Foreign-policy Veep apologizes for offending ally ... for the second time in a week

Before delving into the twin embarrassments in the past week, let us recall how Joe Biden got to be Vice President in the first place. In August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and wrested away South Ossetia and Abkhazia from its former Soviet republic. John McCain had warned of Russian intentions and seemed vindicated by invasion — although how impactful that would have been on the election after the economic collapse the next month is debatable. Barack Obama, needing to add some old-hand gravitas on foreign policy, chose Joe Biden and his supposed keen insights on global policy.

Fast forward to today:

Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday called the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to clarify that he did not mean to imply in his remarks last week that the Gulf ally was supporting al-Qaida fighters in Syria, the White House said.

Biden spoke with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and a key Emirati leader, the White House said.

It was the second time in two days that Biden had to call a key partner in President Barack Obama’s coalition to walk back comments he made on Thursday, when he said that U.S. allies – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – had funded and armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaida.

Earlier Sunday, an exasperated UAE requested “a formal clarification” from Biden on comments that America’s allies in the Middle East sent weapons and cash to extremists fighting in Syria.

To some extent, this is only a problem because we have tried tiptoeing around the truth in order to keep our fragile coalition in one piece. Generally speaking, the nations Biden specified have given material support to Islamist groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and/or some of the networks operating in Syria (although one wonders why he omitted Qatar, which is much more questionable on this point than UAE).  Specifically, though, at least some of this is mistaken. AQ has been fighting Saudi Arabia since its inception, for example, and the Qatar and Turkey have given us some support for our fight against AQ over the years — even while they supported other Islamist groups.

In regard to the Islamist groups in Syria, those are the same groups that Biden’s boss now says he will arm to fight ISIS rather than put boots on the ground. That has been the strategy demanded by McCain and other hawks on the Syrian conflict for more than three years, which the White House resisted until the sweep of ISIS forced Obama’s hand in early September. Perhaps Biden just hasn’t gotten the memo yet from Obama, but the new strategy for fighting ISIS by proxy puts us in the exact same position as our three allies — supporting Islamist networks of questionable “moderation” as a mechanism to greater policy goals.

One might have expected a key member of Obama’s team to know all of this, or more to the point, understand the diplomatic niceties of refraining from calling allies enemies just when you want them to commit to more military action. Oddly, expectations for Biden are set so low as to make this yet another of the supposedly humorous, avuncular anecdotes comprising practically the entire scope of his political career. Contrast this choice by Barack Obama in August 2008 and McCain’s choice of running mate at the same point in time … and try to convince yourself that (a) the outcome was an upgrade, and (b) the media would be anywhere near as amiable about Sarah Palin’s performance.

Update: At least the Washington Post isn’t laughing at Uncle Joe.