Thursday, September 4th, 2008
James Besser in Washington
Since becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee last month, political observers have been wondering whether Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) – known for his outspoken and unpredictable ways – would curb his tongue.
After all, he’s no longer just a senior senator but the junior partner in the highly disciplined Barack Obama campaign organization.
A Wednesday teleconference with Jewish reporters provided a partial answer.
Biden, known as both an ardent supporter of Israel and a supporter of more active U.S. peace efforts in the region, used the occasion to take some swipes at the pro-Israel lobby and blast current U.S. policy on Iran.
Asked about what an Obama administration’s Mideast policy might look like, he said this:
”I can tell you one thing for absolute certain: we’re not going to be bystanders. The first four or five years of this administration, it just stood on the sideline. You and I know the catalyst for being able to deal with bringing together the Palestinians and Israel has always been the United States,, it has always been hard work, it entails risks and it entails somebody on the ground who everybody knows, who has the ear of the president of the United States.”
He said the fact that President Bush waited seven years into his administration to go to Israel communicates “the notion that we are not ready to take some real hits in terms of our support for Israel.”
And he telegraphed what has become a key part of the Democratic pitch to Jewish voters – that the Bush administration has put Israel in jeopardy by a range of Mideast policies.
“The fact is, Israel is less secure today than it was eight year ago,” he said, citing what he said was the Bush administration’s failure to support Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, its insistence on Palestinian elections that ended up strengthening Hamas and missteps in Lebanon.
He called administration opposition to Syrian-Israeli negotiations “absolutely mindless.”
Then he jumped into really treacherous waters when he was asked about times when he has opposed policies of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby.
“AIPAC does not speak for the entire American Jewish community,” he said bluntly. “There are other organizations as strong and as consequential. AIPAC does not speak for the state of Israel, no matter what it insists on.”
He said his disagreements with AIPAC have always been “tactical,” not on basic goals, but then he got a little more personal.
“AIPAC has a tendency, like other organizations do, of thinking they know the Senate better than I do,” he said. “They don’t know the Senate better than I do, and they don’t know to get things done in the Senate better than I do.”
He also flayed the Bush administration for its Iran policy.
“Since this administration has come into office, with all the bluster and all the talk, we’ve seen the circumstance in which Iran has moved closer to a nuclear weapon. We have seen the circumstance where Iranian proxies – Hezbollah and Hamas — have grown in their political significance as well as their military capability. We have seen a circumstance in which the rest of the world has been increasingly reluctant to go along with us.”
But asked if an Obama administration would oppose a military strike against Iran, he said “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself, it doesn’t have to ask us anything. We’ll always stand by that right of Israel…. I have faith in the judgment of the democracy of Israel; they will arrive at the right decision as they view their own interest.”