Foreign policy, particularly Iran and the Middle East, was a hot issue during the vice presidential debate between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican rival Paul Ryan.
The debate began with a discussion on the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
"It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack," Ryan claimed. He then criticized the Obama administration for "projecting weakness abroad."
"What we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy," he added.
Biden, who smiled incredulously during Ryan's comments, responded, "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey."
The vice president then criticized Ryan for voting to cut funding for embassy security and added that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Ryan “bet against America all the time."
Biden compared President Obama’s positions to those of Romney on the Middle East, saying, “On Iraq, the president said he would end the war. Governor Romney said that was a tragic mistake, we should have left 30,000 — he ended it. Governor Romney said that was a tragic mistake, we should have left 30,000 troops there.
“With regard to Afghanistan, he said he will end the war in 2014,” Biden continued. “Governor Romney said we should not set a date, number one. And number two, with regard to 2014, it depends.
“When it came to Osama bin Laden, the president the first day in office, I was sitting with him in the Oval Office, he called in the CIA and signed an order saying, ‘My highest priority is to get bin Laden.’
“Prior to the election, prior to the — him being sworn in, Governor Romney was asked the question about how he would proceed. He said, ‘I wouldn't move heaven and earth to get bin Laden.’ He didn't understand it was more than about taking a murderer off the battlefield,” charged Biden.
When the topic turned to Iran, host Martha Raddatz quoted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said last week a strike on Iran's facilities “could prove catastrophic.” She then asked the two how effective a military would strike be.
“We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability,” said Ryan. “When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material — nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.
“We've had four different sanctions, the UN on Iran, three from the Bush administration, one here,” he added. “And the only reason we got it is because Russia watered it down and prevented the — the sanctions from hitting the central bank.
“Mitt Romney proposed these sanctions in 2007. In Congress, I've been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way. Only because we had strong bipartisan support for these tough sanctions were we able to overrule their objections and put them in spite of the administration.”
He accused the Obama administration of sending out “senior administration officials that send all these mixed signals” on Iran.
“In order to solve this peacefully — which is everybody's goal — you have to have the ayatollahs change their minds,” said Ryan. “Look at where they are. They're moving faster toward a nuclear weapon. It's because this administration has no credibility on this issue. It's because this administration watered down sanctions, delayed sanctions, tried to stop us for putting the tough sanctions in place.
“Now we have them in place because of Congress. They say the military option's on the table, but it's not being viewed as credible,” he said. “And the key is to do this peacefully, is to make sure that we have credibility. Under a Romney administration, we will have credibility on this issue.”
Ryan also said the ayatollahs in Iran “see this administration trying to water down sanctions in Congress for over two years. They're moving faster toward a nuclear weapon. They're spinning the centrifuges faster.”
“They see us saying when we come into the administration, when they're sworn in, we need more space with our ally, Israel. They see President Obama in New York City the same day [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu is and he, instead of meeting with him, goes on a — on a daily talk show,” charged Ryan.
In response, Biden fired back, “The ayatollah sees his economy being crippled. The ayatollah sees that there are 50 percent fewer exports of oil. He sees the currency going into the tank. He sees the economy going into freefall. And he sees the world for the first time totally united in opposition to him getting a nuclear weapon.”
Biden said that Netanyahu has “been my friend 39 years,” adding that Obama “has met with Bibi a dozen times. He's spoken to Bibi Netanyahu as much as he's spoken to anybody. The idea that we're not — I was in a, just before he went to the UN, I was in a conference call with the — with the president, with him talking to Bibi for well over an hour, in — in — in stark relief and detail of what was going on.
“The secretary of defense has made it absolutely clear, we didn't walk anything back,” said Biden. “We will not allow the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon. What Bibi held up there (at the UN General Assembly –ed.) was when they get to the point where they can enrich uranium enough to put into a weapon. They don't have a weapon to put it into.
“Let's all calm down a little bit here,” he said. “Iran is more isolated today than when we took office. It was on the ascendancy when we took office. It is totally isolated.”
Raddatz asked the two what's worse, another war in the Middle East, or a nuclear-armed Iran?
Ryan said that “a nuclear-armed Iran which triggers a nuclear arms race in the Middle East” would be worse.
“This is the world's largest sponsor of — of terrorism. They've dedicated themselves to wiping an entire country off the map. They call us the Great Satan. And if they get nuclear weapons, other people in the neighborhood will pursue their nuclear weapons, as well,” he added.
Biden responded by saying, “War should always be the absolute last resort. That's why these crippling sanctions, which Bibi Netanyahu says we should continue, which — if I'm not mistaken — Governor Romney says we — we should continue. I may be mistaken. He changes his mind so often, I could be wrong.
“But the fact of the matter is,” added Biden, “he says they're working. And the fact is that they are being crippled by them. And we've made it clear, big nations can't bluff. This president doesn't bluff.”