Re: Did Biden Make News or a Mega-Gaffe?

Jennifer, I suspect a lot of the commentary on Biden’s comments suffers from not reading the exchange closely enough. After all, there is always a third possibility — neither big news nor gaffe: Biden is offering a carefully articulated version of an unchanged policy, sending messages to both Israel and Iran. Let’s look, for example, at part of the exchange that in my mind set off some alarm bells in the other direction (thanks to Shmuel Rosner for providing the transcript):

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

BIDEN: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say we can’t dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike.

BIDEN: I’m not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.

The focus of Stephanopoulos’s questions is on the forcible, “military” prevention by the U.S. of an Israeli strike. Technically, the question is whether the U.S. would allow Israeli planes to fly over Iraq — a path which, it should be stressed, is not the only way Israel can get to Iran. (Turkey is the most obvious way; another is Saudi Arabia.) To this, Biden is deliberately keeping the American cards close to the chest: The administration never ruled out an American or Israeli strike on Iran, and Biden is explicitly keeping open the possibility that the U.S. might, some day, give Israel such permission — or not. This is a clear signal to Iran, as everyone has already pointed out.

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Re: Did Biden Make News or a Mega-Gaffe?

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