To hear Vice President Cheney tell it in Tuesday night’s debate, Democrats like John Edwards and John Kerry are the only Americans foolish enough or unpatriotic enough to complain about the administration’s management of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
“You’re not credible on Iraq,” a scowling Cheney told Edwards minutes into this year’s only vice presidential debate. The man whose imprint on the planning and implementation of the administration’s Middle Eastern military misadventure has been far firmer than that of President Bush ripped into Kerry and Edwards repeatedly in the heated first half hour of the debate. “These are two individuals who have been for the war when the headlines were good and against it when their poll ratings were bad,” Cheney said of the Democratic ticket, after speculating that pressure from Democratic primary rival Howard Dean — as opposed to mounting death tolls and a general sense that the occupation had degenerated into a quagmire — offered the only real explanation for why the Democratic ticket is now critical of the administration’s approach to the war.
But, this time, the vice president had trouble peddling the big lie.
Edwards trumped Cheney’s spin by unleashing what may well be the most powerful weapon in the Democratic arsenal this year: Republicans.
“(It’s) not just me that sees the mess in Iraq. There are Republican leaders, like John McCain, like Richard Lugar, like Chuck Hagel, who have said Iraq is a mess and it’s getting worse,” Edwards said, referencing three senior Republican senators. “And when they were asked why, Richard Lugar said because of the incompetence of the administration.”
Edwards hit Cheney where it hurts. Just as Cheney warps the truth beyond recognition when he spins his fantasies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and supposed links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network, so he also misleads when he claims that debates about Iraq break down along partisan lines.
There is no longer any credibility to the vice president’s constant claim that partisanship is the sole — or even the substantial — motivation of those who have criticized the administration’s multiple missteps in the prosecution of this unwise and unnecessary war.
Indeed, none of the criticisms that Edwards tossed Cheney’s way in Tuesday night’s debate between the Democratic and Republican contenders for the vice presidency was so devastatingly on target as the observation made several days ago by Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs of the Senate Foreign Committee.
“Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war (say) that we just simply will be greeted with open arms,” Lugar complained last month. “The lack of planning is apparent.”
By his choice of words, Lugar left little doubt about the identity of the most impaired of the administration’s blind optimists. Appearing on “Meet the Press” the Sunday before the war began, it was Cheney who declared, “We will be greeted as liberators.”