ISIS Iran Report

Misunderstood Biden?

Misunderstood Biden? photo

July 6, 2009

Vice President Biden has been widely quoted (here and here are but two examples) from his Sunday appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos as saying that the United States will not stand in Israel’s way should it decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.  The Los Angeles Times piece’s headline bluntly states “Biden says Israel has the right to attack Iran.”



The reverberations are already understood in Iran, where one reader to Andrew Sullivan’s blog explains that this plays perfectly into the hands of Ahamdinejad.  Unfortunately, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what Biden actually said.  Yes, the Vice President plainly stated that Israel, as a sovereign nation, can determine “what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.”  But he also plainly stated that U.S. and Israeli interests are currently aligned:  “What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world” and that these interests are currently best served by engagement.  More important, Biden was saying that the United States would not be pushed into a course of action by Israel:  “If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.” Fine distinctions?  Perhaps, but worth being sensitive to. 


Juan Cole seems to have it right here:  “So what Biden was really saying is that the Obama administration intends to engage Iran diplomatically, and that if anyone wants Iran attacked they will have to do it themselves. This is not a green light to the Israelis, who hardly need one. It is a tough message to the right wing of the Israel lobbies that the Obama administration is not going to launch any hostilities with Iran, even after the hard line power grab of three weeks ago.”


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