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Is it just Joe?

That is what the Russians must be wondering these days. Let's recap.

Three weeks ago, President Obama goes to Moscow and holds a speech saying that he recognizes "the future benefit that will come from a strong and vibrant Russia", talks about Russia's "rightful place as a great power", and states: "The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game". He offers a few words about the right of Russia's neighbours to set their own foreign policy, but follows up by saying that NATO seeks "collaboration, not confrontation" with Russia.

To the ever-suspicious Russians, this should have sounded like an actual attempt to improve relations.

Cue Joe Biden. The VP was sent on a quick tour to Ukraine and Georgia to assuage fears that the US would change its stance on their possible future membership of NATO. Biden did that part of the job well enough, giving some combative language that the US would "stand by" Georgia, but also making it clear that there was no military way for the country to regain control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, Biden then decided to give an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he managed to insult just about everyone - even the Georgians - but most of all the Russians. The WSJ headline 'Biden Says Weakened Russia Will Bend To US' is hardly an exaggeration.

When Biden recently made some silly remarks about Israel striking Iran, Mickey Kaus pointed out that this might be a useful form of strategic ambiguity. You might want that kind of thing with regard to Iran, but don't think strategic ambiguity would be useful with regard to Russia, especially in the context of trying to improve relations. So if the White House was ever serious about that, it will have to find a way to communicate that its really only Joe, you know.

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Don S on :

This put's me in mind of a comment Anne Richards made at the Keystone address of the 1988 Democratic National Convention, that "George Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth." (Bush pere of course). Since his nomination & election as Veep Joe Biden has shown a similar gift, albeit probably not a silver foot - given his more plebian roots. But does it matter? To quote FDR's first VP on the subject: "Garner once described the vice presidency as being "not worth a bucket of warm spit". Or perhaps another bodily fluid, accounts differ. As a Veep Biden doesn't seem to be a patch on either Al Gore or Dick Chaney in terms of importance. So perhaps everyone should calm down and remember the source. A village somewhere is missing it's idiot.

Pat Patterson on :

Plus one could consider that the people of Texas, when GW Bush ran, decided that Ann Richards was better with only one term as governor than two. One can only hope in the omens.

Pamela on :

Well, Joe's a lovable doofus but he's our lovable doofus and sometimes we just want to share our treasures with the rest of the world. I've worked with his office when he was in the Senate and met him once. I will say two things: in person he is extremely approachable, affable, all around nice person; he was more dependent on staff than a lot of other members I've known - so maybe not the sharpest knife in the drawer? Fortunately, somebody in his office had the sense to hire good staff.

John in Michigan, US on :

If it is strategic ambiguity...does anyone seriously think the Russians will be fooled? Assuming the answer is no, who then is the intended audience for this ambiguity? One possible audience is the domestic (US) one. In this case, doesn't the use of strategic ambiguity signal a status quo foreign policy re Russia? This has been my pet theory for a while - that Obama is going to be mostly a status quo President on foreign policy. His big move in Iraq was to slightly accelerate the Bush withdrawal, in other words, no radical change. In Afghanistan he has escalated, although it could be argued that this too was in the pipeline before he assumed office. Even on climate change he is signaling modest changes. Discussions today are based on reducing X percent below 2004 levels. No-one, and I mean no-one, is talking about reducing below 1990 levels as supposedly was mandatory according to the infallable consesus of the 1990's. And of course, Obama's climate change bill is in trouble in Congress, so he will likely end up with token reforms. Perhaps he will count the CO2 reductions caused by the current economic recession as if they were real reductions due to policy changes...meanwhile the real policy changes will be postponed (a commitment today that requires no real action until later). That would be fine with me. I am a global warming skeptic, and time is on my side. If this pattern continues, historians will look back at the beginning of the 21st century and say, Bush's changes to the status quo became America's bi-partisan foreign policy.

Pat Patterson on :

Well, for the first time since last summer the Kutsenov, a heavy destroyer, is patrolling off the coast of Georgia and Russia is making noises concerning provocative acts by the Georgians. It would appear that the Russians are fearful that the US may make obvious its rebuilding of the Georgian military and the increasing reliance it has on its Bulgarian combined arms base on the Black Sea coast. And the Turkish authorities are still not letting any of the Russian Mediterranean fleet through the Bospourus. I don't think that internationally the Russians are too worried as they are still no threat but any saber rattling on the part of the US in the Black Sea, even low key, is sure to keep some admirals in Odessa up all night.

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