Article

Questions Jim Lehrer Should Ask

1. Vice President Cheney, Speaker of the House Hastert and others have said, in so many words, that al Qaeda would like to see Senator Kerry elected. Assuming you agree with their assessment, could you please tell the American people what the evidence is on this? Don’t you think that, given the kind of threat this could represent to all Americans, you owe it to them to reveal the information so that they can make an informed choice in the election?

Earlier this month, Vice President Cheney said, “It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.” His comments echoed those of other leading GOP figures. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has said al Qaeda “would like to influence this election” against Bush, and suggested terrorists would be more comfortable with John Kerry as president. And Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage claimed that insurgents have stepped up their deadly assaults in Iraq because they want to “influence the election against President Bush.” None of these claims has been backed up with any evidence whatsoever.

Sources:
Cheney says U.S. will be “hit” if we elect Kerry
Hastert says al Qaeda roots for Kerry
Armitage says insurgents want Kerry to win

2. President Bush, you’ve said in the past that America will never ask for a permission slip to defend itself. But recently, you said that Fallujah wasn’t dealt with more aggressively because of concerns expressed by Iraqi politicians. Why are Iraqi politicians vetoing American military tactics?

Lt. Gen. James Conway, the outgoing U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of western Iraq – now deputy director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff – said in September that he disagreed with the hasty order that sent his troops to invade Fallujah in April, as well as the subsequent decision to withdraw from the city and turn over control to the disloyal Brigade. Conway said the disastrous assault increased tensions while making the region more hostile to U.S. forces: “We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah, that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge.” Instead, higher ups insisted on the attack, and then demanded troops pull out when the fighting grew fierce. “I would simply say that when you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, you really need to understand the consequences of that, and not, perhaps, vacillate in the middle of that. Once you commit to do that, you have to stay committed.” When asked by Bill O’Reilly to explain the administration’s hesitance, Bush responded, “There was a dual track with a political process going forward. A lot of people on the ground there thought that if we’d have gone into Fallujah at the time, the interim government would not have been established.”

Sources:
Conway Criticism
Bush on O’Reilly

3. Before the war, Gen. Eric Shinseki estimated “several hundred thousand troops” would be needed to secure the peace in Iraq. Have events proven Gen. Shinseki correct? Should America have gone in with more troops?

U.S. and foreign officials, including Army Commander John Abizaid, are indicating that more armed forces in addition to the 138,000 troops already in Iraq “will be needed over the coming months to secure the nation’s first democratic elections, to protect against the possibility of an insurgent offensive,” and to allow U.S. commanders to launch a major counteroffensive to quell an insurgent rebellion in the Sunni Triangle. In the march to war, Bush administration officials publicly rebuked Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki for his estimate that “several hundred thousand troops” would be necessary to provide security in post-war Iraq. At the time, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed Shinseki’s estimate as “wildly off the mark.” When Army Secretary Thomas White agreed with Shinseki, he was also disparaged.

Sources:
Wolfowitz repudiates Shinseki’s “suspect” estimate
On White and Shinseki’s public feuds with Pentagon
Iraqi insurgents getting stronger
Abizaid says more troops may be needed in Iraq

4. Mr. President, in 2000, you told members of the military that “help is on the way.” Yet the war in Iraq has stretched the military to the breaking point. Reenlistment is falling, tours of duty are longer, the National Guard and Reserve contribute about 40 percent of the troops in Iraq, and now you’ve been forced to call up the Individual Ready Reserve in what people call a back-door draft. Could you have done more to help the military?

The U.S. is relying on the National Guard and Reserve more than ever, with “citizen soldiers” comprising more than 40 percent of U.S. forces in Iraq alone. The administration’s failure to anticipate the demands of post-war Iraq has left guardsmen and reservists with insufficient notice before mobilization, forced thousands of soldiers into back-to-back deployments and left little backup in the event of another terrorist attack. As a result of the strains to the Guard, commanders across the country are concerned about their ability to recruit and retain troops. Reenlistment and retention rates are falling. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has warned that using reservists at this level is “unsustainable.” And this year, “the Army National Guard will fall 5,000 soldiers short of its recruiting goal.” But with Army planners preparing to maintain current troop levels in Iraq through 2007, it is unclear where the new soldiers will come from. Fearing “sharp declines” in recruiting and troop retention, Army officials are considering cutting the length of combat tours in Iraq, even as commanders consider asking for more troops to secure the January elections.

Sources:
On death toll for citizen soldiers
Guard commanders concerned about troop recruitment
Current troop levels unsustainable
CBO report says U.S. cannot maintain current troop strength
Army planners prepare for 2007
Army Guard sees recruiting shortfall

5. Republican Senator Richard Lugar said the administration has managed to spend just $1 billion of the $18.4 billion Congress approved to rebuild Iraq because of its “incompetence.” Republican Senator Chuck Hegel said, “We need more regionalization. We need more help from our allies.” Republican Senator John McCain said, “we made serious mistakes” in Iraq. Do you agree?

Appearing this month on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) said, “We’ve got to get the reconstruction money out there. That was the gist of our hearing this week, that $18 billion is appropriated a year ago and only $1 billion has been spent.” When asked why the money hadn’t been spent, Lugar replied, “This is the incompetence in the administration.” On Face the Nation, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said we were “in deep trouble in Iraq” and urged more “help from out allies.” John McCain (R-AZ), speaking on Fox News Sunday, cited mistakes such as the toleration of looting immediately after U.S. troops took Baghdad and failures to secure Iraq’s borders and prevent insurgents from establishing strongholds within the country. President Bush has offered no response to these statements, other than saying the critical senators support him for president.

Sources:
Lugar quote: ABC News Transcript, 9/19/04 (Available on Lexis)
140 out of 2,300 projects underway
Hagel says we’re in “deep trouble in Iraq”
Republicans criticize Bush “mistakes” in Iraq

6. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said we went to Iraq to avoid a “mushroom cloud,” but that country turned out to have no nuclear capability. Meanwhile, in the last four years we’ve pursued six-party negotiations with North Korea, and Kim Jung Il has quadrupled his nuclear arsenal. Did we miscalculate which country presented the most immediate nuclear threat?

Charles Pritchard—formerly Colin Powell’s top official dealing with North Korea—says, “the White House lacks an effective strategy to dissuade North Korea from building up its nuclear arms.” The Bush administration waited 18 months before making a serious proposal to North Korea, allowed its senior officials to make statements that were certain to hand it excuses to leave the discussions, thereby prolonging the crisis, and has spent an estimated 100 hours in three rounds of discussions with the six parties. Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear weapons potential has quadrupled in size from a suspected two weapons to as many as eight. According to Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, if the present course persists, North Korea will be “making about a dozen [weapons] a year, with every intention of selling them to terrorists and other willing bidders.” According to Pritchard, the situation has deteriorated because “the administration has neither offered much of a carrot nor wielded a stick.” The administration has refused to engage North Korea in direct negotiations or “put the North Koreans on notice that further developments will trigger economic sanctions or perhaps even military actions.”

Sources:
New York Times, Warnings Go Unheeded Over North Korea Threat
National Journal, Nuclear Terror: Has Bush Made Matters Worse?
Time Magazine,”Why Talking May Only Make the North Korea Situation Worse”
American Progress Report Card

7. After identifying Iran as a member of the Axis of Evil, you chose to focus on Iraq – which turned out to have no nuclear capability. Last week, Iran announced that it was going to pursue a nuclear program that would allow it to produce nuclear materials that could be used to build bombs. Did we miscalculate which country presented the most immediate nuclear threat?

The Bush administration’s own actions and policies have simultaneously encouraged Iran to pursue nuclear weapons while severely limiting our options for compelling Iran to abandon its fuel cycle programs. President Bush declared in his 2002 National Security Strategy that the United States would preemptively attack rogue regimes that pursued weapons of mass destruction. In his 2002 State of the Union address, he identified three of these regimes—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—as forming an “Axis of Evil.” The Bush administration then invaded Iraq, despite skepticism within his administration and among nuclear experts over whether Iraq was in fact actively pursuing nuclear weapons. The lesson this taught Iran (and North Korea) is that they should accelerate their weapons programs to deter a U.S. invasion.

Sources:
BostonGlobe, “US turning more to UN for help”
GlobalSecurity.org, “Target Iran—Air Strikes”
National Journal, “Nuclear Terror: Has Bush Made Matters Worse?”
New York Times, “Bush Aides Divided on Confronting Iran Over A-Bomb”

8. The 9/11 Commission says there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Vice President Cheney insists there was a collaborative relationship. Who is right?

Vice President Cheney said on Sept. 9 that Saddam Hussein “provided safe harbor and sanctuary…for Al Qaeda.” It was one of many times that Cheney has described a collaborative relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. There is no evidence to support Cheney’s claim. The 9/11 Commission – which spent months exhaustively studying the issue – concluded there was no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaeda. After the release of the 9/11 report, Cheney claimed there was “overwhelming” evidence of a relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq and that he had “probably” seen evidence that was not shared with the commission. After investigating the matter, the 9/11 Commission found “it had access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The commission also reaffirmed its position that it had not discovered a “collaboration-cooperation between al-Qaeda and Iraq.”

Sources:
Cheney on Sept. 9
Al Qaeda-Hussein Link Is Dismissed
Cheney disputes 9/11 Commission claim
9/11 panel confirms conclusions

9. The war in Iraq has cost American taxpayers about $145 billion – and you’re slated to ask for another $75 billion before the end of the year. Do you think you’ve spent the $145 billion in the best way possible? Or would this money have been better spent on key homeland security efforts like protecting our ports and securing nuclear materials?

So far, the Iraq war has cost American taxpayers roughly $150 billion. An additional $60 billion is expected to be allocated in a supplemental request after the November election. It was costing us $2 billion a year to keep Saddam contained. According to the 9/11 report, Iraq was not involved in the planning or execution of the Sept. 11 attacks and did not have a “collaborative operational relationship” with al Qaeda. However, many homeland security needs, as well as U.S. counterterror operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, have been underfunded or neglected because of Iraq. It would cost just $7.5 billion over ten years, for instance, to secure all of America’s ports against a terrorist attack, but so far just $500 million has been allocated. Seven billion dollars over five years could pay for 100,000 more community police officers, but the Bush administration’s FY2005 budget proposes just $97 million. Experts say the war has “increased the threats America faces, and has reduced the military, financial, and diplomatic tools with which we can respond.” A 2004 Harvard study shows that in the two years since 9/11, your administration has secured less of the nuclear materials that can be used to make weapons than in the two years before 9/11.

Sources:
Center for American Progress on opportunity cost of war
War has depleted resources to deal with terror

10. Mr. President, you claimed this week that “[the] Taliban no longer is in existence.” Yet, the death toll for Afghanis at the hands of the Taliban this year is 45 percent higher than last year. Can you explain your claim in light of this fact?

While the administration has worked to build a positive picture of its successes in Afghanistan, the situation on the ground tells a different story. Drugs, militants, terrorists and warlords continue to undermine security and democracy in the country. Opium production is expected to reach record high levels this year, and even the Bush administration’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, recently admitted that Afghanistan was in danger of becoming a “narco-state.” The Taliban have been making a steady comeback since their government was ousted by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001, and the Afghan death toll attributed to the group rose by 45 percent this year. Osama bin Laden and senior members of al Qaeda remain at large, and there are indications that senior al Qaeda leaders are involved in planning and directing attacks in Afghanistan. Warlords and armed militias continue to rule the countryside, creating instability and factional fighting, preventing the Karzai government from extending its authority and threatening the legitimacy of the Oct. 9 presidential election.

Sources:
Opium: Source 1 | Source 2
Taliban
Al-Qaeda
Warlords Source 1 | Source 2.