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Biden's Russia blunder

The vice president's comments on Russia don't say a lot for his supposed foreign policy expertise.

July 28, 2009

There's the real world and Bizarro World, there's matter and antimatter, and then there's Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Both the would-be vice president and the actual one have a history of making foolish off-the-cuff remarks, and each has a knack for unnecessarily infuriating the opposition -- they just do it from opposite sides of the political spectrum. And if Palin scores political points by stretching the truth, Biden loses headway by being honest.

A case in point: his appallingly ill-advised statements over the weekend about Russia.

"The reality is, the Russians are where they are," Biden said, in comments published Saturday. "They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable."

Biden was just calling it as he sees it on Russia, but to upend the contents of his brainpan in front of a Wall Street Journal reporter, on the heels of a diplomatic initiative by the Obama administration that sent both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Moscow bearing "reset buttons" and promises to open a new era of mutual respect and improved relations, was immensely counter- productive. The Kremlin sent a bristling response questioning whether the president or the vice president was shaping U.S. foreign policy goals, and Clinton tried to smooth things over by calling Russia a "great power" in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." But the damage was done.

As one Russian newspaper reported: "Joe Biden unexpectedly returned to the rhetoric of the previous Bush administration."

Obama surely knew when he chose Biden as his running mate that he was getting a loose cannon. So he can't possibly be surprised when his vice president shoots the occasional 16-pound ball through his policy agenda, such as the time in April when Biden advised people to avoid flying or riding subways so as not to contract swine flu, even as the rest of the administration was trying to reassure jittery Americans about the much-hyped flu bug and head off a transportation meltdown. And who can forget Obama's withering glance when Biden made sport of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for mucking up the presidential oath at precisely the same moment that Obama was pleading for bipartisanship and mutual respect in Washington?

Yet Obama's principal rationale for choosing Biden was that the former senator's foreign policy expertise would make up for his own lack of diplomatic experience. This can't be what the president had in mind.

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