A skirmish over the handling of a terrorist attack in Libya that claimed the lives of an ambassador and three other Americans drew the opening salvos in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.
When asked whether the attack was a massive intelligence failure, Vice President Joe Biden defended the administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, saying that administration officials acted on the intelligence they had at the time, and vowed that a full investigation would occur to determine the lapses that allowed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens to be killed along with three other Americans.
“I can make absolutely two commitments to you and all of the American people tonight: One, we will find and bring to justice the men who did this,” he said at the debate taking place in Danville, Ky. “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.”
Rep. Paul D. Ryan, meanwhile, immediately seized on the Obama administration’s initial unwillingness to call the violence a terrorist attack, instead pointing to protests over an anti-Muslim film that was made in the United States.
“Look, if we are hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it for what it is, a terrorist attack,” Ryan said. “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 Qaeda cell with arms? This is becoming more troubling by the day.”
Ryan also highlighted a comment made earlier Thursday by Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, who accused Ryan and GOP nominee Mitt Romney of politicizing the crises in the Middle East.
“They first blamed the YouTube video; now they’re trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue,” Ryan said.
The Wisconsin congressman also defended Romney’s statement as the attacks unfolded, comments that were panned not only by political observers but by fellow Republicans as too quick, at a time when the facts on the ground were unknown.
Ryan said it’s “never too early to speak out for our values,” adding that the administration should have done the same in Iran and Syria. “We should always stand up for peace, for democracy, for individual rights,” Ryan said.
As Ryan said such moves projected weakness abroad and invited brazenness among the nation’s enemies, Biden interrupted.
“With all due respect, that’s a bunch of ... malarkey… because not a single thing he said is accurate,” he said, accusing Ryan of proposing $300 million in budget cuts in embassy security.