Wednesday, October 06, 2004

VP Debate

To my woe and discredit, I missed the VP debate last night. An all-nighter on Monday and insufficient nap time put me out too early. Fortune smiled however, and a transcript was available first thing this morning (but I'd be grateful to anyone who could provide a link to video). My misgivings began with question #1.

IFILL: Vice President Cheney, there have been new developments in Iraq, especially having to do with the administration's handling.

Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, gave a speech in which he said that we have never had enough troops on the ground, or we've never had enough troops on the ground.

Donald Rumsfeld said he has not seen any hard evidence of a link between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Was this approved -- of a report that you requested that you received a week ago that showed there was no connection between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein?

Gwen, when you're invited to moderate of the Vice Presidential debate of The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes™, it's really not out of bounds to ask that you pose cogent questions in intelligible English. Could you rephrase your question in the form of a question, please?

It seemed to me that the trial lawyer in Johnny waited until his last response in the exchange to throw out this unsupportable allegation -

EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, there is no connection between the attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein. The 9/11 Commission has said it. Your own secretary of state has said it. And you've gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There is not.

It's unsupportable because it relies on the faulty premise that "terror", "al Quaeda", and "9/11" are freely interchangeable - as no small number of democratic arguments regarding the War on Terror do. This bit of subterfuge is, sadly, enough to take in many people, hence the longevity of the argument. This sophism should have been squashed long ago, because it's such an easy bit of chicanery to dispense with; its persistance in the national debate is abundant evidence of the Bush administration's utter failure to hear and respond to the opposition's debate.

If Edwards understands the fallacy that it was predicated on, then hanging this point in the last response of a question was just a cheap attempt to score a point based on a populaist prevarication, depending on the hazy understanding and mush-minded debate among the electorate that has preceeded last night's event. That's something that I'd like to credit him with, but can't. You see, in his answer to question #2 he immediately picked up that thread again -

EDWARDS: I want the American people to hear this very clearly. Listen carefully to what the vice president is saying. Because there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of September 11th -- period. The 9/11 Commission has said that's true. Colin Powell has said it's true. But the vice president keeps suggesting that there is. There is not.

If he does understand the fallacy, then I can't conceive of the reason that he threw away his cheap victory by inviting the flat, contradictory, accurate, and predictable response -

CHENEY: The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror.

I have to believe that someone with his trial experience doesn't make such a glaring mistake, and certainly not so early in the debate. The other, more likely, possibility then is that Edwards genuinely does not understand the fallacy his position was predicated on; he really does think that AQ, terror, and 9/11 are interchangeable in discussion of the war. In this case, he really does think that Cheney has repeatedly claimed an Iraq/9-11 tie.

If this is true, then he thought he scored a victory there - he thought he got Cheney to lie, right at the outset of the debate. In this case, I would expect to see a commercial featuring this portion of the debate very soon, with text and/or tape of Cheney discussing connections between Iraq and -- watch ye well -- anything but 9-11. If we see this commercial in the next couple days, then we can consider that John Edwards has followed in the rhetorical footsteps of John Kerry - he's come as close as can be expected to pronouncing the words "I do not understand the War on Terror."

After an Edwards question/Cheney rebuttal on question #2, Ifill gave Cheney question #3 which had a question/answer/rebuttal/counter. At this point, Gwen Ifill throws her command of the language into question again with this inexplicable train wreck of a query -

IFILL: New question to you, Senator Edwards, but I don't want to let go of the global test question first, because I want people to understand exactly what it is, as you said, that Senator Kerry did say. He said, "You've got to do" -- you know, he was asked about preemptive action at the last debate -- he said, "You've got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons." What is a global test if it's not a global veto?

There was no "global test" question to return to - it was not part of any question posed by Ifill, and was only a narrow portion of Cheney's rebuttal in #2, and Edwards' rebuttal in #3. She seems to be returning to question #2 to give Edwards a counter, but that was in fact question #4. I'd encourage you to check the transcript, but this seems to have come from nowhere, a question made up by Ifill on the spot. Gwen, NO MORE DEBATES FOR YOU.

In question #4, we see another Kerry theme that I've touched on surfacing in John Edwards - dismissing the assistance and contributions of other countries. Edwards made the assertions that we've spent $200 billion in Iraq, and that 90% of the cost and casualties of Iraq are falling on the United States.

In rebuttal, Cheney pointed out that $200 billion was for the overall war on terror, including Afghanistan, with only #120 billion earmarked for Iraq. He detailed some contributions that you'd have to dismiss in order to make the 90% assertion - $80 billion in debt reduction from France, Russia, and Germany, $14 billion in financial aid commitments, and the efforts of the Iraqis themselves. In short, he killed the specious going-it-alone fraud with facts and figures.

In question #6, Edwards jumps right back to these assertions.

EDWARDS: Regardless of what the vice president says, we're at $200 billion and counting. Not only that, 90 percent of the coalition casualties, Mr. Vice President, the coalition casualties, are American casualties. Ninety percent of the cost of this effort are being borne by American taxpayers. It is the direct result of the failures of this administration.

CHENEY: Classic example. He won't count the sacrifice and the contribution of Iraqi allies. It's their country. They're in the fight. They're increasingly the ones out there putting their necks on the line to take back their country from the terrorists and the old regime elements that are still left. They're doing a superb job. And for you to demean their sacrifices strikes me as...

EDWARDS: Oh, I'm not...

CHENEY: ... as beyond...

EDWARDS: I'm not demeaning...

CHENEY: It is indeed. You suggested...

EDWARDS: No, sir, I did not...

CHENEY: ... somehow they shouldn't count, because you want to be able to say that the Americans are taking 90 percent of the sacrifice. You cannot succeed in this effort if you're not willing to recognize the enormous contribution the Iraqis are increasingly making to their own future.

See? I think Cheney reads Loose Coins too. Now I feel bad about the days that I don't post. In exchange for a slice of his Halliburton severance package, I'd be willing to remedy that.

Let's back-track a bit to take a look at the actual question posed to Edwards, though -

IFILL: Part of what you have said and Senator Kerry has said that you are going to do in order to get us out of the problems in Iraq is to internationalize the effort. Yet French and German officials have both said they have no intention even if John Kerry is elected of sending any troops into Iraq for any peacekeeping effort. Does that make your effort or your plan to internationalize this effort seem kind of naive?

I awkwardly wedge this question in because, as I'm about to post this, I've already heard at least half a dozen times the insistance that Cheney did not respond to allegations regarding Halliburton. Halliburton is a matter of far less relevance to a presidential election than potential plans to "internationalize" Iraq, but Edwards never answered this question and I haven't heard a peep about it. He instead used the opportunity to insist that the Bush administration has not internationalized Iraq, John/John does have a plan, and Bush/Cheney does not. In other words, Halliburton is Edwards' very own Grand Diversion™. And may I point out how remarkable it is that we've hit numerous milestone goals in Iraq with no plan whatsoever?

Did I say "how remarkable"? I meant "what a complete load of crap".

In question #8, Ifill asked about Cheney's 2000 statement that US businesses should be allowed to trade with Iran. Cheney gave a detailed and satisfying answer, which Edwards rebutted thusly:

EDWARDS: Well, the vice president talks about there being a member, or someone associated with Al Qaida, in Iraq. There are 60 countries who have members of Al Qaida in them. How many of those countries are we going to invade?

Neither the question nor Cheney's answer had anything to do with this, but the "member, or someone associated with Al Qaida" is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (whom Cheney referenced at the tail end of question #7). This man, Zarqawi, runs his own network coordinating atrocities in Iraq, has been discussed as a rival of bin Laden within al Qaeda's leadership, and in fact has a bounty on his head equal to bin Laden's own ($25 million). It doesn't speak well for John's grasp of even the war's most prominent features when he thinks that one of the enemy's principle leaders is "a member, or someone associated with Al Qaida".

EDWARDS: Not only that, he talks about Iran.

Yes, John - he had the audacity to provide a direct answer to a question about Iran. What gall! We've certainly had enough of that kind of arrogance, haven't we? It's time we switched to real leaders, ones who dance around an issue by pointing fingers at everything except an answer to the pertinent question. 'Cause we all know that it's not what happens or what you do, but how well you can blame it on someone else.

Time permitting, I'll ramble on about the domestic half of the debate later. Judging on the foreign policy portion alone, I'd have to say Edwards got crushed. Don't count on hearing about it that way in two or three days, though.

Update: Damian has a worthwhile analysis at E-nough!, as does Tom at Conserva-Puppies


Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

As it turns out, everyone seems to have misinterpreted what Bremer was actually saying in his speech.

And that's the third Damian blogging for the 'right' on the net! Penny, me, and now this one!

5:32 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Good catch on how Edwards never answered the question on how they're going to "internationalize" Iraq. Of course, there is no real answer other than to say that they'll have "a summit". Apparenly John/John's golden tongue(s) will make the Europeans come around.

I'd also forgotten about the debt reduction from France, Germany, and Russia. You're right, that has to be added to the calculation. Money being fungible, it doesn't matter whether the contribution is in money sent or debts forgiven.

Good analysis.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Damian - he's not only another Damian, he's another Damian B.! His writing favors gratuitous use of language, but it's always good and the underlying analysis is consistantly top notch. He posts quite a bit at Pave France also. Something about that name...

Tom - the most likely reason that the MSM hasn't caught it is that they simply don't want to. They're much more interested in hanging Cheney by the shorthalliburtons if they can.

Of course, the other possibile reason is that Ifill was an atrocious moderator. I had trouble figuring out if candidates answered some questions, because I had trouble figuring out what the questions actually were. That question implied that she wanted to know how they'd bring France and Germany in when they've said they won't come in, but didn't actually ask it. Whether or not he answered the question depends on what you wanted it to mean.

Did I mention anywhere that Gwen Ifill was a horrible moderator? I meant to touch on that at some point...

5:42 AM  
Blogger Jane said...

If you didn't see it, then you missed Edwards' expression while messing up twice on Ifel's odd question to answer this without mentioning the presidentail candidate. The first time he had that "Oh I wasn't supposed to say Kerry?" boyish laughter, the second time within a minute, it was more like "Damn forgot my homework again."

9:39 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

It was a stupid rule anyway (although it could have been interesting if she had made them exclude the ticket-top candidates altogether, not just their names).

7:55 AM  

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