At Slate, Fred Kaplan thinks Dick Cheney got the better of John Edwards in large part because Edwards did not zing the Vice President for a long list of falsehoods he uttered through the course of the debate.
That's not the way I saw it.
But whether I'm right or Kaplan is, this is a very good example of how the debate itself is only the kick-off of the several day post-debate spin war.
True, perhaps Edwards didn't spell out how the vice president was lying through his teeth when he said: "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."
But that shouldn't stop every Democrat under the sun from flogging the point at every opportunity over the next forty-eight hours. The truth is that Vice President Cheney has repeatedly suggested that the Iraqis may have played a role in 9/11.
In this article out this evening, the Post notes just two cases where he pressed the long-since-discredited claim that Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in early 2001. Making that point is, of course, on its face suggesting a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.
A year ago September on Meet the Press he said that in invading Iraq we had "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."
And shortly before that he had this exchange with Russert ...
MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think itâs not surprising that people make that connection.
MR. RUSSERT: But is there a connection?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We donât know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didnât have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, weâve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the â90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.
We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in â93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of â93. And weâve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.
Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in â93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, weâve had the story thatâs been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but weâve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just donât know.
As I wrote at the time, in his discussion of the purported Iraqi tie to 9/11, Cheney provided the best explanation of why the Post found that 69% of Americans believed there was a connection. Why? Because government officials like Cheney keep lying to them about it.
Cheney's defenders may insist that he never outright claims there was a tie. But when Cheney says 'we don't know' presumably he's basing the veracity of that claim on the same principle by which he doesn't know that I can't bench press a thousand pounds.
In the absence of any appeal to common sense it's difficult to prove a negative.
But by dangling this 'we don't know' line repeatedly in front of viewers he was clearly trying to create the impression that the existence of a tie was an open question, despite the fact that at the time Cheney made his remarks US intelligence had found no credible evidence whatsoever of a connection. Moreover, the US had assembled a quite detailed and complete narrative of the people and networks involved in the attacks. And none of it involved any involvement by the Iraqis.
Time and again on this issue Cheney sought to deceive the American people. And tonight he denied ever having suggested there was a connection.
Purely on the basis of this evening's debate, Cheney has a mammoth credibility problem. Again and again he said things that were simply false. In the case of the Iraq-9/11 tie, I think there's no question but that he simply lied when he said he had never suggested there was a connection.
Yet Cheney is well-liked within the Washington establishment so it will be interesting to see whether the the big TV shows and major dailies are willing to call him on it.
It will be key for the Democrats to force the matter and tie it to the broader issue of the president's lack of credibility and fear of levelling with the American people.