The Middle East played a prominent part in the debate between Vice President Biden and Representative Paul Ryan, with sharp exchanges over issues related to Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Ryan energetically lambasted the Obama Administration’s policies as naive and ineffective, while Biden maintained that Ryan proposed few clear alternatives.
Early on, Ryan warned, “What we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.” He attacked the Obama Administration for its continually evolving policy in Libya and said: “Look, if we’re hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it for what it is: a terrorist attack.”
Biden countered by promising that “we will find and bring to justice the men who did this. And secondly, we will get to the bottom of it, and whatever—wherever the facts lead us, wherever they lead us, we will make clear to the American public, because whatever mistakes were made will not be made again. “
Biden stressed the politically popular withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and charged that “Governor [Mitt] Romney said that was a tragic mistake, we should have left 30,000 troops there.” Ryan noted that he agreed with the Obama Administration’s initial position on Iraq that a Status of Forces Agreement was needed to enable the retention of a residual U.S. military presence to secure the security gains made there but that Biden “was put in charge of those negotiations by President Obama and they failed to get the agreement.”
On Iran, Ryan noted that Tehran has steadily increased its stockpile of enriched uranium and now has enough to arm five nuclear weapons, if it is enriched further, compared to one nuclear weapon when the Administration took office.
Biden emphasized that the Administration had worked with Russia and China to impose “the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions” at the U.N. Security Council. He maintained that Iran was “a good way away” from building a nuclear weapon and denounced “loose talk” about war. Biden pressed Ryan to state what he would do differently and asked “what are you—you’re going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?”
Ryan replied, “We want to prevent war.” He went on to stress the importance of a credible military threat to strengthen U.S. diplomatic leverage on the nuclear issue and criticized the Administration for dragging its feet on sanctions that were eventually passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress over the White House’s objections.
The two also battled over U.S. policy on Syria. Biden suggested that Romney and Ryan favored a U.S. military intervention and warned, “The last thing America needs is to get in another ground war in the Middle East.”
Ryan scotched the idea of putting U.S. boots on the ground—unless Syria’s chemical weapons were in danger of falling into the hands of terrorists—agreeing with the Administration’s policy on that issue. But he stressed that he would have provided support to the Syrian opposition much sooner than the Administration did and “we wouldn’t be outsourcing our foreign policy to the United Nations, giving Vladimir Putin veto power over our efforts to try and deal with that issue.”