Biden: 'I'm In Charge, Not Panetta'

On Monday afternoon, I spoke to Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who'd just come from a heated Democratic caucus meeting in which Vice President Joe Biden had sought to allay concerns about the debt-ceiling deal. Most of our conversation was about the particulars of that deal -- he voted against it, although he was pleased about the military spending cuts -- but Frank also shared an interesting exchange he'd had with Biden and Jack Lew, that sheds some light on tension within the Obama administration over the drawdown in Iraq. The main tension appears to be between Biden and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Here's Frank's description of the exchange (remember, "today" is Monday):

One other big story from [the caucus meeting] today, Biden was at the caucus, and I said I was upset about Afghanistan and Iraq. So Jack Lew says, "Well, we're winding them down." I said, "What do you mean, you're winding them down? I read Panetta saying that he's begging the Iraqis to ask us to stay." At which point Biden asserted himself and said -- there's clearly been a dispute between them within the administration -- "Wait a minute, I'm in charge of that negotiation, not Panetta, and we have given the Iraqis a deadline to ask us, and it is tomorrow, and they can't possibly meet it because of all these things they would have to do. So we are definitely pulling out of Iraq at the end of the year." That was very good news for me. That's a big deal. I said, "Yeah, but what if they ask you for an extension?" He said, "We are getting out. Tomorrow, it's over."

For more on Biden's place in the national security firmament, see my colleague Steven Clemons's piece from two weeks ago.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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