It wasn’t as lopsided as Gov. Romney’s win over President Obama last week, but Joe Biden mopped the floor with Paul Ryan in their debate Thursday night, on foreign as well as domestic policy, though on one big issue—the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan—the vice president had his facts wrong.
The first issue on the table was Libya. Rep. Ryan correctly chided the Obama administration for taking a week to admit that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a terrorist assault, not a protest that got out of hand, and for not protecting the facility with more Marines.
Biden replied that Obama’s statements reflected the intelligence community’s analysis and that when the analysis changed, so did his statements. He said that Thomas Pickering, a veteran ambassador, was conducting an investigation. He also noted that Congress, with Ryan’s vote, had reduced the budget for embassy security by $300 million—and recalled that Romney came out, right after the attack, and gave a press conference before knowing any of the facts: hardly presidential behavior.
That exchange was probably a draw. The truth is that both sides have something to be seriously embarrassed about.
The next issue: Iran, and here Ryan was as weak as Romney was in his foreign-policy speech earlier this week. Ryan charged that Iran is closer to getting nuclear weapons than it was when Obama took office, that the ayatollahs aren’t taking Obama’s threats seriously, and that the sanctions—which, he admitted, are crippling Iran’s economy—are as strong as they are only because of congressional insistence.
Biden laughed at that statement, and rightly so. Congress has had very little to do with sanctions; Obama has managed to rally the entire Western world to join in the sanctions and, at least to some degree, the Eastern world (Russia, anyway) as well. As for the line, which Ryan repeated, that Obama went on a morning talk show rather than meet with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Biden said that he sat in on a phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu that went on for longer than an hour, during which they agreed on the main points. Netanyahu, for instance, supports the sanctions.
Martha Raddatz, the moderator and longtime war correspondent, asked Ryan what he and Romney would do to make the ayatollahs take their threat more seriously? Ryan had no answer.
Several points, possibly game, to Biden.
On the defense budget, Ryan denied that Romney wanted to increase military spending by $2 trillion over the next 10 years. Rather, he merely wanted not to reduce the budget by $478 billion, as Obama was planning to do—to say nothing of the $500 billion extra that would be cut automatically if Congress fails to strike a debt deal.
Biden noted that the Joint Chiefs have no problem with the $478 billion cut—that they favor a “smaller, leaner” army with more special forces—and that Ryan himself voted for the sequestration pact that might trigger across-the-board cuts in the federal budget.