From Libya to Syria to Iran, Inaccuracies in Vice Presidential Debate

Patrick Goodenough | October 12, 2012 | 4:41am EDT
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ice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan take part in the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

( – When it comes to foreign policy portions of Thursday night’s debate, both Vice President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Rep. Paul Ryan made assertions that were not strictly accurate. Among them:


Biden: “Iran is more isolated today than when we took office. It was on the ascendancy when we took office. It is totally isolated.”

Biden: “The ayatollah … [presumably supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] sees the world for the first time totally united in opposition to him getting a nuclear weapon.”

Two months ago, Iran held the biggest international gathering it has hosted since the 1979 Islamic revolution, a week-long summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Iran has been elected to chair the bloc for the next three years.

In a final communique at the summit’s conclusion, NAM leaders expressed support for Tehran’s activities “in the field of peaceful use of nuclear technology,” and rejected unilateral sanctions against Iran. Together, NAM accounts for around 60 percent of the world’s independent nations.

Biden:  “This is the guy [President Obama] who brought the entire world, including Russia and China, to bring about the most devastating, most devastating, the most devastating [sanctions] efforts on Iran …”

While the Obama administration did get Russia and China onboard for an Iran sanctions resolution in the Security Council in June 2010, “the entire world” did not back the measure. Of the 15 members of the council Turkey and Brazil opposed the resolution, while Lebanon abstained.

In contrast the Bush administration was twice able to accomplish what its successor has not – a unanimous (15-0) Security Council vote for sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear activities. Those resolutions were passed in Dec. 2006 and Mar. 2007. On a third occasion (Mar. 2008) the Bush administration achieved a 14-0 vote for a sanctions resolution (Indonesia abstained). And a fourth resolution (Sept. 2008) – which did not impose new sanctions but reaffirmed the previous measures – also passed unanimously.


Biden:  “The president has met with Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] a dozen times.”

Obama has met with Netanyahu nine times since taking office. The Israeli leader reportedly requested a tenth meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month, but no meeting was scheduled. Instead Obama made his fifth appearance on the daytime television show, “The View.”


Ryan: “How would we do things differently [from the Obama administration]? We wouldn’t refer to Bashar Assad as a reformer when he’s killing his own civilians with his Russian-provided weapons.”

On March 27, 2011 – two weeks after the Syrian crackdown on dissent began -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview drew a distinction between Assad and his late father and predecessor, Hafez el-Assad: “There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

Clinton herself did not call Assad a reformer. Her comments may have been veiled criticism aimed at lawmakers like Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who had met with Assad at least six times, most recently in Nov. 2010.

Still, in May 2011 Clinton did raise eyebrows with comments suggesting that Assad could still embrace reform.

“We are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms,” she told an Italian television station. When the interviewer drew a comparison with Libya, Clinton said the Syrians “have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi would do that. People do believe there is a possible path forward with Syria.”

Biden: (asked why the logic regarding acting to prevent massacres in Libya did not apply to Syria):  “It’s a different country. It is five times as large geographically, it has one-fifth the population, that is Libya, one-fifth the population, five times as large geographically.”

Libya, which is slightly bigger than Alaska according to the CIA World Factbook, is nine times bigger than Syria, which is a little larger than North Dakota.  Libya’s population is a quarter of the size of Syria’s.

(Biden initially appeared to have fumbled the data here completely, prompting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to tweet that the vice president was “absurdly wrong” on this point. A closer reading of a convoluted sentence – Biden’s addition of the phrase “that is Libya” – suggests that the inaccuracy was not as egregious as it first appeared.)


Ryan, speaking about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi: “It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.”

On September 18, one week after the attack, Obama used the words “extremists and terrorists” to describe those who attacked the consulate and other U.S. missions. It would have been easy to miss, however: The president did not use the phrase in an Oval Office statement or at a White House press conference, but on CBS’ “The Late Show.”

“Here’s what happened,” Obama told David Letterman. “We had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character – an extremely offensive video directed at Mohammed and Islam, making fun of the prophet Mohammed. And so, this caused great offense in much of the Muslim world. But what also happened was extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the one, the consulate in Libya.”

Biden: “We weren’t told they wanted more security there [at U.S. missions in Libya]. We did not know they wanted more security again.”

Last week House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listed a string of attacks and threats in Benghazi in recent months, and claimed that the administration had turned down “repeated requests” from the U.S. mission in Libya for more security.

At a House Oversight Committee hearing this week, administration officials confirmed that requests had been received from U.S. diplomats for more security in Benghazi. Deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security Charlene Lamb told lawmakers she had not supported the requests.


Biden: “There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed.”

Fifty-two International Security Assistance Force members have been killed in 36 insider, or so called “green-on-blue,” attacks this year alone. According to statistics compiled by the New Delhi- based Institute for Conflict Management, 116 coalition fatalities in 69 such incidents have been recorded since the beginning of 2009.

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