Vice President Joe Biden laughed mirthlessly during the debate as Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) coolly unbraided the Obama Administration’s foreign policy–but the joke is probably on Joe.
His chipper performance last night may have boosted the spirits of woebegone liberals, but the scrappy Scranton native’s foreign policy remarks – and particularly his casting blame on the U.S. intelligence community – has caused turmoil that could spell the Democratic ticket’s demise.
There may have been a draw in the eyes of some, but as Richard V. Allen, who served as Ronald Reagan’s U.S. National Security Adviser, told me, Paul Ryan needed no more than to prove himself capable of serving as Vice President and hence, potentially, as President. “This he accomplished, and by a wide margin,” said Allen. Nowhere was Ryan’s presidential mettle on better display than on the subject of foreign policy.
The vice president, who formerly chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was touted as a foreign policy wonk in 2008, doubled down on the White House’s false narrative of the events surrounding last month’s attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Biden repeatedly brushed aside Ryan’s claim that the White House ignored requests for greater security: “We weren’t told they wanted more security,” he said; “we did not know they wanted more security.”
But Ryan was quick to rebuke Biden’s misrepresentation–or ignorance–of the inconvenient facts that emerged from Wednesday’s Congressional hearing. “There were requests for extra security,” said Ryan. “Those requests were not honored.”
So who’s telling the truth, and who’s just spouting malarkey?
From my conversations with retired U.S. intelligence officials and foreign policy experts, it would seem not only that the facts are on Paul Ryan’s side, but that Biden’s distortions signal something more malevolent than ignorance or ineptitude lies behind the Administration’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the truth.
Herman Pirchner, president of the American Foreign Policy Council, told me that while it is still unclear how high requests for greater security got in the administration, Eric Nordstrom, one-time regional security officer, did in fact ask for more security help at the Benghazi post. According to Congressional testimony, the State Department’s former point man on security in Libya told the House Oversight Committee that he asked for additional security at the Benghazi facility months before the attack but was denied. Nordstrom told the Congressional hearing that he verbally asked for a dozen agents and that his request was rebuffed by the regional director of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
Five diplomatic security special agents were in Benghazi at the time of the attack, two of whom only happened to be there because they had traveled with Ambassador Chris Stevens from Tripoli, according to testimony. Various communications–some dating back a year–reveal repeated requests for increased security in the region.
“For me and my staff, it was abundantly clear that we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident,” said Nordstrom. And Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was a site security commander in Libya from February through August, confirmed Nordstrom’s testimony, stating that a regional security officer tried to obtain more personnel, but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with.
The best summation of Biden performance, according to Pirchner, might be Proverbs 29:9 – “When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man only rages or laughs, and there is no rest.” But for many, Biden’s boorish guffaws, distortions of essential facts, and feckless finger pointing are not laughing matters. The retired intelligence officials and foreign policy veterans I spoke with have expressed alarm and frustration at the vice president’s attempts to use the intelligence community as a scapegoat.
Bill Schneider, who served Ronald Reagan as Under-Secretary of State and was tapped by Donald Rumsfeld to chair the Defense Science Board under George W. Bush, told me that Biden “sought to blame the intelligence community for the lack of information about the raid, despite the fact that Department of State officials provided the Department detailed information about the attack, and had offered weeks of warning about the inadequacy of security measures.” According to Schneider, the White House’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks underscores the Administration’s efforts to suppress military advice from reaching Congress, “such as preventing uniformed military witnesses from testifying about military needs not reflected in the President’s budget.”
“The vice president threw the intelligence community under the bus,” another former intelligence officer told me. “Clapper, CIA, NSA, DIA, the whole bunch,” he said. The official told me Biden’s irresponsible statements regarding the U.S. intelligence community are part of a pattern emerging from this Administration as the presidential race tightens: “Of course, this is of a piece with previous administration behavior in their despicable abuse of operational security for political gain, thus endangering US intelligence, sources and methods, the military, and our allies.”
One retired high-ranking intel officer, speaking anonymously, told me there is a fundamental disconnect between what Biden says he was told by the intelligence community and what we know from Wednesday’s testimony in the House: “This fundamental disconnect would lead one to suspect that a decision was taken at the White House to favor one story over the other. One which fits a policy supportive narrative versus one which is far less in keeping with the Administration’s statements that Al-Qaeda is on its heels.”
“AQ is certainly not ‘on its heels,'” he told me; “Zawahiri and the Al-Qaeda affiliated organizations are busy.”
The officials said the gaffe-prone vice president even made elementary errors unbecoming for a man of his ilk.
“Biden alluded to Syria being far larger geographically than Libya by several factors, supposedly making Syria a far larger military problem than Libya was,” he said. “As with so many other things when this guy pontificates, his facts may as well be from a pure vacuum.”
The reality: Libya is 679,358 sq. miles. Syria is 71,500 sq. miles.
“If the honorable VP can be so off on such basic fifth grade geography, what does that say about all his other bloviations?”