By Paul Mutter
In last night’s vice presidential debate moderated by ABC News’s Martha Raddatz, Vice President Joe Biden and GOP nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI) focused extensively on the Iranian nuclear program and the US-Israeli response to it. Ryan sought to portray Obama Administration’s public disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as sending “mixed messages” to Tehran that would only encourage Iran to develop nuclear weapons, while Biden moved to attack the Congressman’s lack of foreign policy experience.
Ryan started off by reiterating the new Romney campaign red line: no nuclear weapons capability, a position endorsed by Congress and the Government of Israel:
RYAN: We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. Now, let’s take a look at where we’ve gone — come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material — nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They’re racing toward a nuclear weapon. They’re four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.
Ryan asserted that it has been the Republican Party, and not the White House, that has been the primary driver on the sanctions:
RYAN: Mitt Romney proposed these sanctions in 2007. In Congress, I’ve been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way. Only because we had strong bipartisan support for these tough sanctions were we able to overrule their objections and put them in spite of the administration.
Imagine what would have happened if we had these sanctions in place earlier. You think Iran’s not brazen? Look at what they’re doing. They’re stepping up their terrorist attacks. They tried a terrorist attack in the United States last year when they tried to blow up the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.
And talk about credibility? When this administration says that all options are on the table, they send out senior administration officials that send all these mixed signals.
The Vice President countered that the Republicans have been pushing too hard on sanctions that the rest of the world would refuse to support them:
BIDEN: It’s incredible. Look, imagine had we let the Republican Congress work out the sanctions. You think there’s any possibility the entire world would have joined us, Russia and China, all of our allies? These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period. Period.
When Governor Romney’s asked about it, he said, “We gotta keep these sanctions.” When he said, “Well, you’re talking about doing more,” what are you — you’re going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?
Biden also rounded on Ryan for the Romney campaign’s repeated suggestions that Obama is not serious about preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so:
RYAN: We want to prevent war.
BIDEN: And the interesting thing is, how are they going to prevent war? How are they going to prevent war if they say there’s nothing more that we — that they say we should do than what we’ve already done, number one.
BIDEN: When my friend talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up, then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon.
So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk, what are they talking about? Are you talking about, to be more credible — what more can the president do, stand before the United Nations, tell the whole world, directly communicate to the ayatollah, we will not let them acquire a nuclear weapon, period, unless he’s talking about going to war.
The two then clashed over Ryan’s (unsubstantiated) assertion that Iran is now “four years closer to a nuclear weapon”:
BIDEN: … they are not four years closer to a nuclear weapon.
RYAN: Of course they are.
BIDEN: They’re — they’re closer to being able to get enough fissile material to put in a weapon if they had a weapon.
RADDATZ: You [Biden] are acting a little bit like they [the Iranians] don’t want one.
BIDEN: Oh, I didn’t say — no, I’m not saying that. But facts matter, Martha. You’re a foreign policy expert. Facts matter. All this loose talk about them, “All they have to do is get to enrich uranium in a certain amount and they have a weapon,” not true. Not true.
They are more — and if we ever have to take action, unlike when we took office, we will have the world behind us, and that matters. That matters.
RADDATZ: What about [former Secretary of Defense] Bob Gates’ statement? Let me read that again, “could prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations.”
BIDEN: He is right. It could prove catastrophic, if we didn’t do it with precision.