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Amb. Marc Ginsberg

Amb. Marc Ginsberg

Posted: September 22, 2008 11:56 PM

Debate Prep #1: On Guard Against McCain


Friday's national security debate will take on a certain surreal quality, what with the financial crisis preoccupying both campaigns. But Sen. Obama is prepping amidst the chaos, and as a public service to him, I am writing this the first of a series of debate prep checklists of possible McCain lines of attack. Notice to McCain camp: Obama allies know what you are considering and what traps you are trying to set!

My next post will provide Sen. Obama my take on the likely questions he may be asked by Jim Lehrer (I've been reading previous presidential debate transcripts). And my third will recommend lines of attack against McCain.

The "Commander-in-Chief" Judgment Test & Iraq: Beware of McCain's plan to leverage the Iraq surge's success and your opposition to it as an attack on the honor and valor of the U.S. military. McCain will assert that your election will create a "crisis of confidence" in the U.S. military given your position on the surge. McCain will also try to "disqualify" you as an effective CinC given your lack of military service. He will try to equate your opposition to the surge as a failure to understand the real stakes in the struggle against "radical Islamic extremism" (see more below on this topic).

The "3am Wake Up Call": McCain may be accorded by Lehrer the opportunity to turn to you and ask a "doomsday" type of question such as explain how would you react if you were called by your national security advisor and told that the civilian leadership in Pakistan had been killed in a suicide bomb or that Israel has attacked Iran's nuclear installations.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: You know McCain will haul out the canard that you failed to convene any hearings as Chairman of the European Subcommittee and that is indicative of how little you cared about foreign policy when you were accorded the responsibility and he will rattle off a number of European crises to drill the point home.

Summits With Adversaries/Iran: You already know that McCain will attack you on your stated willingness to meet with adversaries. But he may go a step further and assert that your embrace of tough diplomacy is nothing more than semantics to camouflage the controversy. McCain will try to trap you into sounding more tentative about how you would handle Iran's nuclear program and what you would do if you were told that Iran had developed a nuclear weapon. He will equate your opposition to the overthrow of Saddam as an indication that you would be reluctant to use force against Iran despite your statements to the contrary.

Russia: McCain will assert that during the Georgia crisis your attentions were elsewhere and tentative in your response. He will try to lure you into an argument whether Georgia should become a full-fledged member of NATO. He will also challenge you on your position opposing Russia's removal from the G-8 group of democratic nations and assert that consequently you do not appreciate the gravity of Vladimir Putin's threats against Eastern Europe.

China: Beware of the Taiwan defense question with respect to China. McCain will try to trip you up on the Shanghai Declaration by claiming you do not understand the complexity of the U.S. - China relationship.

Bin Laden & Al Qaeda: Ironically, the "I will pursue Bin Laden to the gates of hell" McCain will assert that U.S. attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistani territory have destabilized Pakistan's government and you are a proponent of such attacks without understanding how important it is to preserve our alliance with Pakistan.

The Middle East/Iraq: McCain will contest your priorities in the Middle East. He will assert that had you had your way Al Qaeda would have taken over in Iraq and that you are going to commit the same errors Clinton committed in zealously pushing a Middle East peace process and negotiations with Syria (catering to those FL undecided voters no doubt). He will try to trip you up into refusing to assert that the real enemy in the region is "Radical Islamic Extremism" and that your refusal to use the phrase is testament to your misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy we face.

United Nations: McCain will try to paint you out as a naïve multilateralist who would place the future of U.S. security back in the hands of an institution that opposes U.S. interests.

Preemptive Unilateralism: McCain will assert that the U.S. must reserve the right to preemptively attack a country if it constitutes a "clear and present danger" to U.S. security and assert your opposition to this version of the Bush Doctrine will leave the U.S. weaker and that this proves you will never be willing to stand up to Iran.

Trade: McCain will claim your opposition to free trade will cost American jobs and an example of your being captive of special interests in Washington. He will try to show how your trade pact hesitation proves that you really reject one of the great legacies of the Clinton Administration.

Global Financial Crisis: McCain will come prepared with a laundry list of "to dos" to solve the international financial system and claim you have no plan to deal with it.

North Korea: North Korea claims it is rebuilding its nuclear reactor and McCain will claim that the U.S. must do everything possible, including the use of military force, to stop North Korea's nuclear program, and you may be pressed on this issue, as well.

I realize that this is merely a representative list of the lines of attack, and that Sen. Obama's expertly able debate preparation team is hopefully considering the same lines of attack, but just in case they may be missing one or two laundry list items...I hope this helps.