"We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there," Biden said.Was Biden ignorant of all this, was he lying at the debate, or did he mean to assert that the State Department officials were lying?
In fact, two security officials who worked for the State Department in Libya at the time testified Thursday that they repeatedly requested more security and two State Department officials admitted they had denied those requests.
"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, testified. "In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway."
Nordstrom was so critical of the State Department's reluctance to respond to his calls for more security that he said, "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," testified Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) released the unclassified cables containing those requests.
The Libya question opened the debate. Let's look at the transcript:
RADDATZ: I would like to begin with Libya. On a rather somber note, one month ago tonight, on the anniversary of 9/11, Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi. The State Department has now made clear, there were no protesters there. It was a pre-planned assault by heavily armed men. Wasn't this a massive intelligence failure, Vice President Biden?Biden avoids the question. On a question that he could have predicted and should have prepared for, he makes the lame move of labeling what happened "a tragedy," which really translates to: We don't want any responsibility. Something just happened. Who could have predicted? But we'll investigate and "get to the bottom" of it. If there were any mistakes — whatever mistakes — we won't make them again. I guess there's an implicit denial that there was an "intelligence failure," which is what Raddatz asked about. If his point was it was all a big surprise — who could have known?/next time we'll do better — then what explains all the talk about the video and the (nonexistent) protests, about which Obama, et al. talked as if they had information. It's not enough to say we will get to the bottom of it when you were acting — as long as you could get away with it — as if you had gotten to the bottom of it.
BIDEN: What is was, it was a tragedy, Martha. It -- Chris Stevens was one of our best. We lost three other brave Americans. I can make absolutely two commitments to you and all the American people tonight. One, we will find and bring to justice the men who did this. And secondly, we will get to the bottom of it, and whatever — wherever the facts lead us, wherever they lead us, we will make clear to the American public, because whatever mistakes were made will not be made again....
Biden proceeds to run out his 2 minute clock by talking generically about national security — did you know it's the President's "most important responsibility"? — and specifically — though it's beyond the scope of the question — about Iraq and Afghanistan, about the killing of bin Laden, and the President's "steady hand and clear vision."
It's Ryan's turn, and after "We mourn the loss of these four Americans who were murdered," he focuses on the video-protests story that — based on the State Department reports — we now know is completely wrong:
RYAN: When you take a look at what has happened just in the last few weeks, they sent the U.N. ambassador out to say that this was because of a protest and a YouTube video. It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.He then uses some of his time to respond to the nonresponsive material Biden threw in (about Iraq and Afghanistan), but he ties it back to Libya by ending with:
He went to the U.N. and in his speech at the U.N. he said six times — he talked about the YouTube video.
Look, if we’re hit by terrorists we’re going to call it for what it is, a terrorist attack. Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn’t we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an Al Qaida cell with arms?
This is becoming more troubling by the day. They first blamed the YouTube video. Now they’re trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue.
RYAN: This Benghazi issue would be a tragedy in and of itself, but unfortunately it’s indicative of a broader problem. And that is what we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy, which is making the (inaudible) more chaotic us less safe.Raddatz follows up with Ryan, prodding him with what was the Obama administration's main talking point immediately after the attack:
RADDATZ: I just want to you about right in the middle of the crisis [sic]. Governor Romney, and you’re talking about this again tonight, talked about the weakness; talked about apologies from the Obama administration. Was that really appropriate right in the middle of the crisis?"Our values" seems to be one of his planned big themes, and he shifts away from that one thing Romney said to broader issues:
RYAN: On that same day, the Obama administration had the exact same position. Let’s recall that they disavowed their own statement that they had put out earlier in the day in Cairo. So we had the same position, but we will — it’s never too early to speak out for our values.
We should have spoken out right away when the green revolution was up and starting; when the mullahs in Iran were attacking their people. We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer when he was turning his Russian-provided guns on his own people. We should always stand up for peace, for democracy, for individual rights.That was Biden's first interruption (and first euphemism for "bullshit"). Raddatz rewards the interruption, presumably started to do what she said at the outset she'd do: "encourage a discussion between the candidates with follow-up questions." Better to encourage the crosstalk then to let the candidates get by plugging in prepared speeches.
And we should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts, because what that does when we equivocate on our values, when we show that we’re cutting down on defense, it makes us more weak. It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us. They’re more brazen in their attacks, and are allies are less willing to…
BIDEN: With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.
RADDATZ: And why is that so?Not a single thing? Even the part where he accused you guys of lying about the video?
BIDEN: Because not a single thing he said is accurate. First of all…
RADDATZ: Be specific.No, not "so much." All you've done is accuse Ryan of hypocrisy, for budget cutting. That does not address the failure to provide more security in Libya where it was most needed.
BIDEN: I will be very specific. Number one, the — this lecture on embassy security — the congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one. So much for the embassy security piece.
Number two, Governor Romney, before he knew the facts, before he even knew that our ambassador was killed, he was out making a political statement which was panned by the media around the world. And this talk about this — this weakness. I — I don’t understand what my friend’s talking about here.Ryan defended Romney's making the statement, and Biden responds that it wasn't a good idea. That doesn't establish that something's "inaccurate." The factual deficiency is Biden's, and Biden is trying to distract us from that by disagreeing with opinions of Ryan's and portraying those differences of opinion as lies.
BIDEN: We — this is a president who’s gone out and done everything he has said he was going to do. This is a guy who’s repaired our alliances so the rest of the world follows us again. This is the guy who brought the entire world, including Russia and China, to bring about the most devastating — most devastating — the most devastating efforts on Iran to make sure that they in fact stop (inaudible). Look, I — I just — I mean, these guys bet against America all the time.Raddatz directs the conversation "back to Libya" and the issue she raised at the outset that Biden has been avoiding:
RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why — 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 (inaudible)?Great intervention by Raddatz!
BIDEN: Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that.That is, he denies that the administration made up the video story. He blames the intelligence community. How did the intelligence community make up something so bizarre? Public protests that didn't take place?
BIDEN: As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.But why would they make an assessment that included the report of vivid public events that didn't happen? That's unbelievable on its face. Malarkey!
BIDEN: That’s why there’s also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there are any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again.Another great Raddatz intervention, this one calling attention to the very point highlighted by Foreign Policy.
RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.
BIDEN: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view.And that is the lie of the evening! How can that not be a lie?
BIDEN: That’s why I said we will get to the bottom of this. You know, usually when there’s a crisis, we pull together. We pull together as a nation.He's begging us not to look any further into the lie he just told. Don't fault us for the egregious fault we just committed.
BIDEN: But as I said, even before we knew what happened to the ambassador, the governor was holding a press conference — was holding a press conference. That’s not presidential leadership.Please, he's begging us, look at that one thing Romney said. He criticized us, at a time when there should be no criticizing. Raddatz — really nicely! — picks up the theme of Romney's remark, which was about how the United States should not apologize:
RADDATZ: Mr. Ryan, I want to ask you about — the Romney campaign talks a lot about no apologies. He has a book called called “No Apologies.” Should the U.S. have apologized for Americans burning Korans in Afghanistan? Should the U.S. apologize for U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses?See? "Our values" — that's a planned theme.
RYAN: Oh, gosh, yes. Urinating on Taliban corpses? What we should not apologize for…
RADDATZ: Burning Korans, immediately?
RYAN: What — what we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values.
RYAN: What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he’s a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go.Ryan should have hit Biden hard on his denial that there were requests for more security. Biden just lied, and he's already accused you of lying.
What we should not be doing is rejecting claims for — for calls for more security in our barracks, in our Marine — we need Marines in Benghazi when the commander on the ground says we need more forces for security. There were requests for extra security; those requests were not honored.
RYAN: Look, this was the anniversary of 9/11. It was Libya, a country we knew we had Al Qaida cells there, as we know Al Qaida and its affiliates are on the rise in Northern Africa. And we did not give our ambassador in Benghazi a Marine detachment?"Our values...." I think he's made a strategic decision to be positive, to resonate with the people's desire for optimism. He's not going to stoop to you're a liar/no, you're a liar ugliness. He'll keep calling us to a higher ground.
Of course there’s an investigation, so we can make sure that this never happens again, but when it comes to speaking up for our values, we should not apologize for those.
Here’s the problem. Look at all the various issues out there, and it’s unraveling before our eyes. The vice president talks about sanctions on Iran. They got — we’ve had four…At that, Raddatz declares an end to the Libya segment. Ryan didn't take advantage of many openings he had. Biden provided the material Ryan could have used to crush him. He chose not to. And Biden, who was thrown horribly off balance by a very damaging opening question by the moderator, stayed on his feet to fight the next round. And boy, was he itching to fight.
UPDATE: A White House spokesman attempts to clear things up.