The Green Papers Commentary
 

FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2008
Friday 26 September 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
TheGreenPapers.com Staff


FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2008

Friday 26 September 2008

Location: Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts- University of Mississippi- Oxford, Mississippi

Subject: Foreign Policy and National Security

Moderator: Jim Lehrer- of the Public Broadcasting System's News Hour

Format: moderator asking a "lead question" of each candidate alternately; 2 minute response by the candidate to whom the question is directed, followed by a 2 minute response by the other candidate; "open discussion" of around 5 minutes (give or take) thereafter. Debate to last not all that longer than 90 minutes all told.

Scoring for 'The Green Papers' by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON TheGreenPapers.com Staff

Explanation of the SCORING SYSTEM used by 'The Green Papers' for the 2008 Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates


Round 1-- Lead Question asked of Senator Obama: At this very moment tonight, where do you stand on the Financial Recovery Plan?

Obama responds: We are at a defining moment in our History: our Nation is involved in two wars and we are going through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and, although we've heard a lot about Wall Street, those of you on Main Street- I think- have been struggling for a while and you recognize that this could have an impact on all sectors of the Economy.

So we have to move swiftly and we have to move wisely and I've put forward a series of proposals that make sure that we protect taxpayers as we engage in this important rescue effort. Number 1: we've got to make sure that we've got oversight over this whole process... Number 2: we've got to make sure that taxpayers, when they are putting their money at risk, have the possibility of getting that money back and gains if... and when the market returns. Number 3: we've got to make sure that none of that money is going to pad CEO bank accounts or to promote golden parachutes. And Number 4: we've got to make sure that we're helping homeowners, because the root problem here has to do with the foreclosures that are taking place all across the country.

Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain- a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most and, somehow, prosperity will trickle down: it hasn't worked and I think that the fundamentals of the Economy have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake...

McCain responds: I've been not feeling too great about a lot of things lately: so have a lot of Americans who are facing challenges- but I'm feeling a little better tonight and I'll tell you why: because as we're here tonight in this debate, we are seeing, for the first time in a long time, Republicans and Democrats together, sitting down, trying to work out a solution to this fiscal crisis that we're in.

And have no doubt about the magnitude of this crisis- and we're not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street, we're talking about failures on Main Street and people who will lose their jobs and their credit and their homes if we don't fix the greatest fiscal crisis... certainly in our time and I've been around a little while. But the point is... we have finally seen Republicans and Democrats sitting down and negotiating together and coming up with a package.

This package has transparency in it, it has to have accountability and oversight; it has to have options for loans to failing businesses rather than the government taking over those loans. It has to have a package with a number of other essential elements to it... I want to emphasize one point to all Americans tonight: this isn't the beginning of the end of this crisis, this is the end of the beginning- if we come out with a package that will keep these institutions stable and we've got a lot of work to do, and we've got to create jobs: and one of the areas, of course, is to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.

Open discussion...

Moderator: How do you all stand on the recovery plan?...Are you in favor of this plan?

Obama: We haven't seen the language yet and I do think that there's constructive work being done out there. So, for the viewers who are watching, I am optimistic about the capacity of us to come together with a plan. The question, I think, that we have to ask ourselves is: How did we get into this situation in the first place?

Two years ago, I warned that, because of the subprime lending mess, because of the lax regulation, that we were potentially going to have a problem and tried to stop some of the abuses in mortgages that were taking place at the time... so the question, I think, that we've got to ask ourselves is, yes, we've got to solve this problem short term and we are going to have to intervene: there's no doubt about that.

But we're also going to have to look at: how is it that we shredded so many regulations? We did not set up a 21st Century regulatory framework to deal with these problems and that, in part, has to do with an economic philosophy that says that regulation is always bad.

McCain: Let me point out: I also warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and warned about corporate greed and excess and CEO pay and all that. A lot of us saw this train wreck coming, but there's also the issue of responsibility... President Eisenhower, on the night before the Normandy invasion, went into his room, and he wrote out two letters: one of them was a letter congratulating the great members of the military and allies that had conducted and succeeded in the greatest invasion in history, still to this day, and forever- and he wrote out another letter, and that was a letter of resignation from the United States Army for the failure of the landings at Normandy.

Somehow we've lost that accountability... somehow in Washington today- and, I'm afraid, on Wall Street- greed is rewarded, excess is rewarded, and corruption- or certainly failure to carry out our responsibility- is rewarded. As President of the United States, people are going to be held accountable in my administration.

Obama: I think Senator McCain's absolutely right that we need more responsibility but we need it not just when there's a crisis. I mean: we've had years in which the reigning economic ideology has been what's good for Wall Street but not what's good for Main Street, and there are folks out there who've been struggling before this crisis took place and that's why it's so important, as we solve this short term problem, that we look at some of the underlying issues that have led to wages and incomes for ordinary Americans to go down, a health care system that is broken, energy policies that are not working- because, you know, 10 days ago, John said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound: I do not think that they are...

I just fundamentally disagree and, unless we are holding ourselves accountable day in-day out, not just when there's a crisis, for folks who have power and influence and can hire lobbyists- but for the nurse, the teacher, the police officer, who, frankly, at the end of each month, they've got a little financial crisis going on: they're having to take out extra debt just to make their mortgage payments- we haven't been paying attention to them...

McCain: Look, we've got to fix the system: we've got fundamental problems in the system and Main Street is paying a penalty for the excesses and greed in Washington, D.C. and on Wall Street. So there's no doubt that we have a long way to go and, obviously, stricter interpretation and consolidation of the various regulatory agencies that weren't doing their job, that has brought on this crisis.

But I have a fundamental belief in the goodness and strength of the American worker and the American worker is the most productive, the most innovative. America is still the greatest producer, exporter and importer- but we've got to get through these times: but I have a fundamental belief in the United States of America and I still believe, under the right leadership, our best days are ahead of us.

Scoring-- Round 1: A tough one to score. Both candidates well laid out their basic feelings on the Economy as a whole, as well as a Bailout Plan that was not yet in place at the time they were being asked to talk about it. Moderator Lehrer tried to focus them both back onto the original question- one that could not easily be answered for the reasons just stated- but to no avail. Senator Obama eventually brought up Senator McCain's recent statement that the American Economy was fundamentally sound (a position that I myself described in a very recent Commentary as at least "embarrassing"): McCain's rather lame defense seemed to be that he had been referring to "the goodness and strength of the American worker" as that which was "sound" and he ended with what amounted to a 'boilerplate' platitude that "our best days are ahead of us". Close, yes-- but Obama 10, McCain 9.

 

Round 2-- Lead Question asked of Senator McCain: Are there fundamental differences between your approach and Senator Obama's approach to what you would do as President to lead this country out of the financial crisis?

McCain responds: Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It's completely out of control... we have now presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society. We Republicans came to power to change government and government changed us... and we have former Members of Congress now residing in federal prison because of the evils of this earmarking and pork barrel spending...

As President of the United States, I want to assure you, I've got a pen... and I'm going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous- you will know their names...

Obama responds: Well, Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home State- whether it was for senior centers or what have you- until we cleaned it up and he's also right that oftentimes lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these kinds of requests, although that wasn't the case with me.

But let's be clear: earmarks account for $18 billion in last year's budget. Senator McCain is proposing, and this is a fundamental difference between us, $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country... Now, $18 billion is important- $300 billion is really important and, in his tax plan, you would have CEOs of Fortune 500 companies getting an average of $700,000 in reduced taxes while leaving 100 million Americans out.

So my attitude is: we've got to grow the Economy from the bottom up. What I've called for is a tax cut for 95 percent of working families... and, over time, that, I think, is going to be a better recipe for economic growth than the policies of President Bush that John McCain wants to follow.

Open discussion...

McCain: Senator Obama suspended those requests for pork barrel projects after he was running for President of the United States: he didn't happen to see the light during the first three years as a member of the United States Senate- $932 million in requests, a million dollars for every day that he's been in the United States Senate. Maybe to Senator Obama it's not a lot of money...

I hear this all the time: 'it's only $18 billion'. Do you know that it's tripled in the last five years? Do you know that it's gone completely out of control to the point where it corrupts people?... It's a system that's got to be cleaned up: I have fought against it my entire career... I didn't win 'Miss Congeniality' in the United States Senate.

Now, Senator Obama didn't mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs... that's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama: I want to cut spending, I want to keep taxes low- the worst thing we could do in this economic climate is to raise people's taxes.

Obama: I don't know where John is getting his figures: let's just be clear- what I do is I close corporate loopholes, stop providing tax cuts to corporations that are shipping jobs overseas so that we're giving tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States. I make sure that we have a health care system that allows for everyone to have basic coverage: I think those are pretty important priorities and I pay for every dime of it.

But let's go back to the original point: John, nobody is denying that $18 billion is important and, absolutely, we need earmark reform and, when I'm President, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely. But the fact is that eliminating earmarks alone is not a recipe for how we're going to get the middle class back on track and when you look at your tax policies that are directed primarily at those who are doing well, and you are neglecting people who are really struggling right now, I think that is a continuation of the last eight years and we can't afford another four.

McCain: Well, let me give you an example of what Senator Obama finds objectionable: the business tax. Right now, the United States of America business pays the second-highest business taxes in the world: 35 percent; Ireland pays 11 percent. Now, if you're a business person and you can locate anyplace in the world, then, obviously, if you go to the country where it's 11 percent tax versus 35 percent, you're going to be able to create jobs, increase your business, make more investment, etc.

I want to cut that business tax- I want to cut it so that businesses will remain in the United States of America and create jobs... So the point is: I want people to have tax cuts, I want every family to have a $5,000 refundable tax credit so they can go out and purchase their own health care. I want to double the dividend from $3,500 to $7,000 for every dependent child in America. I know that the worst thing we could possibly do is to raise taxes on anybody and a lot of people might be interested in Senator Obama's definition of 'rich'.

Obama: Here's what I can tell the American people: 95 percent of you will get a tax cut and, if you make less than $250,000- less than a quarter-million dollars a year- then you will not see one dime's worth of tax increase. Now, John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country and he's absolutely right. Here's the problem: there are so many loopholes that have been written into the tax code, oftentimes with support of Senator McCain, that we actually see our businesses pay effectively one of the lowest tax rates in the World... It's not like you want to close the loopholes: you just want to add an additional tax cut over the loopholes and that's a problem.

Just one last point I want to make, since Senator McCain talked about providing a $5,000 health credit: now, what he doesn't tell you is that he intends to, for the first time in history, tax health benefits. So you may end up getting a $5,000 tax credit- here's the only problem: your employer now has to pay taxes on the health care that you're getting from your employer and, if you end up losing your health care from your employer, you've got to go out on the open market and try to buy it. It is not a good deal for the American People but it's an example of this notion that the market can always solve everything and that, the less regulation we have, the better off we're going to be.

McCain: We had an Energy Bill before the United States Senate- it was festooned with Christmas Tree ornaments. It had all kinds of breaks for the oil companies: I mean, billions of dollars worth. I voted against it, Senator Obama voted for it... You've got to look at our records- that's the important thing.

Who fought against wasteful and earmark spending? Who has been the person who has tried to keep spending under control? Who's the person who has believed that the best thing for America is to have a tax system that is fundamentally fair? And I've fought to simplify it and I have proposals to simplify it: let's give every American a choice: two tax brackets, generous dividends and let Americans choose whether they want the existing tax code or they want a new tax code.

And so, again, look at the record, particularly the Energy Bill. But, again, Senator Obama has shifted on a number of occasions: he has voted in the United States Senate to increase taxes on people who make as low as $42,000 a year.

Obama: Look, it's just not true and, if we want to talk about oil company profits, under your tax plan, John- this is undeniable- oil companies would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks. Now, look, we all would love to lower taxes on everybody- but here's the problem: if we are giving them to oil companies, then that means that there are those who are not going to be getting them... We've got an emergency bill on the Senate floor right now that contains some good stuff, some stuff you want- including drilling offshore- but you're opposed to it because it would strip away those tax breaks that have gone to oil companies.

Scoring-- Round 2: Another close one. Parry and thrust, thrust and parry- particularly in the "open discussion" segment. But Senator Obama faltered here only because he did not immediately address Senator McCain's criticism of Obama's definition of "rich" (apparently directly related to McCain's later claim that Obama had voted to increase taxes on those making as little as $42,000 [thus, this figure would seem to be the "Obama rich/poor line" being claimed by McCain]) and, instead, simply fell back on his claim that 95 percent of Americans would not see any tax increase were he to be elected President. McCain 10, Obama 9.

 

Round 3-- Lead Question asked of Senator Obama: What are you going to have to give up, in terms of the priorities that you would bring as President of the United States, as a result of having to pay for the Financial Rescue Plan?

Obama responds: Well, there are a range of things that are probably going to have to be delayed. We don't yet know what our tax revenues are going to be: the Economy is slowing down, so it's hard to anticipate right now what the budget is going to look like next year- but there's no doubt that we're not going to be able to do everything that I think needs to be done. There are some things that I think have to be done:

We have to have Energy Independence, so I've put forward a plan to make sure that, in 10 years' time, we have freed ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil... We have to fix our health care system, which is putting an enormous burden on families... The third thing we have to do is we've got to make sure that we're competing in education: we've got to invest in science and technology... we've got to make sure that our children are keeping pace in math and in science and one of the things I think we have to do is make sure that college is affordable for every young person in America.

And I also think that we're going to have to rebuild our infrastructure, which is falling behind: our roads, our bridges- but also broadband lines that reach into rural communities. Also, making sure that we have a new electricity grid to get the alternative energy to population centers that are using them. So there are some things that we've got to do, structurally, to make sure that we can compete in this global economy. We can't shortchange those things- we've got to eliminate programs that don't work and we've got to make sure that the programs that we do have are more efficient and cost less.

McCain responds: No matter what, we've got to cut spending... As I've said: we've let government get completely out of control. Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate- it's hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left... the point is: we need to examine every agency of government.

First of all, by the way, I'd eliminate ethanol subsidies: I oppose ethanol subsidies... Particularly in defense spending, which is the largest part of our appropriations, we have to do away with cost-plus contracts: we now have defense systems where the costs are completely out of control. We tried to build a little ship called the Littoral Combat Ship that was supposed to cost $140 million, ended up costing $400 million, and we still haven't done it: so we need to have fixed-cost contracts. We need very badly to understand that defense spending is very important and vital, particularly in the new challenges we face in the world- but we have to get a lot of the cost overruns under control. I know how to do that.

Open discussion...

Moderator: But if I hear the two of you correctly neither one of you is suggesting any major changes in what you want to do as president as a result of the financial bailout? Is that what you're saying?

Obama: No. As I said before, Jim, there are going to be things that end up having to be deferred and delayed... I want to make sure that we are investing in energy in order to free ourselves from the dependence on foreign oil: that is a big project- that is a multi-year project.

Moderator: Not willing to give that up?

Obama: Not willing to give up the need to do it- but there may be individual components that we can't do. But John is right: we have to make cuts. We right now give $15 billion every year as subsidies to private insurers under the Medicare system: doesn't work any better through the private insurers- they just skim off $15 billion: that was a giveaway and part of the reason is because lobbyists are able to shape how Medicare works. They did it on the Medicaid prescription drug bill and we have to change the culture.

John mentioned me being wildly liberal: mostly that's just me opposing George Bush's wrong headed policies since I've been in Congress but I think it is that it is also important to recognize I work with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans who John already mentioned to set up what we call a 'Google' for Government saying we'll list every dollar of federal spending to make sure that the taxpayer can take a look and see who, in fact, is promoting some of these spending projects that John's been railing about.

Moderator: What I'm trying to get at this is this:.. one of you is going to be the President of the United States come January, in the middle of a huge financial crisis that is yet to be resolved- and what I'm trying to get at is how this is going to affect you... in major ways and the approach you take as to the Presidency.

McCain: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs. I think we ought to seriously consider that, with the exceptions of the caring of veterans, national defense and several other vital issues.

Obama: The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are underfunded: I want to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn't make sense.

Let me tell you another place to look for some savings: we are currently spending $10 billion a month in Iraq when they have a $79 billion surplus- it seems to me that, if we're going to be strong at home as well as strong abroad, that we have to look at bringing that war to a close.

McCain: Look, we are sending $700 billion a year overseas to countries that don't like us very much: some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. We have to have wind, tide, solar, natural gas, flex fuel cars and all that but we also have to have offshore drilling and we also have to have nuclear power. Senator Obama opposes both storing and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel: you can't get there from here...

Nuclear power is not only important as far as eliminating our dependence on foreign oil but it's also responsibility as far as climate change is concerned and the issue I have been involved in for many, many years and I'm proud of the work that I've done there along with President Clinton.

Moderator: Let me figure out a way to ask the same question in a slightly different way here. Are you willing to acknowledge- both of you- that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the country as President of the United States...? Is it going to have a major affect?

Obama: There's no doubt it will affect our budgets... Even if we get all $700 billion back- let's assume the markets recover, we're holding assets long enough that eventually taxpayers get it back- and that happened during the Great Depression when Roosevelt purchased a whole bunch of homes over time, home values went back up and, in fact, Government made a profit. If we're lucky and do it right, that could potentially happen- but, in the short term, there's an outlay and we may not see that money for a while and, because of the Economy's slowing down, I think we can also expect less tax revenue- so there's no doubt that, as President, I'm go doing have to make some tough decisions.

The only point I want to make is this: that, in order to make the tough decisions, we have to know what our values are and who we're fighting for and our priorities and, if we are spending $300 billion on tax cuts for people who don't need them and weren't even asking for them, and we are leaving out health care which is crushing on people all across the country, then I think we have made a bad decision- and I want to make sure we're not shortchanging our long term priorities.

McCain: Well, I want to make sure we're not handing the health care system over to the Federal Government, which is basically what would ultimately happen with Senator Obama's health care plan. I want the families to make decisions between themselves and their doctors- not the Federal Government.

Look, we have to obviously cut spending. I have fought to cut spending, Senator Obama has $800 billion in new spending programs: I would suggest he start by canceling some of those new spending program that he has. We can't, I think, adjust spending around to take care of the very much needed programs, including taking care of our veterans, but I also want to say, again, a healthy economy with low taxes without raising anyone's taxes is probably the best recipe for eventually having our economy recover and spending restraint has got to be a vital part of that...

We owe China $500 billion and spending, I know, can be brought under control because I have fought against excessive spending my entire career. And I've got plans to reduce and eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending and, if there's anybody here who thinks there aren't agencies of government where spending can be cut and their budgets slashed, they have not spent a lot of time in Washington.

Obama: John, it's been your President who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending- this orgy of spending and enormous deficits: you voted for almost all of his budgets. So to stand here and, after eight years, say that you're going to lead on controlling spending and, you know, balancing our tax cuts so that they help middle class families- when over the last eight years that hasn't happened- I think just is, you know, kind of hard to swallow.

McCain: It's well known that I have not been elected 'Miss Congeniality' in the United States Senate nor with the Administration. I have opposed the President on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoners on Guantanamo Bay, on the way that the Iraq War was conducted. I have a long record and the American people know me very well and that is as an independent and a maverick of the Senate and I'm happy to say that I've got a partner that's a good maverick along with me now.

Scoring-- Round 3: Another close one. Both candidates answered the question about as well as they could, given the fact that- as Senator Obama pointed out- there is no way to know just what the economic situation will actually be when either man takes office as President in less than four months' time. Where McCain stumbled a bit was in his idea of seriously considering an overall spending freeze (with the minimal exceptions he himself outlined)- a concept that seemed to come right out of "left field" (or. perhaps, "right field" would be the better analogy- as Senator McCain is, after all, a conservative); Obama took this round with his "hatchet instead of a scalpel" retort to McCain's proposal. Obama 10, McCain 9.

 

Round 4-- Lead Question asked of Senator McCain: Much has been said about the lessons of Vietnam: what do you see as the lessons of Iraq?

McCain responds: I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear: that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict. Our initial military success- we went in to Baghdad- and everybody celebrated and then the war was very badly mishandled.

I went to Iraq in 2003 and came back and said "we've got to change this strategy": this strategy requires additional troops, it requires a fundamental change in strategy and I fought for it and, finally, we came up with a great general and a strategy that has succeeded... and we are winning in Iraq. And we will come home with victory and with honor and that withdrawal is the result of every counterinsurgency that succeeds. And I want to tell you that now that we will succeed and our troops will come home, and not in defeat, that we will see a stable ally in the region and a fledgling democracy.

The consequences of defeat would have been increased Iranian influence, it would have been increase in sectarian violence, it would have been a wider war, in which the United States of America might have had to come back...

Obama responds: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference- because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place. Now, six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so- because I said that, not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn't finished the job in Afghanistan: we hadn't caught bin Laden, we hadn't put al-Qa'eda to rest and, as a consequence, I thought that it was going to be a distraction.

Now Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment and I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right, but that's not the case. We've spent over $600 billion so far- soon to be $1 trillion, we have lost over 4,000 lives, we have seen 30,000 wounded and- most importantly, from a strategic national security perspective- al-Qa'eda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001. We took our eye off the ball...

So I think the lesson to be drawn is that we should never hesitate to use military force- and I will not, as President- in order to keep the American People safe- but we have to use our military wisely and we did not use our military wisely in Iraq.

Open discussion...

McCain: The next President of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not; the next President of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind- that's the decision of the next President of the United States. Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure: recently, on a television program, he said it exceed our wildest expectations- but yet, after conceding that, he still says that he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today...

Senator Obama is the chairperson of a committee that oversights NATO that's in Afghanistan: to this day, he has never had a hearing- I mean, it's remarkable!

Obama: Look, I'm very proud of my vice-presidential selection, Joe Biden, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, as he explains, and as John well knows, the issues of Afghanistan, the issues of Iraq, critical issues like that, don't go through my subcommittee because they're done in the committee as a whole- but that's Senate "inside baseball".

But let's get back to the core issue here: Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families- they have done a brilliant job and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job but, understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war...

John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007- you talk about the surge. The war started in 2003 and, at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy, you said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were- you were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators- you were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shi'ite and Sunni- and you were wrong...

If the question is who is best-equipped as the next President to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure that we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.

McCain: I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy...

Two Fourths of July ago I was in Baghdad: General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans, whose enlistment had expired, were re-enlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom. I was honored to be there, I was honored to speak to those troops and, you know, afterwards, we spent a lot of time with them- and you know what they said to us? They said "let us win, we don't want our kids coming back here". And this strategy, and this general, they are winning: Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.

Obama: That's not true.

McCain: They just passed an election law just in the last few days: there is social, economic, progress and a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding and the people of the country then become allied with you- they inform on the bad guys and peace comes to the country and prosperity. That's what's happening in Iraq and it wasn't a tactic...

And that same strategy will be employed in Afghanistan by this great general and Senator Obama- who, after promising not to vote to cut off funds for the troops, did the incredible thing of voting to cut off the funds for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan---

Obama: First of all, let's talk about this troop funding issue because John always brings this up: Senator McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable, because he didn't believe in a timetable; I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable, and was open-ended, giving a blank check to George Bush. We had a difference on the timetable: we didn't have a difference on whether or not we were going to be funding troops.

We had a legitimate difference and I absolutely understand the difference between tactics and strategy. And the strategic question that the President has to ask is not whether or not we are employing a particular approach in the country once we have made the decision to be there- the question is: was this wise? We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate- we need more troops there, we need more resources there. Senator McCain, in the rush to go into Iraq, said, "you know what? We've been successful in Afghanistan. There is nobody who can pose a threat to us there". This is a time when bin Laden was still out and now they've reconstituted themselves: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there- but we can't do it if we are not willing to give Iraq back its country.

Now, what I've said is we should end this war responsibly- we should do it in phases but, in 16 months, we should be able to reduce our combat troops, provide some relief to military families and our troops and bolster our efforts in Afghanistan so that we can capture and kill bin Laden and crush al-Qa'eda. And, right now, the commanders in Afghanistan- as well as Admiral Mullen- have acknowledged that we don't have enough troops to deal with Afghanistan because we still have more troops in Iraq than we did before the surge.

McCain: Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama's plan is dangerous for America... and also General Petraeus said the same thing: Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus have one thing in common that I know of- they both said that Iraq is the central battleground. Now, General Petraeus has praised the successes but he said those successes are fragile and, if we set a specific date for withdrawal- and, by the way, Senator Obama's original plan: they would have been out last Spring before the surge ever had a chance to succeed.

And I don't understand why Senator Obama was surprised and said that the surge succeeded beyond his wildest expectations- it didn't exceed beyond mine, because I know that that's a strategy that has worked and can succeed. But if we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and adopt Senator Obama's plan, then we will have a wider war and it will make things more complicated throughout the region- including in Afghanistan.

Round 4-- Scoring: Generally, not a very good round for Senator Obama (and his having to cite his own running mate, Joe Biden, as knowledgeable about Foreign Policy didn't at all help). The debate having moved away from the economic issues of the day, Senator McCain clearly seemed to be on much firmer ground here. Obama, meanwhile, spent far too much time talking about why we shouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place, much as had John Kerry (to the detriment of his own ultimately losing presidential bid) four years earlier: the two key differences, however, between now and 2004 are 1. that, four years earlier, it was the Democratic candidate who had the military experience (between the two Major Party nominees)- of course, not at all the case nowadays and 2. in 2004, the Iraq war was still pretty much a mess; today the situation in Iraq has relatively stabilized and Senator McCain can, in large part, claim credit for this through his own having pushed for the surge before it was politically popular to have done so.

Indeed, the score here would have been 10-8 in McCain's favor were it not for that whole "strategy/tactics" thing: Obama (perhaps unadvisedly, considering the subject matter) clearly used the term "tactic" in the sense of "political tactic" and McCain thereafter tried to seize on this as further evidence of his opponent's lack of military experience, then went on to call "going into an area, clearing and holding" as a 'strategy' when, per the very dictionary definition, tactics is actually the more involved (since, in order to so "clear and hold" territory, troops have to already have been properly placed before the enemy [thereby they would have already addressed the overall strategic situation before so "clearing and holding" specific areas]). In the main, though, it's all a semantic difference and, in any event, Obama still lost the round. McCain 10, Obama 9.

 

Round 5-- Lead Question asked of Senator Obama: Do you think more U.S. troops should be sent to Afghanistan, how many, and when?

Obama responds: Yes, I think we need more troops- I've been saying that for over a year now and I think that we have to do it as quickly as possible, because it's been acknowledged by the commanders on the ground the situation is getting worse- not better. We had the highest fatalities among U.S. troops this past year than at any time since 2002 and we are seeing a major offensive taking place: al-Qa'eda and Taliban crossing the border and attacking our troops in a brazen fashion: they are feeling emboldened. And we cannot separate Afghanistan from Iraq, because what our commanders have said is "we don't have the troops right now to deal with Afghanistan". So I would send 2 to 3 additional brigades to Afghanistan.

Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in- where, in fact, there was no al-Qa'eda before we went in- but we have four times more troops there than we do in Afghanistan. And that is a strategic mistake, because every intelligence agency will acknowledge that al-Qa'eda is the greatest threat against the United States and that Secretary of Defense Gates acknowledged the central front- that the place where we have to deal with these folks- is going to be in Afghanistan and in Pakistan...

It's not just more troops: we have to press the Afghan government to make certain that they are actually working for their people and I've said this to President Karzai. Number 2: we've got to deal with a growing poppy trade that has exploded over the last several years. Number 3: we've got to deal with Pakistan, because al-Qa'eda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan, across the border in the Northwest Region and- although, you know, under George Bush, with the support of Senator McCain, we've been giving them $10 billion over the last seven years- they have not done what needs to be done to get rid of those safe havens and, until we do, Americans here at home are not going to be safe.

McCain responds: First of all, I won't repeat the mistake that I regret enormously and that is: after we were able to help the Afghan freedom fighters drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, we basically washed our hands of the region and the result, over time, was the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and a lot of the difficulties we are facing today- so we can't ignore those lessons of History.

Now, on this issue of aiding Pakistan: if you're going to aim a gun at somebody- George Shultz, our great Secretary of State, told me once- you'd better be prepared to pull the trigger. I'm not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan: so I'm not prepared to threaten it- as Senator Obama apparently wants to do, as he has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan. We've got to get the support of the people of Pakistan: he said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan. Now, you don't do that, you don't say that out loud- If you have to do things, you have to do things and you work with the Pakistani government.

Now, the new President of Pakistan... has got his hands full and this area on the border has not been governed since the days of Alexander the Great. I've been to Waziristan, I can see how tough that terrain is- it's ruled by a handful of tribes. And, yes, Senator Obama calls for more troops but what he doesn't understand- it's got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq- it's going to have to be employed in Afghanistan.

And we're going to have to help the Pakistanis go into these areas and obtain the allegiance of the people and it's going to be tough. They've intermarried with al-Qa'eda and the Taliban... But we have to get the cooperation of the people in those areas. And the Pakistanis are going to have to understand that that bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was a signal from the terrorists that they don't want that government to cooperate with us in combating the Taliban and jihadist elements. So we've got a lot of work to do in Afghanistan...

So it's not just the addition of troops that matters- it's a strategy that will succeed and Pakistan is a very important element in this and I know how to work with him. And I guarantee you I would not publicly state that I'm going to attack them.

Obama: Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here's what I said- and, if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know- that, if the United States has al-Qa'eda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out. Now, I think that's the right strategy- I think that's the right policy...

You're absolutely right that Presidents have to be prudent in what they say but, you know, coming from you- who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran- I don't know, you know, how credible that is...

Now, Senator McCain is also right that it's difficult- this is not an easy situation: you've got cross-border attacks against U.S. troops and we've got a choice. We could allow our troops to just be on the defensive and absorb these blows again and again and again- if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate- or we have to start making some decisions. And the problem, John, with the strategy that's been pursued was that, for ten years, we coddled Musharraf- we alienated the Pakistani population- because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th Century mindset that basically said, "Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he's our dictator" and, as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion and, in the meantime, they weren't going after al-Qaeda, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan. That's going to change when I'm President of the United States.

McCain: I don't think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power: everybody who was around then, and had been there and knew about it, knew that it was a failed state. But let me tell you, you know, this business about bombing Iran and all that- let me tell you my record:

Back in 1983, when I was a brand-new United States congressman, the person I admired the most- and still admire the most, Ronald Reagan- wanted to send Marines into Lebanon and I saw that, and I saw the situation, and I stood up, and I voted against that, because I was afraid that they couldn't make peace in a place where 300 or 400 or several hundred Marines would make a difference. Tragically, I was right: nearly 300 Marines lost their lives in the bombing of the barracks...

I supported us going into Bosnia, when a number of my own Party and colleagues was against that operation in Bosnia- that was the right thing to do, to stop genocide and to preserve what was necessary inside of Europe. I supported what we did in Kosovo: I supported it because ethnic cleansing and genocide was taking place there... In Somalia, I opposed that we should turn the force in Somalia from a peacekeeping force into a peacemaking force, which they were not capable of.

So I have a record: I have a record of being involved in these national security issues, which involve the highest responsibility and the toughest decisions that any President can make and that is to send our young men and women into harm's way. And I'll tell you: I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet with my son's name on it"... And then she said, "But, Senator McCain, I want you to do everything- promise me one thing, that you'll do everything in your power to make sure that my son's death was not in vain".

That means that that mission succeeds, just like those young people who re-enlisted in Baghdad, just like the mother I met at the airport the other day whose son was killed and they all say to me that we don't want defeat. The war that I was in, where we had an Army, that it wasn't through any fault of their own, but they were defeated and I know how hard it is for that- for an Army and a military to recover from that. And it did and we will win this one and we won't come home in defeat and dishonor and probably have to go back if we fail.

Obama: I've got a bracelet, too... No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they're carrying out the missions of their Commander in Chief and we honor all the service that they've provided- our troops have performed brilliantly. The question is, for the next President: are we making good judgments about how to keep America safe?- precisely because sending our military into battle is such an enormous step.

And the point that I originally made is that we took our eye off Afghanistan, we took our eye off the folks who perpetrated 9/11, they are still sending out videotapes and, Senator McCain, nobody is talking about defeat in Iraq but I have to say we are having enormous problems in Afghanistan because of that decision. And it is not true you have consistently been concerned about what happened in Afghanistan- at one point, while you were focused on Iraq, you said "well, we can 'muddle through' Afghanistan". You don't 'muddle through' the central front on terror and you don't 'muddle through' going after bin Laden- you don't 'muddle through' stamping out the Taliban. I think that is something we have to take seriously and, when I'm President, I will.

McCain: You might think that, with that kind of concern, that Senator Obama would have gone to Afghanistan, particularly given his responsibilities as a subcommittee chairman- by the way, when I'm subcommittee chairman, we take up the issues under my subcommittee! But the important thing is I visited Afghanistan and I traveled to Waziristan and I traveled to these places and I know what our security requirements are, I know what our needs are. So the point is that we will prevail in Afghanistan but we need the new strategy and we need it to succeed.

But the important thing is- if we suffer defeat in Iraq, which General Petraeus predicts we will if we adopted Senator Obama's set date for withdrawal- then that will have a calamitous effect in Afghanistan and American National Security interests in the region: Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand there is a connection between the two.

Round 5-- Scoring: Another win for McCain but, as with the last one, not as big a one as it could have been. Obama, in the main, acquitted himself better in this one (especially as regards McCain's claim that he was publicly proclaiming he would unilaterally attack Pakistan per se) but McCain wins the round because of his obvious superior knowledge of the more subtle nuances of Pakistani-American relations as well as of the difficulty of securing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. McCain 10, Obama 9.

 

Round 6-- Lead Question asked of Senator McCain: What is your reading on the threat to Iran right now to the security of the United States?

McCain responds: My reading of the threat from Iran is that, if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region, because the other countries in the region will feel the compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well. Now we cannot allow a second Holocaust- let's just make that very clear.

What I have proposed for a long time, and I've had conversations with foreign leaders about forming a League of Democracies- let's be clear and let's have some straight talk: the Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council. I have proposed a League of Democracies- a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals: they also control a lot of the world's economic power. We could impose significant, meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.

The Iranians have a lousy government so, therefore, their economy is lous-, even though they have significant oil revenues, so I am convinced that together, we can- with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world- we can affect Iranian behavior. But, have no doubt, that the Iranians continue on the path to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon as we speak tonight and it is a threat, not only in this region, but around the world.

What I'd also like to point out is that the Iranians are putting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq which are killing young Americans, there are special groups in Iran coming into Iraq and are being trained in Iran- there is the Republican Guard in Iran, which Senator Kyl had an amendment in order to declare them a sponsor of terror: Senator Obama said that would be provocative. So this is a serious threat to security in the world and I believe we can act with our friends and allies and reduce that threat as quickly as possible- but have no doubt about the ultimate result of them acquiring nuclear weapons.

Obama responds: Well, let me just correct something very quickly: I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist organization, I've consistently said so. What Senator McCain refers to is a measure in the Senate that would try to broaden the mandate inside of Iraq to deal with Iran and, ironically, the single thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in Iraq.

Iraq was Iran's mortal enemy- that was cleared away and what we've seen over the last several years is Iran's influence grow: they have funded Hizbollah, they have funded Hamas, they have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon- so, obviously, our policy over the last eight years has not worked. Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran- it would be a "game changer". Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in the Middle East.

Now here's what we need to do: we do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we're going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are- I think Senator McCain would agree- not democracies, have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon.

But we are also going to have to, I believe, engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran and this is a major difference I have with Senator McCain, this notion by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran, it has not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons. That will change when I'm president of the United States.

Open discussion...

Moderator (to McCain): Senator, what about talking?

McCain: Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without preconditions- without preconditions! Here is Ahmadinejad- who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map- and we're going to sit down, without preconditions, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the State of Israel and, therefore, then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying "they've probably been doing the right thing", because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior.

The point is that throughout History- whether it be Ronald Reagan, who wouldn't sit down with Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko until Gorbachev was ready with glasnost and perestroika, or whether it be Nixon's trip to China- which was preceded by Henry Kissinger, many times before he went. Look, I'll sit down with anybody, but there's got to be preconditions- these preconditions would apply that we wouldn't legitimize, with a face to face meeting, a person like Ahmadinejad. Now, Senator Obama said "without preconditions".

Obama: So, let's talk about this. First of all, Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran- so he may not be the right person to talk to. But I reserve the right, as President of the United States, to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it is going to keep America safe. And I'm glad that Senator McCain brought up the history, the bipartisan history of us engaging in direct diplomacy.

Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who's one of his advisers, and who, along with five recent Secretaries of State, just said that we should meet with Iran- guess what?- without preconditions: this is one of your own advisers! Now, understand what this means- "without preconditions": it doesn't mean that you invite them over for tea one day, what it means is that we don't do what we've been doing- which is to say, "until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you".

There's a difference between preconditions and preparation: of course, we've got to do preparations- starting with low level diplomatic talks- and it may not work, because Iran is a rogue regime but I will point out that I was called naive when I suggested that we need to look at exploring contacts with Iran. And you know what? President Bush recently sent a senior ambassador, Bill Burns, to participate in talks with the Europeans around the issue of nuclear weapons. Again, it may not work but, if it doesn't work, then we have strengthened our ability to form alliances to impose the tough sanctions that Senator McCain just mentioned.

And when we haven't done it, as in North Korea- let me just take one more example- in North Korea, we cut off talks. They're a member of the "axis of evil"- we can't deal with them. And you know what happened? They quadrupled their nuclear capacity- they tested a nuke, they tested missiles, they pulled out of the nonproliferation agreement and they sent nuclear secrets- potentially- to countries like Syria.

When we re-engaged- because, again, the Bush administration reversed course on this- then we have, at least, made some progress, although right now, because of the problems in North Korea, we are seeing it on shaky ground... So I just have to make this general point that the Bush Administration, some of Senator McCain's own advisers, all think this is important and Senator McCain appears resistant. He even said the other day that he would not meet- potentially- with the prime minister of Spain, because he wasn't sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean: Spain? Spain is a NATO ally. If we can't meet with our friends, I don't know how we're going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.

McCain: I'm not going to set the White House visitors' schedule before I'm President of the United States- I don't even have a seal yet. Look, Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face-to- face meetings between the President of the United States and Ahmadinejad- he did not say that. He said that there could be secretary-level and lower level meetings: I've always encouraged them- the Iranians have met with Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad.

What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand that, if without preconditions, you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a "stinking corpse" and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments. This is dangerous- it isn't just naive; it's dangerous and so we just have a fundamental difference of opinion.

As far as North Korea is concerned: our Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, went to North Korea. By the way, North Korea is the most repressive and brutal regime probably on Earth: the average South Korean is three inches taller than the average North Korean- a huge gulag. We don't know what the status of the dear leader's health is today but we know this, that the North Koreans have broken every agreement that they've entered into.

And we ought to go back to a little bit of Ronald Reagan's "Trust, but verify" and certainly not sit down across the table without preconditions, as Senator Obama said... I mean, it's just dangerous.

Obama: Senator McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the President would just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks- nobody's been talking about that and Senator McCain knows it. This is a mischaracterization of my position. When we talk about preconditions- and Henry Kissinger did say we should have contacts without preconditions- the idea is that we do not expect to solve every problem before we initiate talks.

And, you know, the Bush Administration has come to recognize that it hasn't worked, this notion that we are simply silent when it comes to our enemies. And the notion that we would sit with Ahmadinejad and not say anything while he's spewing his nonsense and his vile comments is ridiculous- nobody is even talking about that!

McCain: So, let me get this right: We sit down with Ahmadinejad and he says, "We're going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth"- and we say, "No, you're not"? Oh, please!

By the way, my friend- Dr. Kissinger, who's been my friend for 35 years- would be interested to hear this conversation and Senator Obama's depiction of his positions on the issue. I've known him for 35 years and I guarantee you he would not say that- "presidential top level". Of course, he encourages- and other people encourage- contact and negotiations and all other things- we do that all the time! And Senator Obama is parsing words when he says preconditions means preparation.

Obama: I am not parsing words.

McCain: He's parsing words, my friends.

Obama: I'm using the same words that your advisers use.

Round 6-- Scoring: Once again, John McCain was on firmer ground than Barack Obama- although, again, Obama ended up holding his own. The distinction between whether or not to talk to a foreign leader- especially the proverbial "potential adversary"- without the latter already having fulfilled demands that the latter first significantly alter his behavior is a classic clash between basic "Rightish" versus "Leftish" philosophies (in the former, one does not unnecessarily deign to "dine with the devil" at all; in the latter, one may choose to so "dine with the devil", so long as one brings along the proverbial "long spoon") and is, therefore, ever going to be in the eye of the beholder (after all: where one threatens to "take one's ball and go home" if the "rules" are not to one's liking, what then happens when the other players are able to, thereafter, get a new ball from elsewhere?). This one actually ended up a virtual tie-- but, under the very rules of 'Ten Point Must', the highest scoring can only be that very '10-9' which had pervaded this debate to this point, so- since it was Obama who found himself on the defensive throughout most of this round (especially at its very end), it has to be scored McCain 10, Obama 9.

 

Round 7-- Lead Question asked of Senator Obama: How do you see the relationship with Russia? Do you see them as a competitor? Do you see them as an enemy? Do you see them as a potential partner?

Obama responds: Well, I think that, given what's happened over the last several weeks and months, our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because a resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region. Their actions in Georgia were unacceptable- they were unwarranted and, at this point, it is absolutely critical for the next President to make clear that we have to follow through on the six-point cease-fire: they have to remove themselves from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is absolutely important that we have a unified alliance and that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st Century superpower- or power- and act like a 20th Century dictatorship.

And we also have to affirm to all the fledgling democracies in that region- you know: the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs- that we are, in fact, going to be supportive and in solidarity with them in their efforts- they are members of NATO. And, to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements and they should have a Membership Action Plan immediately to start bringing them in.

Now, we also can't return to a Cold War posture with respect to Russia- it's important that we recognize there are going to be some areas of common interest: one is nuclear proliferation. They have not only 15,000 nuclear warheads, but they've got enough to make another 40,000- and some of those 'loose nukes' could fall into the hands of al-Qa'eda. This is an area where I've led in the Senate- working with the Republican ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar- to deal with the proliferation of loose nuclear weapons: that's an area where we're going to have to work with Russia.

But we have to have a President who is clear that you don't deal with Russia based on "staring into his eyes and seeing his soul"- you deal with Russia based on: what are the national security interests of the United States of America? And we have to recognize that the way they've been behaving lately demands a sharp response from the international community and our allies.

.

McCain responds: Well, I was interested in Senator Obama's reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia- his first statement was, "Both sides ought to show restraint": again, a little bit of naivete there- he doesn't understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia and Russia has now become a nation fueled by petrodollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government. I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes, and I saw three letters, a "K," a "G," and a "B" and their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior.

I don't believe we're going to go back to the Cold War- I am sure that that will not happen, but I do believe that we need to bolster our friends and allies and that wasn't just about a problem between Georgia and Russia- it had everything to do with energy. There's a pipeline that runs from the Caspian through Georgia through Turkey and, of course, we know that the Russians control other sources of energy into Europe, which they have used from time to time- it's not accidental that the Presidents of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine flew to Georgia- flew to Tbilisi, where I have spent significant amount of time with a great young president, Misha Saakashvili- and they showed solidarity with them but, also, they are very concerned about the Russian threats to regain their status of the old Russian Empire.

Now, I think the Russians ought to understand that we- the United States- will support the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine, in the natural process, into NATO. We also ought to make it very clear that the Russians are in violation of their cease-fire agreement- they have stationed additional troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By the way, I went there once- and we went inside and drove in- and there was a huge poster- and this is Georgian territory- and there was a huge poster of Vladimir Putin, and it said, "Vladimir Putin, Our President". It was very clear, the Russian intentions towards Georgia- they were just waiting to seize the opportunity.

So, this is a very difficult situation: we want to work with the Russians but we also have every right to expect the Russians to behave in a fashion in keeping with a country who respects international boundaries and the norms of international behavior. And watch Ukraine- this whole thing has got a lot to do with Ukraine, Crimea, the base of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol and the breakdown of the political process in Ukraine between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko is a very serious problem. So watch Ukraine, and let's make sure that the Ukrainians understand that we are their friend and ally.

Open discussion...

Moderator (to Obama): Do you have a major difference with what he just said?

Obama: No, actually, I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues- obviously, I disagree with this notion that somehow we did not forcefully object to Russians going into Georgia: I immediately said that this was illegal and objectionable and, absolutely, I wanted a cessation of the violence, because it put an enormous strain on Georgia and that's why I was the first to say that we have to rebuild the Georgian economy and called for a billion dollars that has now gone in to help them rebuild, because part of Russia's intentions here was to weaken the economy to the point where President Saakashvili was so weakened that he might be replaced by somebody that Putin favored more.

Two points I think are important to think about when it comes to Russia- Number 1 is: we have to have foresight and anticipate some of these problems- so, back in April, I warned the Administration that you had Russian peacekeepers in Georgian territory: that made no sense whatsoever and what we needed to do was replace them with international peacekeepers and a special envoy to resolve the crisis before it boiled over. That wasn't done but, had it been done, it's possible we could have avoided the issue.

The second point I want to make is the issue of energy: Russia is, in part, resurgent and Putin is feeling powerful because of petrodollars, as Senator McCain mentioned. That means that we, as one of the biggest consumers of oil- 25 percent of the world's oil- have to have an energy strategy not just to deal with Russia, but to deal with many of the rogue states we've talked about: Iran, Venezuela. And that means, yes, increasing domestic production and offshore drilling, but we only have 3 percent of the world's oil supplies and we use 25 percent of the world's oil- so we can't simply drill our way out of the problem.

What we're going to have to do is to approach it through alternative energy- like solar, and wind, and biodiesel, and, yes, nuclear energy, clean coal technology- and, you know, I've got a plan for us to make a significant investment over the next ten years to do that...

Over 26 years, Senator McCain voted 23 times against alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel and so we've got to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to Energy Independence, because this is probably going to be just as vital for our economy and the pain that people are feeling at the pump- and, you know, winter's coming...- as it is our National Security and the issue of climate change that's so important.

McCain: No one from Arizona is against solar and Senator Obama says he's for nuclear but he's against reprocessing and he's against storing- so it's hard to get there from here. And offshore drilling is also something that is very important and it is a bridge and we know that, if we drill off-shore and exploit a lot of these reserves, it will help, at least temporarily, relieve our energy requirements and it will have, I think, an important effect on the price of a barrel of oil...

Obama: I just have to correct the record here: I have never said that I object to nuclear waste- what I've said is that we have to store it safely. And, Senator McCain, he says- he talks about Arizona: I've got to make this point, Jim. He objected---

McCain (interrupting): I have voted for alternate fuel all of my time- no one can be opposed to alternate energy.

Round 7-- Scoring: Again, both candidates held their own (though Obama again found himself largely on the defensive, even though the lead question was first asked of him here) but, once more, Senator McCain was on firmer ground here than Senator Obama. McCain pretty much clinched this Round through his noting that what was going on in the Caucasus had quite a lot to do with Ukraine's potentially holding onto the Crimean Peninsula (something I myself wrote about, on this very website, back on 17 August of this year in a response to a 'vox Populi', though, to be most fair, I roundly scored- in my Commentary to which the 'vox'er in question was replying- Senator McCain's own criticism of Senator Obama's initial reaction to the Georgian crisis [which was brought up in this Round] on the grounds that, unless one is prepared to- if necessary, militarily- remove the Russians from what is- per international [though, obviously, not Russian!] understanding- Georgian territory [as McCain himself said in this Round], such criticism is merely so much "Action confused with Accomplishment"). McCain 10, Obama 9.

 

Round 8 [Final Round]-- Lead Question asked of Senator McCain: What do you think the likelihood is that there would be another 9/11-type attack on the continental United States?

McCain responds: I think it's much less than it was the day after 9/11. I think that we have a safer Nation but we are a long way from safe. And I want to tell you that one of the things I'm most proud of- among others, because I have worked across the aisle: I have a long record on that, on a long series of reforms- but, after 9/11, Senator Joe Lieberman and I decided that we needed a commission and that was a commission to investigate 9/11 and find out what happened and fix it. And we were opposed by the Administration- another area where I differed with this Administration- and we were stymied until the families of 9/11 came and they descended on Washington and we got that legislation passed.

And there were a series of recommendations- as I recall, more than 40- and I'm happy to say that we've gotten written into law most of those reforms recommended by that commission: I'm proud of that work- again, bipartisan, reaching across the aisle, working together, Democrat and Republican alike. So we have a long way to go in our intelligence services- we have to do a better job in human intelligence and we've got to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don't ever torture a prisoner ever again.

We have to make sure that our technological and intelligence capabilities are better, we have to work more closely with our allies: I know our allies, and I can work much more closely with them but I can tell you that I think America is safer today than it was on 9/11- but that doesn't mean that we don't have a long way to go... we still have a long way to go before we can declare America safe and that means doing a better job along our borders as well.

Obama responds: Well, first of all, I think that we are safer in some ways- obviously, we've poured billions of dollars into airport security, we have done some work in terms of securing potential targets- but we still have a long way to go. We've got to make sure that we're hardening our chemical sites, we haven't done enough in terms of transit, we haven't done enough in terms of ports and the biggest threat that we face right now is not a nuclear missile coming over the skies- it's in a suitcase.

This is why the issue of nuclear proliferation is so important- the biggest threat to the United States is a terrorist getting their hands on nuclear weapons and we are spending billions of dollars on missile defense and I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons- but I also believe that, when we are only spending a few hundred million dollars on nuclear proliferation, then we're making a mistake.

The other thing that we have to focus on, though, is al-Qa'eda. They are now operating in sixty countries: we can't simply be focused on Iraq, we have to go to the root cause- and that is in Afghanistan and Pakistan: that's going to be critical. We are going to need more cooperation with our allies and, one last point I want to make: it is important for us to understand that the way we are perceived in the world is going to make a difference, in terms of our capacity to get cooperation and root out terrorism, and one of the things that I intend to do- as President- is to restore America's standing in the world. We are less respected now than we were eight years ago or even four years ago.

And this is the greatest country on Earth but, because of some of the mistakes that have been made- and I give Senator McCain great credit on the torture issue, for having identified that as something that undermines our long term security- because of those things, we, I think, are going to have a lot of work to do in the next Administration to restore that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill.

Open discussion...

Moderator (to McCain): Do you agree there's much to be done in a new Administration to restore---?

McCain (interrupting): But, in the case of missile defense, Senator Obama said it had to be- quote- "proven." That wasn't proven when Ronald Reagan said we would do SDI, which is missile defense and it was a major factor in bringing about the end of the Cold War. We seem to come full circle again: Senator Obama still doesn't quite understand- or doesn't get it- that if we fail in Iraq, it encourages al-Qa'eda. They would establish a base in Iraq: the consequences of defeat- which would result from his plan of withdrawal and according to date certain, regardless of conditions- according to our military leaders, according to every expert, would lead to possible defeat, loss of all the fragile sacrifice that we've made of American blood and treasure which grieves us all.

All of that would be lost if we followed Senator Obama's plan to have specific dates with withdrawal, regardless of conditions on the ground and General Petraeus says we have had great success but it's very fragile and we can't do what Senator Obama wants to do. That is the central issue of our time and I think Americans will judge very seriously as to whether that's the right path or the wrong path and who should be the next President of the United States.

Moderator (to Obama): You see the same connections that Senator McCain does?

Obama: Oh, there's no doubt. Look, over the last eight years, this Administration- along with Senator McCain- have been solely focused on Iraq: that has been their priority- that has been where all our resources have gone. In the meantime, bin Laden is still out there- he is not captured, he is not killed, al-Qa'eda is resurgent. In the meantime, we've got challenges, for example, with China, where we are borrowing billions of dollars: they now hold a trillion dollars' worth of our debt and they are active in regions like Latin America, and Asia, and Africa. The conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence, because we've been focused on Iraq.

We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens- not to mention, look at our economy: we are now spending $10 billion or more every month and that means we can't provide health care to people who need it, we can't invest in science and technology, which will determine whether or not we are going to be competitive in the long term. There has never been a country on Earth that saw its economy decline and yet maintained its military superiority- so this is a national security issue.

We haven't adequately funded veterans' care. I sit on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and I meet veterans all across the country who are trying to figure out, "How can I get disability payments? I've got post-traumatic stress disorder, and yet I can't get treatment." So we have put all chips in, right there, and nobody is talking about losing this war- what we are talking about is recognizing that the next President has to have a broader strategic vision about all the challenges that we face. That's been missing over the last eight years- that sense is something that I want to restore.

McCain: I've been involved, as I mentioned to you before, in virtually every major National Security challenge we've faced in the last twenty-some years- there are some advantages to experience, and knowledge, and judgment and I honestly don't believe that Senator Obama lacks the knowledge or experience and has made the wrong judgments in a number of areas, including his initial reaction to Russian aggression in Georgia...

You know, we've seen this stubbornness before- in this Administration- to cling to a belief that somehow the surge has not succeeded and failing to acknowledge that he was wrong about the surge shows to me that we need more flexibility in a President of the United States than that.

As far as our other issues that he brought up are concerned: I know the veterans, I know them well- and I know that they know that I'll take care of them and I've been proud of their support and their recognition of my service to the veterans. And I love them and I'll take care of them and they know that I'll take care of them and that's going to be my job.

But, also, I have the ability, and the knowledge, and the background to make the right judgments, to keep this country safe and secure. Reform, prosperity, and peace- these are major challenges to the United States of America. I don't think I need any on-the-job training: I'm ready to go at it right now.

Obama: Well, let me just make a closing point. You know, my father came from Kenya- that's where I get my name. And, in the '60s, he wrote letter after letter to come to college here in the United States because the notion was that there was no other country on Earth where you could make it if you tried- the ideals and the values of the United States inspired the entire world. I don't think any of us can say that our standing in the world now, the way children around the world look at the United States, is the same.

And part of what we need to do, what the next President has to do- and this is part of our judgment, this is part of how we're going to keep America safe- is to send a message to the world that we are going to invest in issues like education, we are going to invest in issues that relate to how ordinary people are able to live out their dreams and that is something that I'm going to be committed to as President of the United States.

McCain: Jim, when I came home from prison, I saw our veterans being very badly treated and it made me sad- and I embarked on an effort to resolve the POW/MIA issue, which we did in a bipartisan fashion, and then I worked on normalization of relations between our two countries so that our veterans could come all the way home. I guarantee you, as President of the United States, I know how to heal the wounds of war, I know how to deal with our adversaries and I know how to deal with our friends.

Moderator: And that ends this debate tonight.

Round 8-- Scoring: Barack Obama actually pulled this one out because Senator McCain never ever really addressed Obama's contention that the United States of America's standing in the world has been at least somewhat diminished as a result of the policies of the Bush Administration (does McCain agree or disagree?- and, if he agrees, what does he think should be done about it, if anything? Nothing at all was indicated on this score by the Arizonan): instead. Senator McCain got rather hung up on talking about his concern for veterans (something that actually was dangerous for Senator Obama to have brought up in the first place, given McCain's military service record-- but the Illinoisan got away with it) and "healing the wounds of war". In many ways, each candidate ended up using the final portion of the "open discussion" in this Round as, more or less, a 'Closing Statement' in a debate format that did not actually even allow for same. Obama 10, McCain 9.

 

FINAL SCORE: Senator McCain- 77, Senator Obama- 75.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Obviously, Foreign Policy is not at all Senator Barack Obama's strongest suit and Senator John McCain took full advantage of this (only faltering- as it were- towards the very end, as noted above re: the Scoring of 'Round 8'). Obama's score was actually aided by the Financial Crisis (and concomitant "Bailout Plan") having so recently occurred, thereby making the first 3 of these 8 rounds more on economic issues than on national security ones.

Still, neither candidate made a major "game-changing" gaffe (all Rounds were, it turned out, 10-9 scores: although, yes, one- Round 4- came rather close to being 10-8, as noted above) and, while each Major Party standard-bearer got their fair 'digs' at the other in the course of this debate, it was- all in all- a fairly wide-ranging discussion between the two candidates, itself a far cry from the Bush/Gore debates of 2000 and, in the main, there was very little "gotcha" being played herein.

Was it all so "senatorial" precisely because both men happen to be United States Senators? Future debates between these two will tell that tale!

 


Commentary Home