Another Perspective on Biden

From Daniel Larison at the Week.

Larison offers an interesting perspective that follows up on a post I made a little over a week ago on the vice-president’s trip to Ukraine and Georgia.  Still, I think his commentary could use a little clarity.

His main point is that Biden has not been making gaffes or frustrating Obama’s foreign policy efforts but really just beginning to assert himself and his more hardline views (which he supposedly shares with Hillary Clinton) six months into the administration.

Larison also argues that the White House’s silence on Biden’s play suggests that Obama is not and has never really been more doveish than Biden.  Obama’s foreign policy, then,  is not much different from his feckless predecessor’s: a lot of irresponsible posturing but now cloaked in a few new rhetorical initiatives like the reset with Russia and an outreach to Iran and the Muslim world more generally.

I think Larison’s take starts well but leaps way too far.   Viewing  foreign-policy players like Clinton and Biden as autonomous actors positioning themselves to have a strong role within the administration makes a lot of sense.  And my recent post on Biden’s trip would have been strengthened by considering his actions in that light.  

But Obama is dealing with several major crises and the heaviest lift on the domestic front (healthcare reform) probably in decades.  That he hasn’t slapped down Biden immediately is not grounds for comparing Obama to Bush.  

So a question I asked before was why would Biden make this trip to Ukraine and Georgia now?  And why would he use such strong language supporting the former satellite states? That he is making a grab for a foreign-policy voice could provide part of the answer.  But I don’t get the impression that Obama aspires to be a business-as-usual president, and it’s premature to say call him one.  My best guess is that this is a temporary period of confused priorities in a still young presidency.

Now, what to watch for is whether Biden continues his approach. And whether Clinton follows his lead (unlikely because Clinton is probably more worried about Biden asserting control over her turf– when Biden took the running-mate spot, many thought he could be a de facto Secretary of State.)  Until now, Obama has enjoyed a largely  unchallenged position as foreign policy setter.  The question now is whether he’ll reassert control.  If not, the result will be an ineffective policy.  Or if he does so only by adopting a less transformative approach, then we can start listening to writers like Larison.

Also check out this link to a translation of a Russian article analyzing Biden’s trip.  It also includes a transcipt and video of Hillary walking back some of Biden’s comments (including a line about Russia bending to the will of the U.S.)

Photo from Reuters via Radio France.

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