VP Debate: Making a Straw-man Out of the President’s Iraq Policy

I have heard democrats and pundits in the media huff and puff and blow down many straw men, but one straw man is getting more air time than all the others. One of the ways that President Bush’s policy on the Iraq War has been attacked by Democrats (and unfortunately by many accomplices in the press) has been to accuse the administration of lying about a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks on America on 9/11.

John Edwards stood up and blew down that straw man again in Tuesday’s Vice-Presidential debate: “And these connections — 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.”

The Vice-President’s response to Edward’s charge was very clear: “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.”

At the close of the debate, the press pounced on Cheney’s denial of ever having made such a claim, and immediately began setting forth evidence to the contrary. NBC’s Brian Williams attempted to show that Cheney was not being truthful by broadcasting an excerpt from a year-old “Meet the Press” interview in which Cheney responded to a question about how to define success in Iraq: “We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists, who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”

Brian Williams concluded as if his report made it self-evident that the Cheney’s remarks from the Vice-Presidential debate somehow contradicted his alleged former claims that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. After Williams finished his turn with the demolition of the straw man, Chris Matthews set it back up and blew it down several more times before his program ended (Click here to see how many times he actually did it).

The question is really very simple. Is there any truth to the claim that Vice-President Cheney lied about a direct connection between Iraq and 9/11 so that he could mislead the nation into war? Notwithstanding all the Democrat and media bluster to the contrary, a careful examination of Vice-President Cheney’s remarks proves that he has never made such a claim.

In fact, the Vice-President (and President Bush for that matter) has made the case that even though Iraq was not directly behind 9/11, it is nevertheless a crucial battleground in the war on terror. This is the application of the so-called Bush doctrine that the President set forth right after the 9/11 attacks. The policy of the U.S. government is to oppose by force all terrorists and the states that harbor them. President Bush said it best in his address to Congress just after the 9/11 attacks: “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” In the case of Iraq, the administration saw Saddam Hussein as the head of just such a regime.

Vice-President Cheney exhibited the application of this policy in the very same “Meet the Press” interview that Brian Williams’ used to show a contradiction in Cheney’s position. Here is the actual exchange between Russert and Cheney, including the clarifying context that Brian William’s left out.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Tim, we can do what we have to do to prevail in this conflict. Failure’s not an option. And go back again and think about what’s involved here. This is not just about Iraq or just about the difficulties we might encounter in any one part of the country in terms of restoring security and stability. This is about a continuing operation on the war on terror. And it’s very, very important we get it right. If we’re successful in Iraq, if we can stand up a good representative government in Iraq, that secures the region so that it never again becomes a threat to its neighbors or to the United States, so it’s not pursuing weapons of mass destruction, so that it’s not a safe haven for terrorists, now we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11. They understand what’s at stake here. That’s one of the reasons they’re putting up as much of a struggle as they have, is because they know if we succeed here, that that’s going to strike a major blow at their capabilities.

MR. RUSSERT: So the resistance in Iraq is coming from those who were responsible for 9/11?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, I was careful not to say that.

So the Vice-President was not asserting a direct link between Iraq and 9/11 in this interview. In fact, he said then that he was “careful not to say that.” Cheney’s point was that to win in Iraq means a victory in the broader war on terror, a victory in a region of the world that is the “geographic base” of worldwide terrorism. “Cheney was simply arguing that Iraq lies in an area of the world which spawns terrorists, including those who attacked the U.S. on 9/11, not that the Iraqi regime specifically contracted the [September the 11th] attack” (Source).

So Brian Williams pulled the Vice-President’s remarks out of context in order to make it appear that the Vice-President had said something that he really did not say. The result of this kind of straw-man building is that the Democrat partisans and their allies in the press are able to criticize the Bush administration for something it has never said, while obscuring the President’s real policy on Iraq.

So when you hear the huffing and puffing of John Edwards, Chris Matthews and the like, just know that you are about to witness another unimpressive demolition of a straw-man of their own making.
Media Research Center: http://www.mediaresearchcenter.com/cyberalerts/2004/cyb20041006am.asp#3
MSNBC.com Transcripts: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6193158/
“Meet the Press” Transcript: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3080244/
2001 Presidential Address to Joint Session of Congress: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html Washington Post Online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/debatereferee/debate_1005.html