Among the many charges and countercharges at the vice presidential debate here Thursday, two points from Vice President Joe Biden stand out.
First, Biden blamed the intelligence community for the administration’s confusing public explanations of the 9/11 anniversary attack in Benghazi, Libya. Moderator Martha Raddatz asked Biden directly why administration spokesman “were talking about protests” in Benghazi. “When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on?”
“Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community,” Biden said. “The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.”
That’s not the entire story, of course. There were elements of the intelligence community, at least, that knew immediately that there were no protests and that the attack had nothing to do with a video. As Eli Lake reported last month: “In the hours following the 9/11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored communications from jihadists affiliated with the group that led the attack and members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s North African affiliate.”
But setting that aside, Biden defended the administration’s ever-changing story on Benghazi by hiding behind the intelligence community and suggesting that their information was incomplete and inaccurate.
That’s bad enough—and one suspects it will generate considerable interest from intelligence professionals over the coming days.
But it was what Biden said next that made that answer so interesting. Raddatz turned the debate to Iran, saying: “There’s really no bigger national security issue facing this country.”
Biden, in an attempt to parry an attack from Ryan, suddenly expressed his belief that the U.S. intelligence community is omniscient. There’s no need to consider war right now, he argued, because “we’ll know if they start to build a weapon.”
So the same intelligence community that failed to deliver information in its possession about the attacks on Benghazi is suddenly so all-knowing on Iran that we needn’t worry about the mullahs going nuclear?
With that logic, I’m not sure too many viewers took seriously Biden’s admonition on Iran moments later.
“Let’s all calm down a little bit here,” he said.