The new Middle East coverup: Biden caught in Syria debate falsehood

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama watches the Vice Presidential debate aboard Air Force One with staff, en route to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, from Florida, Oct. 11, 2012.

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  • First there was the Libya coverup. Now, we have the Syria coverup. @MarcThiessen

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  • With foreign policy on the debate agenda, Romney has an chance to challenge Obama on the latest national security scandal.

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  • According to a report in this morning’s @NYTimes, VP Biden’s debate statement on Syria wasn’t true. @Marcthiessen

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First there was the Libya coverup. Now, we have the Syria coverup.

In last week’s vice presidential debate, Joe Biden asserted that the United States was working to isolate al-Qaeda in Syria by ensuring that aid was directed to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition. “We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes — and he will go — there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaeda-sponsored government that follows on,” Biden declared.

Paul Ryan immediately challenged Biden’s claim, saying that the administration’s inaction has allowed al-Qaeda to get a foothold in Syria. “The longer this has gone on, the more people, groups like al-Qaeda are going in,” Ryan said, adding, “We could have more easily identified the Free Syrian Army, the freedom fighters, working with our allies, the Turks, the Qataris, the Saudis, had we had a better plan in place.”

Biden denied it, declaring: “We are in the process now — and have been for months — in making sure that help, humanitarian aid, as well as other aid and training is getting to those forces that we believe, the Turks believe, the Jordanians believe, the Saudis believe are the free forces inside of Syria. That is underway.”

Well, according to a report in this morning’s New York Times, Biden’s statement was not true.

“Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats,” the Times reports.

The paper quotes one U.S. official as saying, “The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” adding that “officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.”

In other words, what Biden said was false. Worse yet, Biden knew his statement was untrue when he said it. According to the Times, “President Obama and other senior officials are aware [of this conclusion] from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives,” adding the intelligence assessments “casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.”

If this is the assessment of our intelligence community, why did Biden say the exact opposite in the debate last week? When Biden was asked during the debate why requests for additional security in Libya were denied, he pleaded ignorance and blamed the State Department, declaring: “We weren’t told they wanted more security there.” But in the case of Syria, the Times reports, the President and his national security team were told that the aid was going to “hard-line Islamic jihadists.” Yet Biden plainly asserted aid was going to “people who deserve the help” and “free forces inside Syria” and not jihadists. It is simply implausible that, if President Obama and his top national security advisers were aware of the intelligence assessments, Biden was not.

The revelation that the Obama administration has presided over the development of an arms pipeline to al-Qaeda in Syria — and Biden’s apparently deliberate untruth about it in last week’s debate — is the latest Obama foreign policy coverup. With foreign policy on the agenda in tomorrow’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney has a golden opportunity to challenge the president on his administration’s latest national security scandal.

Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute last week, Romney said that because of Obama’s failure to lead in Syria “we are missing an historic opportunity to win new friends who share our values in the Middle East.” He declared “it is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East” and promised that he would “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.”

Biden looked the American people in the eye last week and told them the Obama administration was doing exactly that. He apparently knew it was not so. Romney needs to ask the president tomorrow night: How is it that most of the aid in Syria is going to al-Qaeda and its allies? Why did your administration knowingly mislead the American people about this? And when are you going to stop subcontracting our responsibilities to others and start making sure aid and training get to those who share this nation’s values?

Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, writes a weekly online column for The Post.

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