We publish here our transcript of US ex-Vice-President Joe Biden’s impromptu and unauthorised 2014 revelation that ISIL/ISIS were being supplied with money and weapons by US allies Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
Speaking to an audience composed of students and faculty at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on 2 October 2014, Biden – as is his habit – strayed far off the prepared script in response to a simple question asked by a junior at Harvard. The exchange is still available on video via YouTube.
Biden, appearing to us to be either drunk or somewhat exhausted from travel, slurs his way through his prepared remarks, only to veer wildly off course in a strangely defensive and hostile response to a student’s simple question about the US involvement in Syria. It’s an amazing performance and typical of Biden who has always been a source of unscripted malapropisms during his entire political career. The Obama administration even devoted a section of the whitehouse.gov website to Biden’s wacky misadventures they called “Being Joe Biden”.
Biden was forced to attempt to publicly claw back his presumably inappropriate but honest remarks in the wake of this fiasco in an apology which we have not been able to locate in a rather cursory search of the Internet Archive’s saved pages of whitehouse.gov from the Obama era.
Anyone who still thinks that ISIL/ISIS were a spontaneous domestic Iraqi outgrowth of the US’ disastrous war against Iraq in 2017 is really clueless. So here’s “Clueless Joe” setting the record straight! Enjoy!
— FoWL Chicago
US Vice-President Joe Biden – Post-speech Remarks at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2 October 2014
[Q&A section begins at 51:25 of video. Biden appears to be slightly drunk or perhaps he’s just exhausted? — FoWLChi]
Moderator (Dean David Elwood): So we have time for just a few questions; the Vice-President’s schedule is very tight as you can imagine… but we have microphones on four locations: right here, right here, here and here… so I just want to remind you what a good question consists of here at the Kennedy School: please identify yourself; keep it short with one thought; and it ends with a question mark. So we’ll start right over here.
Audience member: Hi Mr. Vice-President. My name is [Will?]; I’m a junior at the College; my question is: in retrospect, do you believe that United States should have acted earlier in Syria and if not why is now the right moment?
Biden: [unintelligible: trying to get his microphone to work] Is this working? There you go, O.K.
The answer is “no” for two reasons. One: the idea of identifying a “moderate middle” has been a, uh, a chase America’s been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think, in every country in transition, there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock, or there’s a James Madison beyond one sand dune. The fact of the matter is, the ability to identify a “moderate middle” in… in… Syria… um… was… uh… there was no “moderate middle” because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers; they’re made up of people who in fact have the ordinary elements of the middle class of that country. And what happened was… and, uh… there… history will record this because I’m finding that former administration officials, soon as they leave write books – which I think is inappropriate, but anyway… [laughter] no, I’m serious: I do think it’s inappropriate… at least, you know, give the guy a chance to get out of office… um… uh…
And, uh, what, uh… what… what my constant cry was that our biggest problem was our allies. Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks – who are great friends – and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, which I just spent a lot of time with; the Saudis; the Emiratis, et cetera. 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… thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being… who were being supplied were Al-Nusra, and Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.
Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called “ISIL” – which was Al-Qaeda in Iraq – which, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq found open space and territory in… in western… excuse me, in eastern Syria… worked 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, uh… they have “seen the Lord.” Now we have been able.. the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors… because America can’t – once again – go in to 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? Now Saudi Arabia has stopped the funding [going in?]; Saudi Arabia’s allowing training on its soil of American forces under Title 10 open training; the Qatari’s have cut off their support for the most extreme elements of the terrorist organizations; and the Turks! President Erdogan told me – he’s an old friend – he said “you’re right; we let too many people though”. Now they’re trying to seal their border! [Smiles broadly]
So this idea that somehow it was within our power early on in this process – and there are a couple former members of the Administration arguing we should give quote “the opposition” (which we couldn’t identify as moderate, by the way, and I’m serious about that) – give them ground-to-air-launched missiles! Can you imagine what would have happened if that had been done? [Smiles broadly again]. Does anybody doubt they would have been in the hands of Al-Nusra? Or Al-Qaeda? Or [Khorasan?] group? Or ISIL?
There’s a difference between… you know it’s good to be both tough and smart. They’re… they’re… they’re a pair that’s required. So now what’s happened is: everyone in the region has awakened. And now under US leadership the coalition’s been put together and they’re moving – you notice what Turkey did today? What Erdogan told me last Thursday he would do – asked me not to say anything until it was voted on. They voted in the Turkish parliament to allow Turkish ground forces in to take on ISIL. Turkish airspace to be able to be used by NATO… and by other allies. Turkish airspace to be able to accommodate our drones.
So this idea that there was an option there… is fiction! It did not exist! We could have poured… if… if we could find every moderate we could find… and now, by the way – now it’s public – we have been training moderate forces. But we’ve been very select in making sure who they were and vetting them. And now there are… their numbers… is classified… but there are more than several thousand in country now. And there will be more. But it’s absolute fiction to suggest that early on if we had just acted more quickly… it took Saudi Arabia to figure out ISIL’s objective wasn’t Ramadi… it was Mecca! And Medina! It took a while for the Iranians to realize the existential threat to Iran was a radical Sunni extremist terrorist group. It took a while for Turkey – a Sunni nation – to figure out that ISIL was a direct, immediate threat to their well-being! It took a little while for Russia to figure out that all those Chechens that are making their way to Eastern Syria… going back… to… uh…uh… Chechnya – is not a good thing!
So now we have a coalition… but it’s still gonna be a hell of a long fight – a hell of a long fight. But it cannot be – even if we want it to – it can not be our fight alone. This can not be turned into a US ground war against another Arab nation in the Middle East.
I hope that answered your question.
— transcript produced by FoWL Chicago from YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcKVCtg5dxM on 20jul2017