The Vice-Presidential Debate: Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers on Foreign Policy Issues
While most of the vice presidential debate covered domestic issues, there was some discussion about Iran that provoked controversy. Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said:
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's claim is misleading. Iran isn't believed to have produced any of the highly enriched uranium needed to produce even one nuclear weapon, let alone five. That point isn't even disputed by Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored the world at the United Nations last month to create a "red line" at enrichment above 20 percent. Iran would have to enrich uranium at much higher levels to produce a weapon. There is intelligence suggesting that Iran has worked on weapon designs, but not that it has developed a delivery system for any potential nuclear warhead.
The response is correct in the sense that Ryan overstated where Iran is at. But it ignored his key point: “They’re four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.” Would Romney have done better if he was in office? That’s debatable, of course, but it should be noted that the Obama administration essentially wasted the first two years of its term, refused to back the Iranian opposition even verbally at the moment of crisis, and made Iran more confident of victory through its desperate effort to make friends with Tehran. The problem is that Obama did not do anything effective against Iran’s nuclear weapons’ drive. That is a valid point though: again, what would Romney have done during the same period?
Clearer, however, is the unfairness of the AP critique of Ryan on a second point. In AP’s account:
Ryan … notes that there have been four rounds of U.N. sanctions on Iran to deter its nuclear program, three during the Bush administration and one under Obama. "And the only reason we got it is because Russia watered it down and prevented the sanctions from hitting the central bank. 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.’’ He also noted the administration has granted 20 waivers to the sanctions.
The AP sharply disagrees:
The argument that the administration was watering down or delaying sanctions is misleading. For sanctions to work, they need maximum global agreement and cooperation. Russia watered down U.N. sanctions not only under Obama, but also under Bush. And it's highly unlikely that a Romney administration, particularly led by a candidate who says Russia is the biggest geostrategic threat to the U.S., would be able to get Russia completely on board with what the U.S. wants to -- either in Iran or Syria.
The more absolute U.S. sanctions that Ryan and others have pushed in Congress would have punished U.S. allies, including most countries in Europe as well as Japan and South Korea, along with good friends like India and Singapore -- without the exemptions that were put in place.
The administration has indeed granted 20 waivers, to countries that made significant reductions in Iranian oil imports. And the sanctions are pinching; Iran has been convulsed over the past week with protests over the collapse of its currency, which most people say is a direct result of the sanctions that the U.S. and others have imposed.
This response is misleading and downright silly.