- By Peter FeaverPeter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.
The tick-tocks explaining how the Obama Administration came to support a robust UNSCR resolution are revealing, sometimes unintentionally so. For instance, it is clear that the New York Times relied heavily on State Department sources. In the NYT account, Secretary Clinton masterfully played the system, aided by U,N, Ambassador Susan Rice who pushed the U.N. into accepting a more robust Security Council resolution than even the allies were pushing. The Wall Street Journal relied heavily on reporting from allied capitals and in it Secretary Clinton comes off a bit more in a reactive mode rather than the leader mode the State sources painted.
The Washington Post reads almost like it relied entirely on Ben Rhodes, the White House communications person for national security. The Post has President Obama in the commanding role, masterfully assembling a coalition behind the scenes. Politico has essentially the same line — and so presumably the same sources — but adds this exquisite detail: Secretary Clinton was too tired from travel to participate in the crucial Tuesday evening principals meeting where the hawkish turn was decided. (Perhaps White House payback for the backstabbing Clinton associates inflicted on Obama during the hectic days when it looked like the President would settle for inaction?)
Other reporters have told me that this was essentially the frame being pushed by the White House: all along what outside critics were calling dithering was actually President Obama’s determination to make the allies something like "responsible stakeholders" so as to avoid the free-riding on American power that has bedeviled previous multilateral missions. Those reporters were skeptical, since that was emphatically not how French and British participants interpreted Obama’s efforts.
Regardless, if you lay the tick-tocks side by side something like a consistent picture does emerge. And there is a very curious missing figure in that picture: Vice President Biden. I may have missed it, but I don’t think he figures in any of the accounts and, come to think of it, he does not feature prominently in the reporting on the issue for the past several weeks. This is very curious because, of course, the whole reason President Obama picked Biden as VP was for precisely these sorts of moments when the entire foreign-policy establishment is strained to the breaking point by the accelerated crush of world events. But Biden seems to have been a non-player in all of this.
In fact, the only tick-tock I found that mentions Biden actually reinforces the mystery. FP’s own Josh Rogin lays out a "how it happened" with this very intriguing squib at the end:
UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Vice President Joseph Biden pushed for the imposition of a no fly zone in Libya. Friday afternoon, a senior White House official told The Cablethat, in fact, Biden shared the same concerns of Gates, Donilon and McDonough and that those concerns have been addressed by the policy announced by the president.
Obviously, early reports had Biden on one side and then later reports had him on the other side. He apparently was a bit-player, whichever side he was on.
Perhaps Biden is seeking plausible deniability on this policy. Or perhaps he is in the dog house. Or perhaps there is some other explanation I am not thinking of. But it would be interesting to hear a convincing account.