Thursday, September 30, 2004

Some facts to go with the spin from the campaigns

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Here are some facts to go with the spin from the campaigns


WASHINGTON -- To hear George Bush tell it, John Kerry can't decide whether to back U.S. troops in Iraq or Saddam Hussein. Kerry, for his part, casts Bush as a president who can't lead and won't tell the truth.

Rhetorical distortions come out of the campaigns' echo chamber and into the open tonight, when the opponents face off in the first televised presidential debate.

"That's why I look forward to this debate," Kerry said in an interview broadcast yesterday on the ABC television network, "because it's an opportunity to be able to really let the American people know the truth and know where you stand."

For the most part, the contenders haven't made up fibs out of whole cloth. Instead, they use a few threads from each other's positions to spin a loosely woven tapestry in which night masquerades as day. Here are some such issues that may come up in the debate.

Kerry on support of troops

Bush gets a lot of mileage in his standard stump speech by noting that Kerry refused to support a White House request a year ago for $87 billion in supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Only 12 United States' senators voted against it -- two of whom are my opponent and his running mate," Bush said at a Sept. 24 campaign rally in Wisconsin.

On Oct. 17, 2003, a bill providing $87 billion in emergency funding for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan was passed by the House on a 303-125 vote and the Senate by 87 to 12.

Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., both of whom had voted earlier to grant the president the authority to wage war on Iraq, voted against the $87 billion measure.

However, both of them voted earlier for an alternative measure that would have approved the $87 billion but was conditioned on repealing much of Bush's tax cuts. That proposal failed, 57-42, in the Senate.

Kerry says the vote against the later measure was a protest over its funding, which included no-bid contracts.

In an early attempt to defend his position, Kerry uttered the phrase -- "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" -- that Bush strategists have used to crystallize the image of Kerry as a flip-flopper.

Kerry concedes that utterance was "an inarticulate moment." But in the ABC interview, he insisted that "it reflects the truth of the position. ... I thought that the wealthiest people of America should share in that burden. It was a protest."

Diversion of resources

Kerry, for his part, has accused Bush of pressing war in Iraq at the expense of pursuing Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.

"He took his eye off that ball," Kerry charged in a Sept. 21 news conference in Florida, going on to say Bush had "transferred troops out from under" commanders in Afghanistan.

Retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the U.S. invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, has denied that charge.

While 9,000 U.S. troops went into Afghanistan for the October 2001 assault, that number fell to 3,000 by year's end. It was back up to 8,000 in March 2003, when Bush launched the war against Iraq, and that number remained unchanged for the next several months. There are about 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now.

Kerry prefers Saddam?

"Incredibly, this week, my opponent said he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today," Bush told cheering supporters at a Sept. 23 campaign rally in Bangor, Maine, and elsewhere during the campaign.

That is not what Kerry said. This is:

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell," Kerry said. "But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

The next day, Kerry said, "What I have always said is that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. I believe there was a more responsible way to do it."

Cost of the Iraq war

Kerry frequently says the war in Iraq has cost "$200 billion and counting." This is a misleading figure since it includes funds scheduled to be spent next fiscal year and funds spent in Afghanistan and to protect U.S. cities. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the price tag for the Iraq war so far is around $120 billion. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated the cost of the Iraq operation at $93.7 billion. The CBO estimated, however, that the war would cost another $56 billion next year, about half of which Congress has already approved.

Iraq invasion link

Bush often discusses his September 2002 speech to the United Nations as part of his defense of the Iraq war.

"I gave a speech to the United Nations," Bush said recently. "They looked at the same intelligence I had looked at. ... And they voted, 15 to nothing, to say to Saddam Hussein: disclose, disarm or face serious consequences."

The U.N. Security Council did pass a resolution in November 2002 four months before Bush launched war. The resolution, however, never defined "serious consequences" as military action. Two days before the war, Bush pulled a war resolution from Security Council consideration in the face of sure defeat. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has since called the invasion of Iraq "illegal" because it lacked a U.N. mandate.