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Debate Analysis: What They Got Wrong [ Biden-Palin]

October 03, 2008
Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON - Sarah Palin and Joe Biden traded jabs, scored rhetorical points and occasionally stretched the truth or misspoke on foreign and domestic-policy issues in their vice presidential debate Thursday night.

Both candidates had some stumbles on foreign policy. Palin, in criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's Iraq policy, said that President Bush's Iraq troop "surge" plan had worked and that U.S. troop levels in Iraq are now back at pre-surge levels.

In fact, there are 152,000 troops in Iraq. There were 137,000 troops there before the surge.

Palin also said that Obama has refused to acknowledge that the surge worked, but in a Fox News interview last month, he said, "The surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated . . . I've always said it's succeeded beyond our wildest dream."

In Iraq, Palin said, "we're getting closer and closer to victory," and "victory is within sight" because of the surge.

That's far more optimistic than U.S. military commanders and analysts are. While the level of violence in Iraq is much improved, military commanders - and a report this week from the Pentagon - caution that the gains are fragile and threatened by a number of worrisome developments.

Most analysts also say that, while adding the extra troops in Iraq last year helped, other changes may have had more impact. These included the decision by radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr to agree to a cease-fire and a U.S. program that paid Sunni tribesman to fight Islamic extremists in their midst.

While talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, Palin incorrectly called the U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan "McClellan." The top military commander in Afghanistan is Army Gen. David McKiernan.

Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, misspoke when he said "we kicked - along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon."

Hezbollah, a radical Shiite Muslim group, is very much alive in Lebanon, part of the government there, and in fact more powerful than it's ever been.

Biden may have meant to say Syria, which under intense international pressure withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2005 after a two-decade-long presence.

On domestic issues, Palin attacked Obama, accusing him of voting 94 times to either raise or fight against tax cuts., a non-partisan watchdog Web site, called the claim "misleading."

According to FactCheck, Obama voted against proposed tax cuts 23 times. He also voted 11 times for increasing taxes on families earning more than $1 million a year to help pay for Head Start school nutrition programs.

Moreover, 53 of his votes were on non-binding resolutions on allowing scheduled tax cuts to expire.

Palin repeated a McCain campaign claim that Obama voted to raise taxes on Americans making as little as $42,000 a year, but that claim, too, is considered misleading. Obama voted for a non-binding resolution on budget guidelines assuming that the Bush tax cuts would expire on schedule in 2011. The resolution was not a vote to raise taxes.

Palin overstated Alaska's contribution to America's oil and natural gas needs. She said her state has "billions of barrels of oil and hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of clean, green natural gas." Natural gas is cleaner than oil or coal, but it still emits hydrocarbons when it's burned.

Alaska produces 3.5 percent of all U.S. energy, 13.7 percent of U.S. oil and 2.3 percent of U.S. natural gas, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration

Palin added that Alaska is building a "nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline which is North America's largest and most expensive infrastructure project ever to flow those sources of energy into hungry markets."

In fact, no building has begun, no federal pipeline approval has been issued and actual construction is years away - if it ever happens.

This summer the Alaska Legislature, at Palin's request, passed a law under which the state will issue a "license" to a Canadian energy company, TransCanada Corp., and pay it up to $500 million as an incentive to attempt this enormous project, which Alaska politicians have long sought with little success. The license is not a construction contract.

Palin also put the price tag for the project at nearly $40 billion, an exaggeration. This is roughly $10 billion more than most cost estimates industry players and consultants have made to date.

She also appeared to misspeak when she said that when she and others in the state legislature found out that Alaska had some millions of dollars investment in Sudan, they called for divestment "to make sure we weren't doing anything that would be seen as condoning the activities there in Darfur."

There's no evidence, however, that Palin had any part in the divestiture legislation, and one legislator who was involved said there's been no sign of her.