During a question and answer session at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government last week, Vice President Biden somehow managed to anger some of the U.S.’s most vital allies in the fight against Islamic State.
Biden has now apologized to both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for the comments, but to anyone who has been following the conventional wisdom in foreign policy circles, it’s not surprising that he would think this privately (even if it is surprising that he would say so publicly).
To understand why, it helps to take a look at exactly what Biden allegedly said. When asked by a student whether the United States should have acted earlier in Syria, Biden first explains that there was “no moderate middle” in the Syrian civil war, before changing the topic to talk about America’s allies:
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, [who] I just spent a lot of time with, [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera.
What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied, [they] were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.
Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now that’s happening, all of a sudden, everybody is awakened because this outfit called ISIL, which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space and territory in [eastern] Syria, [and they] work with al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.
So what happened? Now, all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they have seen the lord. Now we have … been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be the aggressor. It has to be led by Sunnis. To go and attack a Sunni organization. And so what do we have for the first time? [Audio cuts out]”