Last month, Joe Biden managed to offend two minority groups in one week, but that’s nothing compared to his breathtakingly Biden-y performance while talking with students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Thursday. The U.S. media mainly focused on Biden jokingly telling a senior who introduced himself as vice-president of the student body, “Ain’t that a bitch?” (He assured the audience, “I’m joking, I’m joking. Best decision I ever made.”) However, Biden spent the weekend apologizing for a much bigger gaffe: describing how our new allies in the fight against ISIS, which he mentioned by name, supplied and funded the terrorist group.
At the end of a 90-minute audio recording posted to the White House’s YouTube account, a student asked Biden if he thinks the U.S. should have acted sooner in Syria. The short answer is “no,” but in one lengthy response, Biden managed to make a vague dig at Hillary Clinton:
And what happened was – and history will record this because I’m finding that former administration officials, as soon as they leave write books which I think is inappropriate, but anyway, [laughter] no I’m serious – I do think it’s inappropriate at least, you know, give the guy a chance to get out of office.
Suggest there are no moderates among the Syrian rebels (though the House just gave the president the authority to arm and train them):
The idea of identifying a moderate middle has been a chase America has been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think in every country in transition there is a Thomas Jefferson hiding beside some rock – or a James Madison beyond one sand dune. The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was – there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers – they are made up of people who in fact have ordinary elements of the middle class of that country.
And explain that “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria” because they were so eager to gang up on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that they wound up aiding the groups that eventually became ISIS:
They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world. Now you think I’m exaggerating – take a look. Where did all of this go? So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.
The Daily Beast says Biden was just telling it like it is, but unsurprisingly, this did not go over well with the three nations Biden mentioned by name — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — which are part of the new anti-ISIS coalition heavily touted by President Obama. As McClatchy explains, “Although senior U.S. officials have hinted that at least one Gulf country had been supporting Jabhat al Nusra, the Al Qaida-backed militia in Syria, no one had named the countries in a public forum until Biden. His remarks raised a number of questions: what form did the aid take, how long did it continue and what impact did it have on fighting on the ground?”
Rather than debating whether Biden’s assessment of our allies was correct, the White House just had him apologize (though they did note that he wasn’t saying anyone “intentionally” aided ISIS). The vice-president called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday and “apologized for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria,” the White House said. A day later, he talked with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to clarify that “his recent remarks regarding the early stages of the conflict in Syria were not meant to imply that the U.A.E. had facilitated or supported” extremist groups.
One thing Biden was definitely right about: Being the vice-president does sound like “a bitch.”