I had to miss another debate Thursday (why can't they pick another night?), but I'm looking at the transcript now. This one seems much shorter on substance and much more focused on serious sidestepping of questions and continued repetition of blithe campaign slogans, but there are some moments worthy of comment. I'll take the foreign policy elements first.
Tom Brokaw: "You said that the books were cooked. Cooking the books means that there was a fraud of some kind, in an attempt to achieve something that wasn't in fact true. David Kay has said that that wasn't the case. He thinks the president was just simply abused by the intelligence agencies."
Howard Dean: "Well, I don't think anybody knows for sure. And that's why I support the idea of an idea of an independent commission. What we do know is this: The president was not candid with the American people when we went to war."
Can someone tell me how that's not saying something and then immediately contradicting it? If nobody knows for sure whether any of this was cooked up by the president, then how do we know that the president was not candid? As usual, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He doesn't want to sound as if he's giving credence to a conspiracy theory that criticizes a president with absolutely no evidence, but then he makes it clear that he believes full well that the conspiracy theory is true. He just doesn't want to sound as if he believes it.
He goes on: "It's why I did not support going to war, even though I did support the first Gulf War and I did support the Afghanistan war. I simply didn't believe what the president was saying."
Right, but why didn't he believe what the president was saying. He hasn't given any reason for this view.
Dean: "What we now find out is that the Vice President Dick Cheney went to the CIA on at least one occasion, and maybe more, sat with middle- level CIA operatives and berated them because he didn't like their intelligence reports. It seems to me that the vice president of the United States therefore influenced the very reports that the president then used to decide to go to war and to ask Congress for permission to go to war."
What we know it still not clear, actually. That's why there are hearings going on right now. One thing that seems to be coming to light is that the CIA was incompetent, and both the Clinton and Bush Administrations knew it, so they had other people in place to try to sift through the information to figure out what was reliable. It's not clear yet if they did that in a proper way or if they were just making it worse. That's what the hearings are about. Their reasons for doing were certainly good. The question is whether this was the best way to try to fix the problem.
Dean: "The president himself and the secretary of state have recently admitted that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11; that there was no connection and no evidence of connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida."
I don't think that's what they said. All I know about is that they admitted that Saddam Hussein himself didn't have any direct connection with Al Qaeda. His second-in-command certainly did, and I've been told of new evidence even this week connecting Syria with Al Qaeda, and we know Syria and Iraq were in cahoots (if for no reason other than that they were both Baathists, but there's also the fact of the large transports seen carrying something-I-wonder-what into Syria before the fighting started). There were definitely connections enough to think any WMDs made in Iraq could easily find their way to Al Qaeda.
Dean: "In that case, why are we in Iraq? And why are so many people from South Carolina there right now, when they should be home concentrating on homeland security and when they should be going after Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida?"
1. Has he ever heard of the doctrine of military humanitarian aid? He supported Kosovo (which the U.N. didn't support).
2. Al Qaeda isn't the only supporter of terrorists, and this is a war on terrorism.
3. The premise of his argument is false, as I just said above.
Then there's Brokaw's own response: "David Kay also told me the other day that he thinks now, looking back, that the two years before we went to war was the most dangerous period in Iraq in a long, long time because it was spinning out of control. Saddam Hussein was not in charge. There were people coming in and going out of the country, including well-known terrorists. "
John Kerry: "The president gave guarantees not just to the Congress and to the American people, but to the world, about how he would conduct himself as president. He said he would build a legitimate global coalition. He said he would respect the United Nations inspection process and work through it. And he said to the American people he would go to war only as a last resort."
The problem with this is the issue of what counts as legitimate. If the U.N. was incompetent, then what other recourse was there? It turns out that it wasn't just incompetence but bribed agents of Iraq who were opposing the efforts of the U.S., countries who promised Saddam Hussein that no the U.N. would take no action against him, and three of five members of the security council who were selling weapons to Iraq.
Tom Brokaw said something about Dennis Kucinich�s plan to turn everything over to the U.N. Kucinich said he�s mischaracterized his position and went on to say that his plan would turn everything over to the U.N.
Wesley Clark: "The president is playing politics with national security when he says we'll be out by the 30th of June. That's just an arbitrary date related to the presidential election. It's not related to what's going on on the ground."
If it's arbitrary and can't be done, and the president knows it, then it's a stupid move, because the date is before the election.
Clark: "I heard from the Pentagon two weeks after 9/11 that the administration was determined to go into Iraq, whether or not there was any connection with 9/11; that they were going to use it as a pretext for invading Iraq."
What's more likely is that 9/11 was a wake-up call that increased the president's concern about Iraq that had been transferred from the Clinton Administration. It's not a surprise or a worry that he started wondering about Iraq during the plans for Afghanistan. Iraq was known to be dangerous and after us, and the common view since 1998 was that they had clear programs of WMDs with some stockpiles in their possession. Regardless of the status of that intelligence, this is what they thought, and why should it be worrisome that anyone would start to think about Iraq after something is huge as 9/11?
Al Sharpton: "Had he said, "We're going to war because Saddam Hussein is a bad guy," the public would not have rallied around that. We were told, in the wake of 9/11, we were in imminent danger with weapons of mass destruction. We cannot allow him to change this now and say we were just after Hussein because he was a bad guy. Everybody knows Hussein was a bad guy, and there are other bad guys who we didn't go after, and we didn't lie about it."
I think Sharpton has all but said what Peter Jennings couldn't get him to say in the last debate. He doesn't think coming to the aid of an oppressed people counts as a just cause for the purposes of just war theory. He does go on to say: "We should find a way to get rid of bad guys, but lying to the American people is not the way you run a country, and George Bush ought to be removed for that." What he noticeably doesn't say is that this should be done militarily, so I think my suspicion is confirmed.
Also, as has been said far too many times for intelligent people to miss, Bush said that we need to stop Saddam Hussein before we're in imminent danger.
Interestingly, John Kerry admits that Europe has underestimated the problem of terrorism. So he does have one sane bone in his body.
Sharpton on Islam: "They would become our partners if we engaged in partnership. But I don't that the way we do that is attacking people's religion, trying to act like our religion is better."
He must be referring to Bush's comments that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and that Islam is a good religion.
Howard Dean: "I honestly don't believe that John Ashcroft and George Bush and the members of the Federalist Society view the Constitution the way mainstream American attorneys or the way most American citizens do."
No, they view it the way its authors did and don't just fabricate all these rights that don't appear in it.