Polls show President Bush lost the first debate against Democratic presidential contender John Kerry. Why? Bush failed to respond to Kerry's assertions.
Let's deal with them.
Did Bush irresponsibly use the "authority" given him by Congress? The president spent 18 months generating domestic and international support to deal with Saddam Hussein.
The president sought and obtained approval -- including John Kerry's -- for authority to use force. After all, Saddam stood in defiance of numerous United Nations resolutions and -- in a post-9/11 world -- what commander in chief could responsibly sit by and ignore a ruler who used chemical weapons on his own people; whose military fired on British and American planes patrolling the no-fly zones; whose regime paid $25,000 to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers; and who had ties (if not operational cooperation) with terrorist groups, including al Qaeda?
The intelligence community thought -- with good reason -- that Saddam stockpiled WMD.
Former Clinton CIA Director R. James Woolsey notes that Iraq admitted making 8.5 tons of anthrax, which -- reduced to powder -- could fill a dozen easily portable suitcases, and believes that Iraqi WMD-related material "probably" entered Syria months before the war. Former President Bill Clinton, on July 22, 2003, said, " . . . [I]t is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons [in Iraq]."
Did Bush fail to build a "genuine" coalition of nations? The president sought and received a unanimous U.N. resolution requiring Hussein to come completely clean about his WMD program. Anything short would trigger "serious consequences." Yet Kerry wishes us to believe that "serious consequences" meant something less than the war. Kerry calls the current coalition "coerced and bribed." Even though he voted for the authority to go to war, Kerry's most recent version says, "It is not the kind of coalition we were described when we were talking about voting for this." In 1991, with a "genuine" coalition for the Persian Gulf War, Kerry voted against it.
Were the inspections working? Define "working." Even Hans Blix acknowledged that but for America placing tens of thousands of troops around Iraq, Saddam Hussein would not have allowed the inspectors back in. Iraq Survey Group leader Charlie Duelfer concluded, "Now maybe [Saddam] didn't have weapons today, but I think there is certainly evidence of his intention to develop those weapons once the attention of the U.N. and the international community changed to other matters." Meanwhile, under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, companies from France and Russia -- among others -- aided Saddam in stealing as much as maybe $10 billion, with some money likely going into the hands of terrorists.
Did Bush divert attention and resources away from Osama bin Laden to pursue Saddam Hussein? Approximately 18,000 U.S.-led troops, working with some 70,000 Pakistani troops, patrol the Afghanistan/Pakistan border looking for Osama bin Laden. Would John Kerry support a knock-'em-down, house-to-house, pull-people-out-of-holes, stop-and-question-everybody approach? After all, Kerry said, as commander in chief, he intended to conduct more "sensitive" foreign policy. Does Kerry suggest that the commander in chief resolve one terror threat before going to another, expecting each terrorist to halt terrorist activity and patiently wait his turn to be dealt with?
Did Bush make the case that Saddam had something to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? The Bush administration never accused Hussein of specific involvement in the attacks. The 9/11 Commission did, indeed, find ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, but called them not operational. Should a president wait until they become operational?
Former Clinton CIA Director Woolsey said, "Iraq's ties with terrorist groups in the '90s are clear . . . with a decade of connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, including training in poisons, gases and explosives. There was no need to show that Iraq participated in 9/11 . . . describing occasional cooperation of the sort that is well chronicled was quite sufficient."
Is Iraq not even close to the center of the War on Terror? In December 2001, John Kerry said, "[Saddam] is and has acted like a terrorist, and he has engaged in activities that are unacceptable." A few days later, Kerry expounded, "I think we clearly have to keep the pressure on terrorism globally. This doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination. And I think the president has made that clear. I think we have made that clear. Terrorism is a global menace. It's a scourge. And it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, Saddam Hussein."
Should the United States have "tested" Iran by providing them with nuclear fuel? Even the Iranians scoffed at Kerry's assertion, pointing out they are capable of making their own nuclear fuel. "One should not put one's fate in the hands of others. It would [be] irrational," said Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. "What guarantees are there? Will they supply us one day, and then if they want to, stop supplying us another day?"
Come Nov. 2, expect the American people to draw a distinction between a debater and a leader.