Danville: Vice President Joe Biden and the man who wants to succeed him, Republican Paul Ryan, clashed over the Obama administration's policy in Libya and Iran in the opening minutes of a vice presidential debate, with Ryan citing it as evidence that it is weakening America's standing in the world.
It only grew more heated, as the two also sniped at each other over Afghanistan and Syria, as well as the slow economy, taxes and the government health care program for the elderly. It was a feisty performance on both sides, with both candidates repeatedly interrupting each other — and the moderator too.
The stakes aren't generally this high in vice presidential debates, but Biden was under pressure to undo some of the damage from President Barack Obama's lackluster debate performance last week against the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, and to restore energy to the Democratic campaign less than a month before the Nov. 6 election.
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin who is a generation younger than his opponent, has to hold on to the Republicans' sudden rise in the polls.
The two scrapped seconds into the debate, with Ryan saying the Sept. 11 death of the U.S. ambassador in an attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was evidence that the administration's foreign policy was unraveling. "That's a bunch of malarkey," Biden retorted — twice. The folksy vice president also referred to Ryan's accusations as "a bunch of stuff."
On Iran, Biden defended current sanctions as the toughest ones in history, while Ryan said President Barack Obama has allowed Iran to get four years closer to building a nuclear weapon, and accused the White House of ignoring the warnings of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and not standing up for its chief ally.
The candidates disagreed on Syria, with Ryan accusing the administration of inaction and saying it was outsourcing foreign policy to the United Nations. Biden said the last thing the US needs is another ground war in the Middle East, and that if Ryan and Romney want to send troops to Syria they should just say so.
Ryan agreed with Obama's plan to transition out of Afghanistan by 2014, but said that publicizing the date for withdrawal amounted to exposing weakness.
Unlike Biden, Ryan is not a foreign policy expert but stood his ground in territory that is more familiar to the veteran senator and former chairman of the Senate of Foreign Relations Committee. The two also argued over the poor state of the U.S. economy, with Biden saying Republicans must take responsibility for obstructing the economic recovery.
The slow economy has been the dominant issue of the U.S. election, and Ryan cited high unemployment numbers as evidence that there is no economic recovery under way.
In turn, the pressure was on for Biden to go where Obama did not in his own debate.