Is it just me or were Joe Biden's comments on Stephanpoulos this morning somewhat ... uhm ... startling?
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.
Mr. Biden’s comments came at a particularly sensitive time, amid the continuing tumult over the disputed Iranian elections, and seemed to risk handing a besieged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a new tool with which to fan nationalist sentiments in Iran.
What was not immediately clear was whether Mr. Biden, who has a long-standing reputation for speaking volubly — and sometimes going too far in the heat of the moment — was sending an officially sanctioned message.
I haven't heard any outcry about this so far, so perhaps I'm just not up to speed on the latest thinking. Does this seem like a good idea to anyone at this particular moment? The biggest headline on the front page of the NY Times today was "Leading Clerics Defy Ayatollah on Disputed Iran Election" Does this strike you as a good moment for the US to be talking about Israel bombing the place?
In other news, in answer to a question about whether the stimulus was adequate, Biden also said that everyone had misread how bad the economy was back in January, which I think is nonsense. Everyone knew that the economy was in very, very deep trouble. It was politics that made the stimulus inadequate, not imperfect knowledge.
I understand why he would say it, but I don't think it rings true considering all the talk about the "worst economy since the Great Depression" at the time. Plus, I think it's a weak play. They knew that even the best stimulus would take time to kick in --- they said so then --- so they should just stick to their guns. "No one could have predicted" excuses are lame in most cases, but especially lame in this one.
It would be interesting to know if Biden is on message or if he did his usual free association. And I suppose it's always possible that the administration has begun to use his reputation for freelancing to get out messages they don't necessarily want to officially endorse. You always get the feeling that Biden is actually blurting out truths that nobody else wants to take credit for so maybe they are putting that to work for them.
(I'm still not sure why anyone would think that chattering about Israel's sovereign right to bomb Iran at this particular moment is a good idea, but maybe they think this will help lower the temperature somehow?)