After reading this article in Newsweek, I have a renewed respect for Joe Biden. The article starts:
Joe Biden had a question. During a long Sunday meeting with President Obama and top national-security advisers on Sept. 13, the VP interjected, “Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?” Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. “And how much will we spend on Pakistan?” Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. “Well, by my calculations that’s a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we’re spending in Pakistan, we’re spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?” The White House Situation Room fell silent. But the questions had their desired effect: those gathered began putting more thought into Pakistan as the key theater in the region.
Back in March, Biden stood alone. When Obama announced that he was launching a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan—to develop the country and make its civilians safe from the Taliban—Biden was the only one of the president’s top advisers to seriously question the wisdom of this course. The vice president even authored a short paper, called “Counterterrorism-Plus,” outlining his case for a better-defined, more limited mission.
The article goes on to say that he asks the tough questions and makes the pointed remarks that others are simply unwilling to do. His unbridled honesty sets him apart.
“He says the things that others at the table don’t want to talk about, or which they find uncomfortable,” says White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Across the board, Biden’s real value to the president is not really his specific advice. It’s his ability to stir things up. Senior government officials who have participated in small meetings with the president and vice president have noticed Obama and Biden engaged in a duet. “The president will lean over, and they will quietly talk to each other. Biden will then question someone, make comments, and the president just leans back and seems to be taking it all in before he speaks,” Attorney General Eric Holder tells NEWSWEEK. Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, describes the interaction like this: “President Obama is one of the world’s greatest listeners; you can’t tell what he is thinking. He’s able to watch the VP ask tough questions and doesn’t have to do that himself. [In that way] he doesn’t have to reveal what he’s thinking. That’s very valuable.”
I found that last paragraph particularly interesting. Obama having Biden do the talking so he can do the watching and the listening. Very interesting.
And then there’s this:
Biden and Obama did not instantly bond. As a junior senator, Obama was not an intimate of Biden, a six-term veteran and committee chairman. The two men were rivals for the Democratic nomination until Biden dropped out in the early primaries, and Obama chose Biden as his running mate partly because he was a safe political choice, reassuring to Joe Six-Pack voters who might find Obama a little haughty. But Obama knew that Biden could be a shrewd and pointed questioner, particularly on foreign policy. In the spring of 2008, when candidate Obama was regarded as a greenhorn on foreign policy, he surprised and impressed the pundits by deftly probing Gen. David Petraeus on Iraq policy at a congressional hearing. No one but Obama knew at the time that Biden had advised him on his line of questioning.
It’s a very interesting article, one that really made me like Joe Biden. More than I already did.