Last night, Vice President Joe Biden managed, on Afghanistan at least, to sound like a peacenik. Not so, Ryan.
Listen to Biden:
[W]e are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.
Not bad. Of course, neither Biden nor Ryan dealt with the complexity of the war, with the likelihood that the insurgency will continue past 2014, with Pakistan’s infernal meddling, or with the vast, unfathomable corruption of the government of President Karzai. But give Biden credit for stating unequivocally that in 2014, we’re gone.
Ryan, on the other hand, was all over the place. He said he’ll listen to the generals and give them what they want, he said he’s “skeptical” about talking with the Taliban (Romney, of course, is flatly against negotiations with the Taliban), and he seemed to support the idea of making the withdrawal of US and NATO forces contingent on “conditions” on the ground. He said:
What we don’t want to do is lose the gains we’ve gotten. Now, we’ve disagreed from time to time on a few issues. We would have more likely taken into accounts the recommendations from our commanders, General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, on troop levels throughout this year’s fighting season. We’ve been skeptical about negotiations with the Taliban, especially while they’re shooting at us.
But we want to see the 2014 transition be successful, and that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists.
As Biden countered:
My friend and the governor say it’s based on conditions, which means it depends. It does not depend for us. It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not—if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the—in the Army bases that exist there.
As I predicted , at many points in the debate Ryan tried to resurrect the bugaboo of Al Qaeda. He did it in his comments on Libya and Syria. He raised the much-discredited notion that the Taliban might return and turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorists and Al Qaeda. And throughout the debate, he tried to scare Americans with the images of unruly crowds that showed up to protest the anti–Prophet Muhammad film, as if a few protests across the 1 billion‐plus Muslim world mean that everything is going to hell. As Ryan put it: “What we are witnessing as we turn on our television screens these days is the absolute unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.”
No, that’s not what we’re witnessing at all. If there’s a critique to be made of Obama’s foreign policy, it’s from the left: too many drones, too many military bases, too many arms deals with kleptocracies like Saudi Arabia and throwback regimes like Taiwan, and so on. Romney-Ryan is struggling to make a critique from the right: not enough military spending, not enough troops in Iraq (i.e., more than none), too fast a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and their weird riffs about Obama “apologizing” for America and “sympathizing” with the terrorists that murdered the US ambassador in Libya. I don’t think any of their critique resonates with a war-weary public.
And then there was this odd exchange with the moderator, Martha Raddatz of ABC News:
RADDATZ: Mr. Ryan, I want to ask you about—the Romney campaign talks a lot about no apologies. He has a book called “No Apologies.” Should the US have apologized for Americans burning Korans in Afghanistan? Should the US apologize for US Marines urinating on Taliban corpses?
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.
So Ryan is willing apologize for things like US forces urinating on Afghan corpses—though he finessed the Koran question, no doubt to pander to his Islamophobic, Christian-right base. But who, exactly, is apologizing for “standing up for our values”? Did Obama say: “World, I’m so sorry that we stand for truth, justice and the American way”? Umm, no. Sadly, Raddatz didn’t press Ryan on that.
For more post-debate rundown, check out John Nichols on Paul Ryan's "secret plan ."