Both contestants exaggerate, simplify

Bitter exchanges elicit sound bites that distort complex national issues

Election 2004

The debates

October 06, 2004|By Mark Matthews and Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Mark Matthews and Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON--Airing some of the most bitter charges of the campaign, Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards at times resorted to exaggeration and oversimplified assertions on a number of complicated issues.

Here is a guide to how their statements measure up against the known facts:

Cheney said, "We heard Senator Kerry say the other night that there ought to be some kind of global test before U.S. troops are deployed pre-emptively to protect the United States."

In fact, Kerry said at the beginning of his first debate with President Bush that he would "never give a veto to any country over our security." But he also said that any pre-emptive action should pass "the global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons. So what is at test here is the credibility of the United States of America and how we lead the world."

Edwards criticized the administration for not sending more U.S. troops into the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan in December 2001, when al-Qaida was on the run and trying to flee into neighboring Pakistan. Instead, he said, the Bush administration relied on Afghan warlords and their troops.

Some U.S. military officers have privately complained that more troops should have been sent in to close off mountain trails and attempt to capture Osama bin Laden.

Edwards said the Bush administration sent 40,000 troops into Iraq "without the body armor they needed."

Although troops had body armor, not all troops had the latest vests, which include ceramic plates that can stop a bullet from an assault rifle. Last fall, nearly one-quarter of the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq still had not been issued the new type of ceramic body armor.

Over the past year, the Pentagon has entered into additional contracts for tens of thousands of body armor vests and thousands of armored Humvees.

This year, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were equipped with about 2,300 armored Humvees --about half as many as commanders said were needed to guard against the roadside bombs that have become the insurgents' weapon of choice. The need for the armored Humvees continues to increase. There are 5,153 armored Humvees in Iraq today, though the Army says 8,105 are required.

Edwards ripped into Halliburton Co., which Cheney headed from 1995 until Bush tapped him as his running mate in 2000, for its no-bid contracts in Iraq and for trading with "sworn enemies of the United States," Iran for one.

Halliburton has been accused of overcharging for oil and food services by Pentagon auditors, who recommended that some of its payments be held back.

The legality of its no-bid contracts has not been challenged by congressional auditors, who reasoned in part that Halliburton was the only company available to tackle some of the major tasks in Iraq. However, a United Nations-created auditing panel has demanded that the administration explain why Iraqi oil revenues were used to pay for some no-bid contracts, chiefly involving imports of gasoline.

Halliburton is also the subject of several continuing probes, including a Justice Department investigation of its activities in Iran, which the United States has labeled a sponsor of terrorism. The company operates in Iran through a loophole that permits a foreign subsidiary to conduct business there despite U.S. sanctions. U.S. and French authorities are also investigating accusations that a Halliburton subsidiary paid bribes to secure business in Nigeria.

Edwards and Cheney both oversimplified what is now known about the links between Iraq and al-Qaida terrorists before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Edwards said the connection was minimal; Cheney maintained Iraq "had an established relationship with al-Qaida."

The independent commission that investigated the attacks concluded that Saddam Hussein had no "collaborative" relationship" with al-Qaida. But the panel and the Senate Intelligence Committee have said there were contacts over the years between Iraq and the terror group. There is still a dispute about how close a connection al-Qaida has with militants in Iraq led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who the administration says was granted haven by Hussein.

Edwards accused the Bush administration of being "for outsourcing jobs."

Gregory Mankiw, a top Bush economic adviser, said in February that outsourcing is "something that we should realize is probably a plus for the economy in the long run." But later, Mankiw and other Bush administration officials said he was merely saying that outsourcing is a byproduct of trade expansion, which is a positive trend.

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