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Obama’’s Biden problem

by Alexander Cockburn

Despite our high expectations, Vice President Joe Biden’s first months in office were disappointing. This, remember, is the man who opened the more recent of his two futile runs for the presidency by saying of Obama that he was “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Yes, I mean that Joe Biden. The one who hollered at wheelchair-bound Missouri State Sen. Chuck Graham, to “stand up.” The one who plagiarized a speech by Neil Kinnock. In other words, a man who has flung himself into one rhetorical pratfall after another with the unswerving momentum of a blind rhino. But then, as Biden and his wife, Jill, ensconced themselves in the vice president’s official residence at the Naval Observatory in northwest Washington, came a phase of decorum, irksome to those wagering that the former senator from Delaware is incapable of keeping his foot out of his mouth. There were those who said sadly, “Joe just isn’t Joe any more.” They were wrong. Appropriately, it was on the topic of Israel that, as vice president, Biden first tossed aside unmanly prudence. Even given the zeal of almost every member of the US Congress to satisfy the Israel lobby, Biden has always been conspicuous for his slavish posture toward the Holy State. Accepting Obama’s offer of the vice presidential nomination last summer, he announced emphatically that he would not have considered accepting the invitation if he had entertained the slightest suspicion that Obama was not 100 percent in Israel’s corner. In fact, the Israel lobby did entertain these unworthy suspicions, which is why it pushed strongly for Biden as veep. It wasn’t far into Obama’s first months in the White House that the lobby began to feel that even though Obama’s chief of staff is Rahm Emanuel, their suspicions were justified. The president dared to mention in public the right of Palestinians to some form of state. He said the settlements on the West Bank had to stop. (True, he didn’t say anything categorical about actually existing illegal settlements.) He seemed too eager to parley with Iran, too demure on the topic of its nuclear program. On July 5, George Stephanopoulos interviewed Biden in Baghdad for his Sunday morning talk show on the ABC network and promptly put the question: “If the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, [and] they have to take out the nuclear program militarily, the United States will not stand in the way?” Biden lunged for the driver’s wheel and swerved US government policy in a whole new direction: “[W]e cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a

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