INDIANOLA, IOWA — “It’s amazing,” Joe Biden joked. “When you come to speak at the steak fry, a whole lot of people seem to take notice. I don’t know why the hell that is.”

Really, Joe?

Standing before a giant American flag on a stage adorned with hay bales and pumpkins at an annual Democratic fundraiser, the vice president’s Sunday swing through Iowa raised immediate flashbacks of the 2008 presidential primaries—in which Biden got trounced by his future boss and Hillary Clinton—as well as fevered speculation about the veep’s 2016 plans.

But Biden didn’t bite. Instead, he spent the majority of his chat heralding the retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and touting the domestic achievements of the Obama administration. He didn’t have to mention at all the political significance of his presence in the first-in-the-nation caucus state that kicks off the presidential primary process.

Still, it’s conventional wisdom that Biden is leaving another run in 2016 on the table, and he could benefit from deep roots in the Hawkeye State. Harkin said he’s one of the few out-of-state politicians who has been through all 99 counties multiple times. Even so, he placed a humbling fifth behind Bill Richardson in the 2008 caucuses, and early polling shows Hillary Clinton trouncing him by double digits in a hypothetical 2016 match-up.

The way voters here punished Clinton for her unapologetic support for the Iraq war five years ago must be etched into the vice president’s mind.

It also may explain why there was no saber rattling on Syria on Sunday.

After listening to his speech here in Indianola, a war in the Middle East that appeared imminent just a week ago seemed almost like a faded memory. Instead, the vice president’s comments on the Syrian crisis were almost entirely dedicated to diplomacy.

“We’re going to the United Nations with a resolution this week that will, in fact, call on the United Nations and the world to put pressure on Syria to have the confiscation and destruction of all those weapons,” Biden told a hushed audience at the tail end of a 40-minute address on an overcast day here with thunder rumbling in the distance.

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