The Debate

I managed to catch the Bush-Kerry debate this evening, and I have to say it felt like Sen. Kerry came out on top.

My expectations for President Bush were high, despite his reputation as a poor public speaker. The thing about Bush is, he’s improved a lot as a speechmaker in the years since the last election, and although the campaign and pundits downplayed expectations, I really thought he would come out swinging on foreign policy since that’s seen as his big advantage, not to mention the area where he’s placed most of his focus during the past four years. Instead, he seemed flustered and stammered for the first hour, whereas Kerry was quite composed, spoke clearly, and was obviously well rehearsed.

Content-wise, the debate was more of a draw. Kerry didn’t blow it, but neither did Bush hit back when the Senator played fast and loose with the truth. For example: early on in the debate, Kerry said the Bush administration had spent $200 billion in Iraq, when in fact nowhere near that much has been spent. Plus, the $200 billion figure is the appropriation number approved by Congress. Of that amount, 40% is earmarked for Afghanistan and 60% for Iraq. Since Kerry does not quibble with the President on Afghanistan, we’re really talking about a much smaller number.

When Kerry rehashed the tired old line about opening fire stations in Iraq while they close in the U.S., I wanted Bush to remind him of the $8 billion earmarked by the administration for first responders. But as with many of Kerry’s attacks, Bush never got around to responding to them.

Kerry was wrong about the subways closing down in New York during the convention — they remained open. A small issue.

He was also wrong about the U.S. going it alone in Iraq. Not such a small issue.

There are about 30 nations involved, compared with something like 34 nations during the first Gulf War. To be sure, the contingent is getting smaller, but that’s to be expected. Major combat is (on paper at least) over with, and control of the country has been handed back to the Iraqi people. As the Iraqis bring more and more of their freshly trained troops online, the allies will draw down their own contingents. But England, Australia, Bulgaria, Poland, New Zealand, Thailand, the Netherlands, Moldova, Singapore, El Salvador, Lithuania, South Korea, Georgia, Italy, Albania, and others still have troops there.

I don’t understand why the President didn’t hit Kerry with these and other facts. Kerry came out with a lot of specific numbers, names, places, and dates. The President seemed to to have a hard time with these things.

The debate felt like a win for Kerry not because the facts were on his side, but because like all debates, the winner is determined more by style and poise than anything else. The televised 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate is a good example. Were the viewpoints espoused by Kennedy superior to those of Nixon, or did Tricky Dick’s five o’clock shadow and perspiration-soaked upper lip give Kennedy the edge in that very close election?

Swing voters probably got a better impression of Kerry than they did of the President in this debate. For that reason, I’ll put this one in John Kerry’s column.

  6 comments for “The Debate

  1. Kevin
    October 1, 2004 at 7:29 am

    Ron,

    I agree that GWB didn’t look very composed last night. In fact, he appeared to me to be a spoiled little rich kid who couldn’t believe that he was being questioned by a “lesser” person. His scorn and contempt for JK was similar to the Al Gore sighs and eye-rolls of 2000. However, JK, while seemingly composed and forceful, didn’t really make me all warm and fuzzy either. Your notes about his playing “lose with the truth” are proof of why.
    You managed to leave out the points where the President made mistakes. I know that most Republicans believe that he walks on water and can raise the dead and all, but the man is human, and though neither he nor his aides have ever admitted to making mistakes, he has made some. I’m sure it was just an oversight on your part.:-)
    He said 10 million Afganis are registered to vote—not true. Because of duplicate registrations and fraud, the number has been downsized to about two-thirds that amount. And of those registered, less than half are confident that the elections would be fair, confidential, and free of violence.
    The president said that 100,000 Iraqis security forces have been deployed in that country, but Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld say it is a much smaller number.
    You say that the number of coalition forces have dwindled as the Iraqi forces take over…if that is so, why is the USA activitating MORE personnel for Iraq duty and not less?

    —just some thoughts from “left of center field”—

  2. Ron
    October 1, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Kev–

    Regarding the Iraqi police and military forces, the 100,000 have been deployed but not necesarily completed training. They’ve received “initial basic operations training” according to Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

    The police force currently has 90,000 people in it. About 8,200 are fully trained, 46,000 are untrained, and 36,000 are partially trained. Six Army battalions have had “initial training,” while 57 National Guard battalions, 896 soldiers in each, are still being recruited or “awaiting equipment.” Eight Guard battalions have reached “initial (operating) capability”.

    The Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee are putting a very negative spin on it, claiming that only 1/4 of the 100,000 have had enough training to be effective at their jobs.

    With respect to the 10 million registered to vote in Afghanistan, I believe you’re referring to a report issued by the Human Rights Watch. According to that report summary, the election officials said the numbers COULD be as low as 5 to 7 million. The footnote in the report indicates this information comes from an interview with UNAMA and NGO observation team officials. You might want to read the whole report.

    I commend the HRW for keeping an eye on these things. Sunlight, disinfectant, that whole smosh. But they are holding the Afghan elections to the same standard as an American election. Their elections are not going to be as orderly or well put together as ours, it’s just not possible yet.

    Some double-registered because of a rumor that they were ration cards as well as voter cards. Others just don’t know any better. They have never voted before, and there aren’t enough election officials to cover the whole country yet. No surprises there.

    Note that the report also states that there are safeguards against double-voting, like the indelible ink method that will be utilized during the upcoming election.

    Bottom line: yes, Bush was technically correct because 10.5 million are registered, but let’s say only 7 million voters take part in the election. There are about 21 million people in Afghanistan, so that puts the participation rate at 1/3. That’s equivalent to the census figures for voters here in the U.S. Will this define a successful election? I think so. But if you want to ding Bush for the 10 million number, I guess I can’t argue.

    Regarding forces being activated for Iraq, Bush said if they commanders ask for more troops they would get them, but thus far they have not asked. We have troops going to Iraq and Afghanistan, but other units are returning home as well. As far as I can tell it’s a wash at the moment.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. October 1, 2004 at 11:40 pm

    Of that amount, 40% is earmarked for Afghanistan and 60% for Iraq

    Where are you getting this breakdown from? To my understanding, there are about 100,000 troops in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan which would suggest that 90% of the funds are earmarked for Iraq and 10% for Afghanistan.

    There are about 30 nations involved, compared with something like 34 nations during the first Gulf War.

    Surely, you’re not falling for this?!? The countries in the first Gulf War were strictly ones that sent significant quantities of troops. This coalition includes countries (like Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Marshall Islands, etc.) who aren’t sending troops but merely signing letters that they support the action (some of the countries in the “Coalition of the Willing” don’t even have their own armies). We have countries like Uzbekistan who are just as bad in the human rights department as Saddam. Of the countries that sent troops, all with the exception of England have very token forces and we are still bearing the vast majority of the burden.

    control of the country has been handed back to the Iraqi people.

    Again, I hope your not really falling for this. The leader of Iraq is a former CIA operative. He can’t change any of the laws that the CPA imposed until elections are held. Beyond that, there are many parts of the country which are “no-go” zones for Iraqi or US forces.

  4. Ron
    October 2, 2004 at 1:54 am

    “Falling for this”? If so, I hope I don’t hurt myself. 🙂

    The breakdown comes from many places. One is an OpinionJournal article. You can also find the same thing reiterated in a FactCheck analysis of Sen. Kerry’s remarks on the subject, noting that the $200 billion figure is for Iraq and Afghanistan. More here. I attempted to look up the text of the legislation, but it’s difficult, even using the Thomas site because the appropriations are split among numerous different bills and I lack the ‘mad skills’ to really dig it up. I have no doubt it’s there, though.

    Regarding the coalition, it’s is not correct to say the first Gulf War coalition was comprised of countries that ‘strictly sent significant quantities of troops’. Not all of them did. A LibaryReference.org summary of that conflict notes that “The war also was financed by countries which were unable to send in troops” just as this one has been. Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, Romania, Sweden, and so on.

    The major contributors of troops in the first Gulf War were Saudia Arabia and the UK. The United Kingdom has contributed a lot of this conflict as well, and Saudi Arabia’s presence was only natural considering the fact that Saddam Hussein had numerous divisions massed on the Iraq/Saudi border. There is no doubt Saudi Arabia was on the verge of being invaded by Iraq in 1991. A lot of people forget that! I’m not sure how Saudi Arabia contributed those troops. As I understand it, the problem was that they didn’t have a military to defend their own country with. Since 1991, we’ve actually helped them build up their military.

    You are correct that we are bearing the majority of the burden. We did it last time, and I’m sure it will happen next time as well, no matter when, where, or what the conflict involves. The small countries you mentioned have been able to contribute financially and politically. That’s not insignificant. Countries like Japan have provided logistical support. I’m not suggesting this war is like the first Gulf War. This one is a lot more controversial, and the coalition reflects that.

    There are other differences as well. During the first Gulf War, the U.S. had 540,000 troops in the Middle East. This time it was only 250,000 (via Wikipedia). So everyone’s troop contingents were smaller. Everything about the war was smaller. Whether this is an indicator that we didn’t use enough troops or simply a judgement made based on the advanced weaponry and military assessment of Iraq’s ability to fight back, I do not know.

    I don’t have much knowledge about Iraq’s current PM. But it seems counterintuitive to suggest that nothing good is going on in Iraq right now. We have troops there. We’re helping them put together a military and police force of their own. We’re helping restore infrastructure. The schools and hospitals we open get little press. Anything that can be described as a “no-go” zone gets the front page of the New York Times.

    I have both friends and family who are in Iraq, and the things I hear from those on the ground doesn’t match what I hear from those who opposed the war. This isn’t to suggest one is right and the other wrong. Like most things, the ‘truth’ — to the extent that there can be such a black and white thing in this world — is usually somewhere in between.

  5. October 3, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    Ron,

    As to the Opinion Journal piece, they seem take Kerry’s word on the $200 billion and then take the same figure that factcheck does ($122 billion on Iraq) to justify its 40% figure for Afghanistan. From what I understand of the news business, opinion pieces don’t go through the same rigorous fact-checking that articles do. I do agree that Kerry is looking at the costs inclusive of 2005 when he says $200 billion and fackcheck suggests that he’s taking the true amount for Iraq and adding unallocated funds for the war on terror to be completely for Iraq. Though as factcheck notes, there is no doubt that this war will far exceed $200 billion when all is said and done. Since there are 10 times the forces in Iraq, I can only assume that 90% of the budget is for Iraq and 10% is Afghanistan unless there’s some major expense in Afghanistan which isn’t in Iraq that I am not aware of.

    it’s is not correct to say the first Gulf War coalition was comprised of countries that ‘strictly sent significant quantities of troops’

    You are right. I actually realized after I posted this, is what I had meant to say was significant contributions which consisted of both troops and money. The point is that this coalition in no way compares to the Gulf War I coalition. In that one, we had approx. 200,000 troops from other countries and enough cash donations such that America actually made a small profit on the war. In this one, we are bearing the mass majority of the cost and burden.

    Its not an issue of “smaller countries”. With the exception of the United Kingdom and Australia, the contributions were token at best. And I think that this has had more to do with domestic opposition to the war than necessarily any limitations on what a given country could contribute. Spain and the Phillipines contributed forces, but one has to ask whether it was all-in-all a positive that they did so considering the level of domestic opposition and the circumstances between both of their withdrawals.

    Allawi was appointed by the US and is a former CIA operative. He wasn’t elected by the Iraqi people or anything like that. He is an Iraqi, but then so was Saddam. As I see it, he doesn’t hold any real level of legitimacy, until elections are held.

    I never realized that you had friends and family in Iraq and I hope that they are remain safe. I keep hearing conflicting reports of people who are there. Some say things are better than what the media portrays, others say its worse. I was in a cab, where the driver was a reservist who said that things were much worse (he had just returned from a year in Iraq). Everyone has their own reality based on their own circumstances. Its a big country and some areas are doing well while others are doing not so good. Its tough to gage an overall sense of whats going on.

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