wields in Iraq and how much influence Iran now has. Daqduq, after all, was in Iraq working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train Shiite militants to attack U.S. personnel. His release is a big victory for Iran and a big defeat for the United States.
The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.
But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”
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?”