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Matt Littman

Matt Littman

Posted: September 22, 2008 05:23 PM

Friday Night's Debate: How Obama Can Deliver the KO


Friday night will be given over to the McCain-Obama debate in our house. We have family in town, and one less chair as we make room for our baby to crawl around the living room. I may be standing for the entire debate, which is fine, because I'll be so anxious, I'll feel as if I'm the one in the debate. I know many of you will be on edge, too.

The Foreign Policy Debate is supposed to be right in McCain's sweet spot. But I believe foreign policy is McCain's weak spot, one that has not been exploited, but one that I believe Obama will pounce on on Friday night.

Here is where McCain is weak:

1. Iraq War - John McCain believed that we only needed 100,000 troops in Iraq. He thought the war would be quick. He even suggested, on the David Letterman Show, that it was Saddam Hussein who sent the anthrax-by-mail that terrified the nation a few years ago.

2. McCain, according to Sarah Palin, believes George should be in NATO. According to Palin, when asked if the U.S. would have to go to war with Russia to defend Georgia, Palin said, "Perhaps so."

3. McCain sang about bombing Iran. It was a joke, but considering his other statements about war, it's a little frightening.

4. So McCain would now be at war in Georgia; he's been belligerent on Iran; and he wants us in Iraq, according to his own statements, for 100 years.

Here is where McCain is strong:

1. The surge. He keeps saying he was right, and he's putting Obama on the defensive.

2. His personal history. We all know the story. It's very effective.

3. His years of experience. People may feel better with an experienced hand in the White House.

Here is how Obama must hit back on all three of McCain's strong points:

1. The surge - If we left Iraq today, there still may be a civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis. The point of the surge was to reduce violence and create a way for the Sunnis and Shiites to come together. That has not happened. If we left today, Senator McCain, would there be peace in Iraq? Of course not. I don't know whether there would be a civil war, but right now, the Sunnis and the Shiites are bolstered by our enormous troop presence. We can't stay forever. We went there because of WMDs that did not exist. We are now a 140,000 strong police force. The cost to us is in the billions, and we cannot afford to stay there forever. We've given the Iraqis every chance to reconcile. They have done some great things, with our help. The Sunni Awakening is one of them. They essentially forced Al-Qaeda out.

The surge also prevents us from fighting against the people who attacked us on 9/11 - those terrorists are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the National Intelligence Estimate, Al Qaeda is as strong as it was on 9/11, and the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden, is still at large.

We need to build up democratic institutions in Pakistan. We wasted millions on Musharraf. That money should have gone to build up schools and foment democracy (Sen. Obama: please do not use the word "foment" - I'm not sure what it means).

2. Personal history - John McCain is a war hero, we all know that, and there is no need to mention it again. Sen. Obama is awfully deferential in mentioning this point. It needs not be restated, unless Sen. Obama thinks that mentioning it will piss of McCain and cause him to lose his cool. McCain may see it as condescending. But otherwise, Sen. Obama, let it go.

3. Year of Experience - Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had years of experience. We all thought - many Democrats included - that their wisdom would serve this country well. In turns out that all it did was make them stubborn and they refused to see that we are in a new era, which means we have to fight in new ways. It's not enough to go out and kill terrorists, which must be done. We are in a war with Terrorists. Killing them is one part of our strategy. The other part is that we must promote democracy and democratic institutions. In many parts of the world, economies are in the tank, and desperate young kids are looking for an answer as to why their lives are so awful. Schools teach them that it is the fault of the great democracies, and as the greatest democracy, they are taught that we are the Great Satan. Well, we have to fight that message by bringing democratic institutions to the Middle East. We have to tie foreign aid to the creation of these institutions. We have to do a better job of telling the world what the United States is all about, because in these last eight years, our reputation has taken a hit, and there are parts of the world where Bin-Laden is more liked than the U.S. Now, we can dismiss those parts of the world and say they are foolish, but the fact is, this is where terrorism breeds. We have to fight back with the stick and the carrot. All the Rumsfeld and Cheney experience is not going to help, and while Sen. McCain says he wanted Rumsfeld out, the fact is - and it's an absolute fact - he agreed with Rumsfeld's initial plans for Iraq.

Sen. McCain will also fight back on Obama's statement that he'd meet with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. Don't back down on this one, either, Sen. Obama. Ronald Reagan met with Gorbachev, Nixon went to China, and the reason they did so is because they had something to promote - the United States, freedom and democracy. The best person to promote what we have is the President. You are our best messenger of hope and freedom. You think that Iran is going to benefit if Obama meets with their leaders? Sen. Obama has the power of the United States behind him - and it is in this country that anyone - even a kid with a single mom who grew up on food stamps - anyone can grow up to be anything. Can that happen in Iran? In Venezuela?

That's a powerful message, and it's a message that the world has not heard enough of for eight years, as we've sat back and tried to bludgeon our enemies into submission. Well, I'll tell you something. Ronald Reagan sold the message of the United States with his belief in this country and with his optimism. He was not afraid to stand toe-to-toe with Gorbachev. Barack Obama will not be afraid, either.

And let me remind us all of something: when the world needs a friend, it is the United States that is called upon. We are the world's essential nation. And we're proud of it. An example: Who among us is not proud when we airlift supplies into a typhoon-devastated region?
The people of this world still call upon us, they still have faith, they just want the United States back, because this world - the world of terrorism - needs us to stand tall, and stand as a beacon of light like that Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

These are my suggestions for how Obama can counteract McCain on foreign policy. Be tough. Never say "Carrot and stick." You're a Democrat - people will view you as soft and hear "carrot" and stop there. Emphasize "stick" - say it first - "Stick and carrot." It reads insignificant, but when Teddy Roosevelt said it, he was already viewed as a tough guy and he needed to emphasize "carrot." You don't. Trust me on this, and remember that on the issues, you are right and McCain is wrong.

McCain needs to win Friday night's debate. Sen. Obama needs to tie. That's the way it works in boxing - the champ needs to tie, the contender needs a knock out. But Obama's not the champ yet, and so he must go for the KO, too. Don't play it safe, Sen. Obama. Deliver the KO.