The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.
When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.
Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.
I’m currently in Baghdad catching up with old friends. I am not here with U.S. sponsorship and so am not trapped behind embassy walls or surrounded by a phalanx of security. Over the next few days, I’ll offer some observations both good and bad. Baghdad is definitely a mixed bag. But first, a positive sign:
Many American writers, including some friends and colleagues, describe Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki as a burgeoning dictator. They accuse him of making a power play upon the departure of U.S. troops, and some also suggest his administration to be somehow illegitimate because he did not win as many votes as Ayad Allawi. Such criticisms are unfair: It is a simple fact that it was Maliki and not Allawi who managed to cobble together a coalition. Broad coalition governments never work. If Governor Romney defeats President Obama, I would not expect him to keep Joe Biden on or appoint Sen. John Kerry to be his Secretary of State. Nor, for that matter, would I expect a second term Obama administration to put Paul Ryan in change of the budget. The test of Maliki’s commitment to democracy will be in both rule-of-law and allowing free-and-fair elections.
Twenty years ago, when still a young college student reconsidering early plans to become a research biologist (a C- in organic chemistry helped that decision along considerably), I interned at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. In an age before Google and when Internet resources were few and far between, one of my jobs was to go to the University of Pennsylvania’s library and read through the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS).
For five decades beginning in 1946, FBIS would translate important newspaper articles and television and radio broadcasts from around the globe. Its corollary, JPRS, would translate journal and magazine articles. The U.S. government would recoup some of the cost of the operation by selling subscriptions to think tanks and universities. On an almost daily basis, FBIS and JPRS would mail out booklets sorted by region. The subscriptions were priceless for anyone who for research purposes wanted to read what the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Pakistani, or Cuban media was saying.
Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.
In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:
With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.
Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.
That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Mitt Romney’s 7-point lead in the TBT/Herald/Mason-Dixon poll is the latest sign of a Florida surge:
The survey conducted this week found 51 percent of likely Florida voters supporting Romney, 44 percent backing Obama and 4 percent undecided. That’s a major shift from a month ago when the same poll showed Obama leading 48 percent to 47 percent — and a direct result of what Obama himself called a “bad night” at the first debate.
The debate prompted 5 percent of previously undecided voters and 2 percent of Obama backers to move to Romney. Another 2 percent of Obama supporters said they are now undecided because of the debate.
In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.
Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:
I just hope the Taliban were too busying planting roadside bombs, shooting school girls, extorting merchants, or doing whatever is they normally do at 5:30 a.m.–when the vice presidential debate started by Kabul time–to watch the Biden-Ryan slugfest. Because if they had tuned in, they would have heard a message from the vice president–the deputy satan–that would have been music to their ears (if, that is, they did not prohibit music as contrary to their extremist beliefs).
Here is what Biden had to say about Afghanistan:
It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not — if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the — in the Army bases that exist there.
But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security.
It’s their responsibility, not America’s.
The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.
The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.
Congratulations to the U.S. armed forces for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. They really deserve it for preventing a Third World War and winning the Cold War. They kept the peace (most of the time) in Europe and East Asia, thereby making possible the transformation of these regions into powerhouses of the global economy after centuries of costly strife. I am sure Gen. Martin Dempsey is looking forward to traveling to Oslo to receive….
Oops. Sorry about that. Seems I got it wrong. Silly me. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee didn’t actually award the U.S. military its annual tribute; instead it chose the European Union. Which would not exist had not the U.S. armed forces not ended the long hostility between France and Germany, created a new, democratic Germany, and enforced the peace for more than sixty years. But of course the U.S. military is more likely to be reviled than credited by advanced thinkers in Europe.
Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.
As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:
A decade of war has reinforced to the U.S. Army the importance of cultural awareness. Senior flag officers and junior enlisted men and women have all heard presentations about Islam, and basic elements of Iraqi and Afghan culture. True, discussing the confluence of theology and terrorism remains largely taboo in the politically correct U.S. military, but few troops deploy without knowing basic information about Islam and cultural sensitivities. The notable exception was Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose unit embarrassed the United States at Abu Ghraib; she dismissed cultural awareness as below her and irrelevant to her mission.
Foreign language acquisition remains a problem. Paul Wolfowitz deserves credit when deputy secretary of defense for focusing military attention not only on cultural awareness, but also on the poor state of language acquisition among American servicemen. When I work in Germany, or among Bosnian, Romanian, or Polish troops, there are few that do not speak fluently a second language; few American servicemen do, however, except for many Hispanic soldiers or those from elsewhere who are first-generation immigrants. In recent years, the situation has improved, but only slightly. Senior officers will be the first to admit that the Army and the Marines still have a long way to go.
As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).
As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.
The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.
In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.