Vice President Joe Biden finds himself on the political griddle again because of a new book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who says Biden has a history of bad judgment on important international questions.
"I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades," Gates writes.
This negative assessment shows how vulnerable Biden might be to a dissection of his lengthy record, including his role as vice president, if he seeks the presidency in 2016.
White House officials rushed to Biden's defense, even allowing news photographers to briefly take pictures of Biden and President Obama at their weekly luncheon Tuesday, a rarity. This seemed designed to show a close relationship between Obama and Biden, although White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said allowing photo access to the luncheon had nothing to do with Gates' book and was "coincidence." No reporters were allowed into the session, so there were no questions.
White House officials also distributed a presidential schedule showing Biden at meetings with Obama five times on Wednesday. They released another schedule showing Biden is to attend three meetings with Obama Thursday. Carney said this frequency of contact is routine.
Carney, a former spokesman for Vice President Biden, told reporters that Obama disagrees with Gates' negative assessment. "As a senator and as a vice president," Carney said, "Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and he has been an excellent counselor and adviser to the president for the past five years.
"He's played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration, in this White House. He played important roles obviously in the policy discussions and carrying out of the policy decisions that the president made with regards to Iraq and in the policy deliberations over Afghanistan."
Biden has been vice president since January 2009. Before that, he was a senator from Delaware for three decades and was the longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In his book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," Gates, who served as Pentagon chief for both Obama and President George W. Bush, also accuses Biden of "poisoning the well" against the nation's military leadership by trying to undermine Obama's trust in the military brass.
Biden and Gates apparently tangled on a number of issues, such as the question of how many additional U.S. forces to send to Afghanistan in 2009. Gates favored a relatively large "surge" and Biden favored a smaller one with a more limited mission.
Biden is considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He has sought the nomination twice before and got nowhere. Polls indicate that, in a hypothetical matchup, he is far behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also considering a run.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.