Big theatrics, little difference: Biden and Ryan take hawkish line in VP debate
The 2012 vice presidential debates were more dramatic than the presidential debates the week previous. Arguments over foreign policy, however, seemed to split hairs over just how far to go before military intervention.
Paul Ryan and Joe Biden engaged in a passionate back-and-forth over issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program and the Middle East, to the economy, job growth, taxes, Social Security and Medicare. The debate was a sharp change in tactics for Democrats, with Biden going on the offense early and often. The Vice President implied that the Wisconsin representative was making misleading statements to the American public, at one point pleading to the audience, “I wish he would just tell the – be a little more candid,” and repeatedly saying that Ryan’s comments were “a bunch of malarkey.”
Fired up on foreign policy
The two set a spirited tone early on, butting heads on American foreign policy, Iran and the Libya consulate attack. Ryan repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for a supposedly weak foreign policy, and on Iran. When the pair were asked to elaborate on their positions on Iran, the debate focused mostly on how hard to push sanctions and other forms of pressure, with both confidently discussing military alternatives.
Ryan stated that Obama’s foreign policy was “unraveling,” and that he had not taken a direct enough stance against Iran’s nuclear program. Biden, apparently incredulous, retorted, “What more can the President do? [He has gone to] Stand before the United Nations, tell the whole world, directly communicate to the Ayatollah ‘we will not let them acquire a nuclear weapon, period,’ unless [Ryan is] talking about going to war.”
Ryan then claimed to have an Ayatollah’s-eye view of the situation, suggesting that if Obama had made time for a dinner date with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while both leaders were in New York recently, the Iranian supreme leader might have had a change of heart about the country’s nuclear program.
“They’re not changing their mind,” Ryan said. “That’s what we have to do is change their mind so that they stop pursuing nuclear weapons.”
“But how will you do it so quickly?” debate moderator Martha Raddatz interjected, alluding to how years of UN sanctions have done little to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “Look, you both saw Benjamin Netanyahu hold up that picture of a bomb with a red line, and talking about the red line being in spring. If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, can you solve this in two months?”
Ryan wavered, responding, “Well, we can debate the timeline, whether it’s that short a time or longer, I agree that it’s probably longer.” Neither candidate gave a concrete response to questions about the long-running tensions between the US and Iran.
The two candidates also jostled over the issue of Syria. “We are working hand and glove…with all the people in the region,” so that “there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an Al-Qaeda sponsored government that follows on,” Biden said. “All this loose talk from Governor Romney and my friend the congressman about how we could do so much more in there, what more would they do other than put American boots on the ground? The last thing America needs is to get in another ground war in the Middle East.”
Biden made no mention of Washington’s refusal to negotiate this issue with Iran, Syria’s neighbor and a geopolitical ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Ryan’s response to the Syrian issue was somewhat cryptic. “No one is proposing to send American troops to Syria,” he said, before dodging the question: “Now let me say it this way. How would we do things differently? We wouldn’t refer to Bashar Assad as a reformer when he’s killing his own civilians with his Russian provided weapons. 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 this issue…”
Ryan neglected to mention that President Obama also wields a veto on the United Nations Security Council, and that no country can legally cut off America’s non-military aid to the Syrian opposition.
Obama praised Assad as a reformer a year before the uprising began, in the hopes that Syria serve as a mediator for peace talks between Israel and other Arab nations. Those hopes quickly evaporated 19 months ago as violence broke out.