Mocking Joe Biden is national sport, but today we come to defend him. The Vice President spent the weekend apologizing to Middle Eastern strongmen for his ad-libbed comments about Syria, but he’s apologizing to the wrong people for the wrong reason.
The offending Bidenisms came last week in response to a Harvard junior who asked, “In retrospect do you believe that the United States should have acted earlier in Syria and if not why is now the right moment?” Mr. Biden dismissed the premise, saying no “moderate middle” existed in Syria for America to support against Bashar al-Assad after war broke out in 2011.
“Americans think in every country in transition there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock or a James Madison beyond one sand dune,” he said. This patronizing dismissal of brave Syrians who rose up against a bad regime wasn’t controversial, though it should have been.*
Rolling now, the veep said that “our allies in the region were the largest problem in Syria,” mentioning the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and “an old friend,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.” This support ended up with al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, he said. Mr. Erdogan admitted to him, “You’re right we let too many people through” the Turkish-Syria border to join ISIS, according to Mr. Biden.
Oh boy. President Erdogan on Saturday fumed that, “Biden will be history to me if has used such expressions.” The veep called him the same day to apologize for “any implication” that Turkey “intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth” of ISIS. On Sunday he apologized to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
The jester speaks the darndest truths. The Arab Gulf states did bankroll and arm extremists in Syria, as they also did in Libya. Turkey did little to stop foreign jihadists from crossing from Turkey into Syria to join ISIS. These countries now support the U.S. military campaign in Iraq and Syria, but they helped create the problem.
If Mr. Biden is feeling contrite, he ought to apologize to the Syrian and American people. For three years, the Obama Administration sat on its hands in Syria. Proposals to arm and train genuinely moderate opposition forces were turned down. President Obama refused to strike Assad’s air force, even after the dictator crossed the American leader’s “red line” and gassed thousands of civilians with chemical weapons.
As the moderate Free Syrian Army was marginalized on the battlefield, ISIS and other extremists moved in. Some 200,000 people have died in the three-year civil war that earlier American action might have mitigated. The American abandonment also enabled ISIS to come over from Syria and lay siege to a third of Iraqi territory. The veep should apologize for claiming victory in Iraq even as his abdication was letting disorder spread.
*I am less impressed by the Syrian rebels than WSJ. I keep reading (see here and here) how they are virtually all Islamists, and if they had Assad’s weapons I have no reason to believe they would act differently than him. That does not mean that no liberal Syrians exist, just that few of them are interested in fighting (and frankly, I can scarcely blame them). The liberal ones are Westernized.
I also think Biden is right about the chances of democracy in Syria. Zero. Face it. We have been through this before: ethnic/sectarian/tribal differences make it impossible. There will never be an “inclusive” in the Arab Middle East.