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"Rope-a-dope" or "No mas"?

Round-by-round scoring of the Cheney-Edwards debate. Who won? (Hint: not Gwen Ifill.)

12:49 AM, Oct 6, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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FIRST things first:

Round 1: Is there a link between al Qaeda and Saddam?

Cheney talks about Abu Nidal, the "relationship" with al Qaeda, and George Tenet's 2002 testimony about a 10 year relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam, and concludes that, "We did exactly the right thing." John Edwards comes out swinging: "You are still not being straight with the American people." He says "we need a fresh start" to deal with "the mess in Iraq." High rhetoric; zero specifics.

Round to Cheney

Round 2: Would Saddam still be in power if John Kerry and John Edwards had been in office?

The decoded version of Edwards's response amounts to: Umm, maybe? The senator takes the line that America should have acted unilaterally in Afghanistan at Tora Bora. Then he insists that there was "no connection" between Saddam and al Qaeda. Cheney responds that Edwards has his facts wrong. (Not that facts matter in these things, but Cheney is, objectively speaking, correct. See here and here and here and here--for starters.) Cheney then brings up Kerry's "global test" and the fact that he voted against Dessert Storm in 1991. "A little tough talk in the middle" of a campaign can't obscure a record of 20 years, he says.

Round to Cheney

Round 3: What is your plan to catch Osama?

Cheney doesn't have much of an answer, but mentions how two years ago Edwards claimed Afghanistan was about to descend into chaos and now the Afghan people are on the eve of their first election. "He just got it wrong," he says. He then makes the El Salvador parallel. Edwards's response: Iran and North Korea are getting nukes.

Round to Cheney

Round 4: What is a global test?

Edwards says that the global test is telling the truth and that "we're going to tell the truth." He also rings the 90 percent of cost and casualties bell.

Cheney replies: "The 90 percent figure is just dead wrong." Likewise the $200 billion Iraq price tag: "It wasn't $200 billion, you probably weren't there to vote for that. . . . Your facts are just wrong senator. . . . It's awfully hard to convey a sense of credibility to allies when you voted for the war, and then you declare wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. You voted for the war and then you voted against supporting the troops. . . you're not credible on Iraq because of the enormous inconsistencies of John Kerry and you have cited time after time . . . . whatever the political pressures of the moment requires, that's where you're at." And he's down!

Round to Cheney

Round 5: Do you think Kerry makes a terrorist attack more likely?

Cheney is quick to note that Republicans question Kerry's judgment, not his patriotism. He then goes on to blame Kerry and Edwards's vote against the $87 billion for Iraq on Howard Dean: "If they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?"

Edwards responds by saying that, "A long résumé does not equal good judgment." And that the real reason he and Kerry voted against the $87 billion was because "it was clear that they had no plan to win the peace." That and the fact that they just knew the money was going to go to "Halliburton." Somewhere in Vermont, Howard Dean is screaming at his television.

Round to Cheney

Round 6: How will Kerry internationalize Iraq when France and Germany won't step in no matter what?

Edwards: "We have a plan for Iraq!" From his answer, however, it appears that the Kerry-Edwards plan doesn't include France or Germany. Cheney makes the case that our most important allies are the Iraqis fighting for their country. He hits Kerry for dissing Allawi, saying he "demeaned" him on his recent visit. Edwards's suggestion "that somehow they shouldn't count" is "beyond the pale."

Round to Cheney

Round 7: Will you have sufficient intelligence to act in the future if the CIA is broken?

Edwards doesn't even pretend to answer the question. In fairness, neither does Cheney. (It's possible that this stems from the near incoherence of Ifill's wording.) But the vice president does discusses Zarqawi, and gives a succinct timeline of his career vis-à-vis the CIA memo. Again, an impressive command of detail.

Round to Cheney