Foreign Policy Blogs

Biden’s Comments on Benghazi Attack Sparks New Debate

Biden’s Comments on Benghazi Attack Sparks New Debate

In their sole debate before the election, Vice President Joe Biden and GOP challenger Congressman Paul Ryan sparred for 90 minutes on the direction of U.S. policy, both for foreign and domestic.  Last night’s debate was a stark contrast to last week’s meeting between the two men at the top of the tickets, with Biden and Ryan engaging in an impassioned and, at times, heated discussion moderated by ABC’s Senior Foreign Affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.

News coverage the day after has focused primarily on Vice President’s Biden’s impassioned defense of the Obama administration’s policies, his penchant for unbridled laughter and Irish inspired vocabulary.  But it was the Vice President’s statements on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that has many analysts wondering if the vice president delivered a bit of “ malarkey” of his own.

The moment in question was the vice president’s response to Raddatz’s question on the attack in Libya that resulted in the death of four American, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.  When asked if the attack was due to an intelligence failure, Biden responded by saying:

 “We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there.”

The vice president’s response seems to directly contradict the account of State Department officials, who in a congressional hearing yesterday, admitted denying requests for additional security at the consulate in Benghazi.  The requests were made from the former State Department official Eric Nordstrom, who had previously served as the top security officer in the region.

Nordstrom testified that his requests for additional security personnel for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya had fallen on deaf ears.  At a congressional hearing this Wednesday, Nordstrom testified that he had expressed his concerns to senior State Department officials saying, “For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”

During today’s briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to clarify the vice president’s debate response, telling reporters that Biden was not referring to the entire Obama administration in his comments but rather “speaking directly for himself and the president…the White House.”  The Obama campaign also responded to Ryan’s accusations’ that their candidate has slashed funding for security at the consulate in Benghazi, noting that Congressman Ryan had been among the House Republicans who voted to reduce funding to security for diplomatic missions.

All of this, bring us to what many pundits will be debating today and on the Sunday morning talk-circuit: What did the vice president mean when he said “we”?  Did his answer to the question put the intelligence community and the State department under the bus? If the White House did not know about the requests for additional security for the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, does that necessarily abstain the Obama Administration of responsibility?

All these questions are valid and will most likely unfold in the coming weeks as the congressional investigation as to what happened in Benghazi continues.  And there is no doubt that the inquiry will continue.  During the the House Oversight Committee’s meeting on Wednesday, Chairman Darrell Issa indicated that he would be reaching out to Ambassador Susan Rice regarding her comments on ABC This Week in the aftermath of the attacks where she claimed what happened in Benghazi was directly related to the inflammatory anti-Islam YouTube video that had spurned protests in countries across the Middle East.  Today, video from the night of the attacks raised further questions as to whether the attack was due to a protest or premeditated.

The story shows no signs of dying down as the Obama and Romney campaigns head into the final days until November 6th.  And there will no doubt be more clarifications from other top officials in the weeks to come — if not sooner — given the second debate between President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney is set for next Tuesday, October 16. But if last night’s debate has made one things clear, it is this: The American public remains unclear on who knew what and when they knew it.