Biden, Ryan clash on Libya, Iran in debate
Joe Biden and Paul Ryan clashed over Iran and the death of the US ambassador to Libya on Thursday, as a heated row over foreign affairs consumed early stages of their vice presidential debate.
Democratic Vice-President Biden vowed that whatever mistakes were made on security for the torched US consulate in Benghazi will “not be made again,” while Ryan slammed the Obama White House for projecting “weakness” abroad.
The rivals clashed in Kentucky with Biden, 69, seeking to recover momentum for his boss President Barack Obama, who put in a weak performance in the first presidential debate last week, triggering Mitt Romney’s polling surge.
Biden took the first question, by virtue of a coin toss, as moderator Martha Raddatz questioned him on the changing stories advanced by the administration surrounding the attack in Libya which killed ambassador Chris Stevens.
“We will find and bring to justice the men who did this. Whatever mistakes were made, will not be made again,” a steely Biden vowed, and then swiftly went on offense, touting Obama’s record on national security.
“The president said he would end the war in Iraq. Governor Romney said that was a mistake. With regard to Afghanistan, he said he will end the war in 2014. Governor Romney said we should not sell a date.”
Biden also recalled Obama’s decision to hunt down Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and said Romney would not have done the same.
“The president of the United States has led with a steady hand and clear vision. Governor Romney, the opposite.”
Ryan, a 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman, replied with a fierce assault on Obama’s foreign policy record, and complained that the US ambassador to Paris had a Marines detachment while Stevens, in restive Libya, did not.
“Look, if we’re hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it for what it is, a terrorist attack,” Ryan said.
“When we look weak, our enemies are much more willing to test us.”
Biden, who is known for sweetening fierce political attacks with a dose of Irish-American blarney, replied: “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.”
The vice president also attacked Romney for holding a press conference, and in his words trying to score political points, on the night Stevens was killed in Libya on the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
And in a reference to Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, which has provoked harsh rhetoric from Romney, Biden warned “the last thing we need now is another war.”
Biden, a beaming, back-slapping veteran, has been in Washington since Ryan, a Republican rising star and fitness fanatic who has emerged as the ideological north star of congressional conservatism, was a toddler.
Ryan’s attacks on Libya mirrored those of Romney earlier in the day.
The new fight erupted when Obama aide Stephanie Cutter said that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi only became a “political topic” because it was exploited by Romney.
The Republican White House hopeful then made the decision to personally address the issue, as questions fly in Washington over the Obama administration’s changing explanations of the attack, and what caused it.
“I think today we got another indication of how President Obama and his campaign fail to grasp the seriousness of the challenges that we face here in America,” Romney said at a rally in North Carolina.
The Republican nominee went on to quote Cutter’s remarks, before turning them against the president.
“No, President Obama, it’s an issue because this is the first time in thirty-three years that a United States Ambassador has been assassinated.
“Mr President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11.
Obama also went on offense on Thursday, apparently prodded into action by a universally critical response to his clash with Romney in Denver.
“He’s trying to go through an extreme makeover.
“After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney’s trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” Obama told a 9,200-strong crowd in Florida.
Obama’s passionate attack fleshed out a new theme adopted by his campaign, namely that Romney, after running to the right to win the Republican nomination, is covering up hardcore conservative stands to woo moderates.
On Thursday, Rasmussen Reports had Obama up a single point in its national poll of those likely to vote on November 6, while Gallup had a similar margin but with Romney on top.
A flurry of state polls revealed the race was essentially a toss-up.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey had Obama up six points in what may be the kingmaker state, Ohio, but two other surveys in the state said the race was within a single point.
Romney had narrow leads in other battlegrounds Colorado and Virginia, while Obama was up in another Virginia poll and led by one per cent in Florida, while there were signs of a narrowing race in other key states.
Thursday’s clash between Biden and Ryan will serve as a warm-up act for the final two bouts between Obama and Romney, in New York state on October 16 and in Florida on October 22.