When Barack Obama first named Joe Biden as his running-mate, Washington insiders noted that what Biden is best known for running is his gab-too-much motor-mouth. Too often it seems there is no brain-filter operating to control what comes out of it.
Yesterday, Biden (three-peatedly) told George Stephanopoulos that if the Israeli government chooses to launch a military strike– that is, an act of war– against Iran, then that is quite up to them.
Here’s the first part of the exchange, as transcribed by Politico:
- BIDEN: Look, 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.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?
BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that…
Actually, no, Joe. “Any nation” is certainly not entitled to undertake an unprovoked act of war against another nation…
Biden should have remembered, too, that our country has its own direct interests and responsibilities in this matter, for at least three excellent reasons:
- 1. The hardware the IDF would use to strike Israel would certainly include US-supplied items, all of which are supplied on the basis of explicit agreements that they will be used only for defensive purposes.
2. As Stephanopoulos was smart enough to point out, the US controls the air-space in Iraq, Saudi, Arabia, and other countries that Israel would need to overfly in any air-launched attack on Iraq.
3. Finally– and this for me is the clincher–It is US forces, not Israeli forces, that are “on the front-lines” against Iran. If Israel attacks Iran, the Iranian government can justifiably assume, based in part on points 1 and 2 above, that it did so with at least US collusion, if not active US partnership. On this basis Iran would be entitled to respond to any Israeli attack by counter-attacking against not only Israel but also the many, very vulnerable military assets that the US has very near Iran’s borders and coastline– whether in Iraq, in and around the Gulf, or in Afghanistan.
It is not clear to me why Biden has suddenly become so irresponsibly mouthy about Iran. Back in early April, soon after Benjamin Netanyahu’s inauguration as Israeli PM, Biden was the administration’s point-man in issuing a clear warning that Netanyahu would be “ill-advised” to carry out a military strike against Iran. (Also reported here.)
And today, even as George Stephanopoulos’s show was airing in the US, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was openly warning about the very “destabilizing” effects of any Israeli attack on Iran.
Here’s his exchange with ‘Face the Nation’ host John Dickerson:
- DICKERSON: OK, let’s go back to something also that Vice President Biden said about Iran. He said that if Israel wants to launch a strike to stop Iran’s nuclear capability there’s nothing the U.S. can do. Is that right?
MULLEN: Well, I have been for some time concerned about any strike on Iran. I worry about it being very destabilizing not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that.
At the same time, I’m one that thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I think that’s very destabilizing…
So it’s a very, very narrow window with respect to that. It’s something I’m engaged with my counter — my Israeli counterpart on regularly. But these are really political decisions that have to be made with respect to where the United States is. I remain very concerned about what Iran is doing…
DICKERSON: But a strike is not a military — I mean that’s not a political decision if the Israelis make a strike, that’s a military consequence you’ll have to deal with.
MULLEN: I think actually, you know, should that occur obviously all of us will have to deal with that.
Mullen’s position is considerably more in line with the one that has been sustained since Obama’s inauguration by his own immediate boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Gates’s boss, the president, than the one that Biden blurted out yesterday.
Bottom line: If it is still true that– as the old WWII adage had it– “loose lips sink ships”, then the ships that are likely to be sunk if Netanyahu takes Biden’s latest motor-mouthing as giving him a green light to go ahead and bomb Iran are much more likely to be American ships, than Israeli.
Bidens apparent gaffe is all the more notable because since the early days of the recent political crisis in Iran, the many US naval vessels in the Gulf have been under strict orders to hang back and take extra precautions against getting into any confrontation with the Iranian navy and military, since the hardliners in Tehran could then use any such confrontation to rally more Iranians behind their cause.
Obama now needs to go to some lengths, first to clearly restate that any Israeli strike against Iran is perilous for US lives and interests, and second, to try to get Biden to be a lot more disciplined when he speaks about momentous matters in the future.