Let’s hand it to Joe Biden’s savvy press secretary Jay Carney: the guy is EVERYWHERE. There is a full-on media blitz to buff up the veep’s image as he emerges as the main dissenter to the president’s plan to “surge” more troops into Afghanistan. He’s had gushy write-ups in Newsweek and the New York Times. Maybe it’s in response to Slate’s new Bush-light franchise called “Bidenisms.” Maybe it’s in response to the veep getting sidelined on policy debates. I reckon it’s all of the above.
One thing is for certain: Biden is somewhat of an unpredictable force in the No-Drama West Wing, this administration’s version of Paul O’Neill. He is infamous for blurting out whatever rushes into his mind at the moment (like, for instance, that the administration’s economic plan had a 30 percent chance of failure, or that Ukrainian women were hot). He is a hindrance at a time of strict party unity, message and discipline.
He is seen as a foreign policy wonk, which is something I’ve been baffled by. He has maybe the worst track record on foreign policy of anyone in the senate (against first Gulf War; for the second one; wanted to break up Iraq). Biden’s standing up to despots abroad has become the stuff of Washington legend. He reportedly called Slobodan Milosevic a “damn war criminal” to his face. His throwing down his napkin in Hamid Karzai’s company and telling him “This dinner is over” has also entered popular folklore. These incidents, however true or untrue they may be (John Ritch, a former deputy chief of state on the senate foreign relations committee, disputes the version of events regarding his verbal smack-down of Slobodan), paint the carefully cultivated picture of a no-nonsense guy who rides Amtrak and likes people who are honest, decent, and plain-spoken. Joe Biden has the everyday American’s interest at heart, whether he is in Bosnia or Baghdad.
On Afghanistan, however, I think Biden is right. The Americans do not have the stomach for a drawn-out commitment there. Nor has the administration really told us what our vital interest there is or how we should define success. No American soldier should die just to defend the Karzai government. And the safe haven argument is a red herring (unless we invade Somalia and Yemen tomorrow as well, which ain’t gonna happen). Let’s just hope Biden, ever the blabbermouth, doesn’t go mum on this issue.