“Assessing the Candidates’ Assertions,” Peronet Despeignes, et al. USA Today.
Vice President Cheney and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Edwards, brought different versions of the facts to the stage in their debate Tuesday night.
•Iraq and 9/11: Cheney asserted that Iraq had “an established relationship with al-Qaeda,” the terrorist group behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. The 9/11 Commission and other authoritative reviews have dismissed claims that Saddam’s government actively supported al-Qaeda or had a role in 9/11.
Cheney denied that he has publicly linked Saddam to those attacks. But the record shows numerous instances when he linked Saddam to 9/11. For example, on NBC’s Meet the Press a year ago, he repeated an account of a meeting between lead 9/11 pilot Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, Czech Republic – even though the FBI, CIA and others had found no evidence that the meeting occurred.
•Iraq casualties: Edwards charged that 90% of the casualties in Iraq have been borne by the United States. Cheney argued that if Iraqis are counted with the coalition, then the U.S. casualties are about half. The coalition doesn’t keep figures for Iraqi troop deaths, but it’s a relatively small figure. If Iraqi police and other non-military security personnel who have been killed in suicide bombings and other attacks are counted, the total could approximate the roughly 1,060 U.S. troop deaths.
•Iraq war costs: Edwards repeated an erroneous claim often made by Kerry that the United States has committed $200 billion to Iraq. The White House Office of Management and Budget says U.S. spending so far is $120 billion. Congress has provided an additional $25 billion for the war on terrorism, which includes money for operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
•The Iraq coalition: Cheney compared the international coalition in Iraq to the one assembled for the Gulf War of 1991 that followed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. He said Edwards “made the comment that the Gulf War coalition in ’91 was far stronger than this. No. We had 34 countries then. We’ve got 30 today.”
In 1991, military action was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, Saudi Arabia opened its territory to American troops, and 34 nations joined up, including Britain, France and key Arab states such as Syria and Egypt. Together, nations other than the United States deployed 160,000 troops, 24% of the total, and paid 88% of the war’s $90 billion price tag. This time, there are only 21,000 non-U.S. troops compared with 140,000 Americans, and the United States is footing nearly all of the bill. The U.N. did not explicitly authorize the invasion, and traditional allies such as France and Germany opposed U.S. action.
•Debt relief for Iraq: Cheney said other nations promised to forgive $80 billion of Iraq‘s foreign debt. France proposed writing off half of some $40 billion in Iraq‘s foreign debt owed to members of the French-led Paris Club of creditor nations, but that has not happened. Arab nations, owed most of the total $120 billion in Iraq‘s foreign debt and billions more in war reparations, have made no concrete proposals to write off any of it. The United States and Iraq say relieving most of Iraq’s debt is crucial to its future, but other countries say Iraq’s oil makes it rich enough to pay off much of its debt.
•Cheney and Halliburton: Edwards pointed to a $7.5 billion no-bid contract that went to Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, implying that the vice president has a conflict of interest as the company’s former CEO. The charge, also made repeatedly on the campaign trail, is overblown. Halliburton did receive a no-bid contract for military services in Iraq and has come under scrutiny for possible overcharges involving gasoline and meals for troops. That charge remains under investigation. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found the no-bid contracts legal and apparently justified by the military’s needs in wartime.
•Medicare premiums: Cheney said a 17% increase in Medicare premiums for 2005 is required by a formula set by a 1984 law that Kerry supported. That is correct as far as it goes. However, the formula is applied to the anticipated increased spending in the Medicare program. A big part of that increase is due to higher federal payments to private managed-care health plans, to encourage them to offer coverage through Medicare to seniors – something Bush supported and later signed into law in December 2003.
•Edwards-Cheney meetings: Cheney attacked Edwards’ Senate attendance record, which has been spotty since Edwards entered the political campaign. Cheney noted that he sometimes presides over the Senate and is frequently on Capitol Hill, but “the first time I ever met you is when you walked on the stage tonight.” In fact, Edwards stood before Cheney when he swore in Edwards’ fellow North Carolinian, Elizabeth Dole, as a senator on Jan. 8, 2003. And Cheney noted Edwards’ presence at the Feb. 1, 2001, National Prayer Breakfast.
Reporting by Peronet Despeignes, John Diamond, Jim Drinkard, Steven Komarow, Dave Moniz, Barbara Slavin, Andrea Stone and William M. Welch, USA TODAY