Steve Jarding, John Edwards' former campaign strategist, was representing the Democrats tonight on Hardball, matching wits with Rick Davis, the former John McCain campaign strategist, and host Chris Matthews.
Jarding in general did a good job standing up for the Kerry-Edwards ticket, and refuting some of the spin from Davis ... except when this question was posed by Matthews:
Matthews asked (and I'm paraphrasing): What would your guy have done after 9/11?
Matthews' follow-up (and I'm again paraphrasing): Would you have gone into Iraq?
These are reasonable questions to ask, and for as articulate and quick-witted as Jarding was otherwise in this rumble, he was a mush-mouth during the exchange on the war.
The problem, in part, is that Democrats allow themselves to be fenced-in by the GOP-framed question: What about Iraq? Or its variants: What would you do different in Iraq? What would your guy do differently to get us out of Iraq? The question immediately leads to a Democrat talking about international relations and alliances ant the U.N., which leads conservatives to talk about the French and the possibly bogus charges about UN scandals with the oil-for-food program in Iraq.
(A side note: The source of information for that "scandal" charge was Ahmed Chalabi. The same Ahmed Chalabi who the Bush administration charges lied to them about Iraq. The charge is being investigated by former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, but nothing has been proven, and Chalabi thus far has failed to provide ample documentation to prove his charge).
Here's how the Democrats should answer the question (I'll add a couple of responses to what I imagine the Rick Davises of the world would say):
MATTHEWS: What would your guy have done after 9/11?
DEMOCRAT: Chris, we had the world behind us after 9/11. Everyone was saying 'We're Americans, too." A Democratic president would have used that worldwide support to go after and dismantle Al Qaeda, no matter how long and arduous that process was. A Democratic president would have been prepared even to ruffle feathers among some of our allies, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to crush Osama Bin Laden.
MATTHEWS: Would you have gone after Iraq?
DEMOCRAT: Of course not. Six days after 9/11, we knew Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So the war in Iraq would have been unnecessary in fighting the real culprits of 9/11 -- Al Qaeda.
DAVIS: See, these guys want you to believe it would be better for Saddam to be in power and torture ...
DEMOCRAT: That's just spin, Rick, and you know it. Saddam was a horrendous dictator who committed brutal crimes against humanity. And yes, he was a patron of terror in supporting the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. But that battle should have been left for another day, Rick. Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda attacking us. And there's no way you can spin that, Rick.
MATTHEWS: But your man, Kerry, and Edwards, too, voted for the war ...
DEMOCRAT: They voted to give the president the authority to go to war as a last resort. The president didn't do that. And let's face it: the Senate was working off intelligence provided to them by the Bush administration, cherry-picked from flawed CIA intelligence. Now, Iraq has become a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda has committed a seeminly endless series of terrorist acts against our citizens and our allies. That's wrong, and this president should be held accountable.
Just once, I'd like to see a Democrat frame his answer around the idea that the guy who attacked us is still at large, rather than allowing the conservatives and their pundit friends -- and the weak-kneed talk show hosts -- to frame the question for them, and thus fence them into a discussion of Iraq and nothing else.
One other note: The "First Choice" Bush-Cheney ad (the one featuring John McCain) provides an interesting montage of images that says tons about how Bush-Cheney 2004 continue trying to spin the War on Terror. Watch it closely as we go from an image of an American soldier (presumably in Iraq) to an image of Osama Bin Laden, while John McCain discusses how this president "has not wavered" in the War on Terror.
Unless Osama himself is in Iraq, the message is clear: the war against Osama goes through Iraq.
Think about that, and ask yourself: Why isn't the media being tougher on this administration's continued efforts to claim "ties" or "contacts" between Saddam and Osama? Cheney is still out there, talking to the faithful, about the "long history" between the two.
Were there ties or contacts? The evidence suggests there was attempts, but beyond that, it's not clear. What we do know is that six days after 9/11, the Bush administration concluded that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11.
Instead of allowing the conservatives to frame the question -- Was it a tie or a contact between Iraq and Al Qaeda? Did some Iraqi meet with Mohammad Atta in Prague? Was there any Al Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11?-- why can't the weak-kneed media re-frame the question -- Has the administration proven that Iraq was behind 9/11? Was there proof that Iraq was planning an attack against the U.S., with or without Al Qaeda?
If the media refused to buy into the conservative framing of the question, the answer would be a lot easier for people to decipher.
Dan Abrams, the MSNBC host, chastised the American people recently (as written here in JABBS) about continuing to believe that Iraq was behind 9/11. Abrams refused to criticize Cheney or the Bush administration as a whole in its efforts to write legally correct but nonetheless misleading statements, a practice Cheney continues today.
No, neither Bush nor Cheney nor Rice nor Rumsfeld nor Powell said that Saddam was behind 9/11. But when Bush said that Iraq was an "ally of Al Qaeda and a patron of terror," among other statements, it's no wonder more than half of Americans polled at one point thought that was true (it's now closer to 30%).
Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard
columnist and conservative pundit, wrote a book about the "connections" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. His main source was documents that were quickly discredited by the CIA as being false. However, Cheney used those same documents to defend his statements tying Iraq and Al Qaeda, and has since praised Hayes' book, and more recently granted Hayes a lengthy interview, citing him as a favorite journalist.
Someone should remind the weak-kneed hosts about that the next time they book Hayes as a guest, or cite a Cheney statement on foreign policy. And maybe some Democrat can remember that the next time he or she is fenced-in about the Iraq and post-Iraq policies of Bush-Cheney.