Sen. Joseph Biden started his speech to the Center for U.S. Global Engagement on Tuesday with the caveat that he is not an Obama insider. But he certainly played the part.
Saying that he knew the Illinois Democrat well from their time together on the campaign trail, Biden said of Obama, he "has the judgment, he has the intellect, which no one doubts, and I guarantee you he has the steel in his spine to lead this country of ours out of the deep hole we have dug ourselves into."
His Obama testimony now complete, Biden-the-surrogate turned to the other task at hand: ripping apart the foreign policy of Sen. John McCain. At times, his critique was scathing, accusing the presumptive Republican nominee of lacking the basic gravitas and intellectual capacity to navigate the choppy international waters.
"President Bush and Sen. McCain lump all the threats together," said Biden. "Al Qaeda, the Shia militia, listen to them speak. Listen to my friend Joe Lieberman, and he really is a friend, listen to them speak. Find me a distinction that they make. As a consequence of this profound confusion they make profound mistakes. The idea that al Qaeda will cooperate with the philistine, a guy who in fact used to run the country in Iraq, the guy who did away with the caliphate... is completely contrary to anything that the now-dead leader of Iraq had in mind. It's dangerous. How can we run a sound foreign policy without understanding these decisions? How can we talk about a Shiite-dominated nation cooperating with a Sunni dominated Wahabi sect of Islam as if they had anything in common? Yet listen to my friends, listen to the president, listen to Joe Lieberman, listen to John McCain. Ladies and gentlemen, if they can't define the enemy we are fighting it is very difficult to define whether we have won or lost."
It was a vintage Biden performance, with theatrical and abrupt changes in tone tempered by equally dramatic pauses. Defying the conventional wisdom that foreign policy critiques must come in digestible sound bites, he walked the crowd (already well-versed in Middle East affairs) through what he presented as the major fallacies in the McCain doctrine. Much time was spent on Iran.
"I find it fascinating, the twisted logic of my friends on the other side talking about how this allows Iran to fight a proxy war against us in Iraq," Biden roared. "Huh? Guess what. What more would Iran like than the continuation of a 140,000 to 160,000 Americans in Iraq, bogged down in Iraq, no end in sight. Tell me how much Ahmadinejad would like to inherit a fractured Iraq. Study history. The premises upon which they rationalize I find breathtaking. The idea that John [McCain] and Joe [Lieberman] are going to eliminate any vestige of Iranian influence in Iraq, bless me father for I have sinned. Are they unaware of a border that has existed there for millennium? Are they unaware of the fact that our guy, Maliki is inviting Ahmadinejad to Baghdad and kissing him on both cheeks, literally not figuratively. Are they unaware of the fact that this government in Iraq feels compelled to visit Tehran to explain what it is that they are attempting to do with a long-term security agreement?"
Biden did not address, directly, rumors of his high place on Barack Obama's short list of vice presidential candidates, choosing instead to make light of being flanked on the Washington Post's rankings by two women: Hillary Clinton and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. And he started the speech off with an ode to his own White House run, openly wondering how he, "the most qualified man to be president," could end up in the role of campaign surrogate.
"I don't know what I'm doing here," he told the crowd.