Good old Joe. The vice president is off to Israel to play kissy-face with hosts who are in no mood to pucker up. And for good reason: There's abundant evidence that President Obama is no friend of the Jewish state, and the Israelis must decide whether to believe Joe Biden or their own eyes and ears.
This White House puts great store in its ability to make millions believe nine impossible things before breakfast, but the Israelis are a tougher audience than any Mr. Obama faces at home. When your survival is at stake, it's difficult take words, no matter how thick the butter on them, as the equal of action. "What you do speaks so loud," as the saying goes, "I can't hear what you say."
The Palestinians are trying to make hay, with the help of compliant Western media, of the announcement that the Israelis have approved construction of 112 new apartments in "an ultra-orthodox" settlement on the West Bank, and the Palestinian complaint that this violates an Israeli undertaking to restrain further development of settlements will complicate the veep's mission, but not by much. The Palestinians will always find a reason to find a fly on the pastrami, and the purpose of the Biden visit is to warn, harshly, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to be nice about the West doing nothing about Iran.
Because Mr. Obama and his administration can't do anything to punish an enemy, they'll try to punish a friend by extracting a promise from Israel to learn to live with the neighborhood nuclear outlaw. Nobody at the White House puts it quite that way. Not yet. What Mr. Obama wants now is Israel's connivance in "toughening" sanctions against Iran and its accelerating nuclear program but exempting China and maybe Brazil (and eventually anyone else) from obeying the sanctions. This is such a transparent farce that only a puffed-up windbag like good old Joe would undertake such a mission to Jerusalem.
Good old Joe follows Sen. John Kerry to Israel - George Mitchell, the special "peace" envoy already lives there — with Mr. Obama's message. Before John Kerry, there was Adm. Michael Mullen, the emotional chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I am here, and other people were here, and Vice President Biden is coming shortly," the senator, the much-decorated (some of it in graffiti) hero of the Vietnam War, said on his visit. "We want to make sure we are all on the same page and that we are all clear about Iran." Mr. Netanyahu's government sees only too clearly what the White House offensive is all about.
"In light of the gaping disparity between the Obama administration's policies and those of the Israeli government," Caroline Glick, an Israeli analyst, writes in the Jerusalem Post, "the apparent goal of the Biden [visit] is to shore up the position of the Israeli left as an alternative to [Mr.] Netanyahu … the picture emerging from all of the senior U.S. officials' meetings with [Mr.] Netanyahu is that Israel's leader still feels comfortable defying them. Presumably they now believe that the only way to force him to toe their line is by making him believe that the price of defiance will be his premiership."
This worked before. A full decade ago, Bill Clinton, posing as the best friend the Jews ever had — feeling their pain, pointing with pride to his undying love for Israel and viewing with alarm the occasional venal sins of the Palestinians — imposed some of the most hostile policies the United State ever foisted on Israel. This so effectively undermined Mr. Netanyahu that he was booted from office.
But that was then, and the Israeli public, like the government, has scant appetite for saccharine this time. It's just as well. Mr. Obama reserves his sweet talk for Arab provocateurs; he made his apology tour of the Muslim world early in his presidency but still can't find time to visit America's only reliably democratic ally in the Middle East. Good old Joe is the best messenger the president can find to take the bitter medicine to Jerusalem. He's regarded, at least by himself, as the best friend Israel has at the White House. Some friend. As a senator, he voted against sanctions against Iran, said he didn't see anything necessarily wrong with Iranian nuclear ambitions and grumbled that George W. Bush should be impeached if he sent Americans to bomb the Iranian nuclear plants. He'll blow some kisses at Israel this week, but none of them will be wet. Good old Joe will only be going through the motions of a duty dance.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.