Joe Biden is not as dumb as he looks. This week proves it. He may not be able to remember what George Washington said, might even think the words were his own, but he got this right: The best defense is a good offense.
In 1799, writing to friend John Trumbull from Mount Vernon, George Washington offered, in effect that “offensive operations often times [are] the surest if not the only (in some cases) means of defense.”
Washington was referring to war, but – reversing words of military strategist Carl von Clausewitz – politics is just the continuation of war by other means. What Clausewitz said is: “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” but you get the point.
The main point: Joe Biden was under fire for reportedly interceding with the Ukrainian government while serving as Vice President, on behalf of his son’s business dealings. The basic allegation was that the senior Biden sought to leverage – or encourage – actions by the Ukrainian government to turn off a Ukrainian investigation into his son’s business dealings.
Ironically, this is not a matter of conjecture, since the former Vice President bragged on the point two years ago. Biden specifically said he threatened to hold up a billion dollars in loan guarantees to Ukraine if a certain Ukrainian prosecutor was not fired – the same one who reportedly had his son investigated.
In other words, Joe Biden – as Vice President – misused his office, official influence, and power over foreign aid to secure the firing of a foreign prosecutor looking into his son’s business activities.
Now fast forward to last week. Congressional Democrats caught fire on rumors a “whistleblower” heard President Trump talking on a phone call about this matter to the Ukrainian President, possibly asking follow-up information.
Suddenly, Democrats began talking impeachment, framing an article to imply the President misused his office, since the former Vice President is now a presidential candidate.
Never mind the absence of any evidence of abuse of power by President Trump in the call transcript (according to those who have seen it), the Ukrainian President’s denial of any undue pressure by President Trump, and President Trump’s assertions of his innocence. Suddenly, there was an issue to run on – a fresh chance, with other controversies dead, to create a new one.
Former Vice President Biden did not miss a beat. He took the bone and ran. He turned his own bad behavior into a cudgel, claiming on this issue he would bring Trump down. Biden accused Trump of “an overwhelming abuse of power,” “violating every basic norm of a president,” and swore to “beat him like a drum.”
All this is a bit rich. First, if discussing a past vice president’s potentially illegal behavior with a foreign leader is injudicious, and might best have been avoided, it hardly seems predicate for impeachment. Maybe the call will prove otherwise, but the facts do not appear to support the hysteria.
Second, the facts transparently cut against the former Vice President, not for him. He has argued with emotion that the president was seeking support from a foreign government for political advantage, but that does not appear to be the case. The shoe seems to be on the other foot.
Under the bold allegation from Biden, is a set of difficult questions – to which all Americans may wish answers. First, what was he doing in Ukraine discussing a prosecutor? What was he doing discussing the prosecutor who reportedly had his son under investigation? What was he doing seeking the firing of that prosecutor?
Moreover, what was he doing discussing the withholding of loan guarantees as a quid pro quo for the firing? Where was the US investigation into this behavior? Where is the investigation by Congress now? What was he doing bragging about this odd sequence of events?
In short, unless other facts surface which have not yet, this seems a classic case of profoundly poor judgment by the former Vice President – both when in office and after leaving office. If Congress is interested in an investigation into something that really does not smell right, this might be a good place to start.
Meantime, this seems a strange use of the adage, “the best defense is a good offense.” Perhaps in war that is so, even sometimes in politics. But when the offense you take is bold, brazen, and seemingly baseless – as well as sure to bring light on facts you might otherwise want suppressed – the outcome may not be the one you want.
In the end, this is likely to be another grand controversy, another quarry-less quest for impeachment, another senseless bit of sensationalism which comes to nothing. Mostly, it illustrates the former Vice President’s absence of forethought – then and now. The best defense can be a good offense – but not always.