Tuesday, October 7, 2008

McCain, Obama Clash on Pakistan, US Economy, Energy Policy

In a town hall setting, US presidential hopefuls took questions from an audience of over 100 uncommitted likely voters selected by Gallup organization. In particular, the two candidates clashed over Pakistan, US economy and energy.


On Pakistan, the two candidates repeated their well-known positions articulated in the first debate and their policy speeches. As usual, Senator McCain advocated working with Pakistanis to win their support while Senator Obama insisted that the US must go after Al Qaeda and Taliban inside Pakistan. Senator McCain chided Sen Obama for talking loudly about going into Pakistan which will likely lessen support in Pakistan to go after the terrorists. He reminded Obama and the audience of President Theodore Rossevelt's motto to "talk softly but carry a big stick". Here's an excerpt of the transcript:

Katie Hamm( Audience Member): Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?

Obama: Katie, it's a terrific question and we have a difficult situation in Pakistan. I believe that part of the reason we have a difficult situation is because we made a bad judgment going into Iraq in the first place when we hadn't finished the job of hunting down bin Laden and crushing al Qaeda.

So what happened was we got distracted, we diverted resources, and ultimately bin Laden escaped, set up base camps in the mountains of Pakistan in the northwest provinces there.

They are now raiding our troops in Afghanistan, destabilizing the situation. They're stronger now than at any time since 2001. And that's why I think it's so important for us to reverse course, because that's the central front on terrorism.

They are plotting to kill Americans right now. As Secretary Gates, the defense secretary, said, the war against terrorism began in that region and that's where it will end. So part of the reason I think it's so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that's funding terrorism.

But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can't coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he's making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants.

What I've said is we're going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.

And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.

Brokaw: Sen. McCain?

McCain: Well, Katie , thank you.

You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly -- talk softly, but carry a big stick. Sen. Obama likes to talk loudly.

In fact, he said he wants to announce that he's going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable.

You know, if you are a country and you're trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can that they would act in a cooperative fashion.

When you announce that you're going to launch an attack into another country, it's pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us.

Now, let me just go back with you very briefly. We drove the Russians out with -- the Afghan freedom fighters drove the Russians out of Afghanistan, and then we made a most serious mistake. We washed our hands of Afghanistan. The Taliban came back in, Al Qaeda, we then had the situation that required us to conduct the Afghan war.

Now, our relations with Pakistan are critical, because the border areas are being used as safe havens by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and other extremist organizations, and we have to get their support.

Now, General Petraeus had a strategy, the same strategy -- very, very different, because of the conditions and the situation -- but the same fundamental strategy that succeeded in Iraq. And that is to get the support of the people.

We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan, where I visited, a very rough country, and -- and get the support of the people, and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel Taliban and others.

And by working and coordinating our efforts together, not threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.

Obama: Tom, just a...

Brokaw: Sen. McCain...

Obama: ... just a quick follow-up on this. I think...

McCain: If we're going to have follow-ups, then I will want follow-ups, as well.

Brokaw: No, I know. So but I think we get at it...

McCain: It'd be fine with me. It'd be fine with me.

Brokaw: ... if I can, with this question.

Obama: Then let's have one.

Brokaw: All right, let's have a follow-up.

McCain: It'd be fine with me.

Obama: Just -- just -- just a quick follow-up, because I think -- I think this is important.

Brokaw: I'm just the hired help here, so, I mean...

Obama: You're doing a great job, Tom.

Look, I -- I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Sen. McCain continues to repeat this.

What I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard me say, which is, if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should.

Now, that I think has to be our policy, because they are threatening to kill more Americans.

Now, Sen. McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible.

McCain: Thank you very much.

Obama: Sen. McCain, this is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don't think is an example of "speaking softly."

This is the person who, after we had -- we hadn't even finished Afghanistan, where he said, "Next up, Baghdad."

So I agree that we have to speak responsibly and we have to act responsibly. And the reason Pakistan -- the popular opinion of America had diminished in Pakistan was because we were supporting a dictator, Musharraf, had given him $10 billion over seven years, and he had suspended civil liberties. We were not promoting democracy.

This is the kind of policies that ultimately end up undermining our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and it will change when I'm president.

McCain: And, Tom, if -- if we're going to go back and forth, I then -- I'd like to have equal time to go -- to respond to...

Brokaw: Yes, you get the...

McCain: ... to -- to -- to...

Brokaw: ... last word here, and then we have to move on.

McCain: Not true. Not true. I have, obviously, supported those efforts that the United States had to go in militarily and I have opposed that I didn't think so.

I understand what it's like to send young American's in harm's way. I say -- I was joking with a veteran -- I hate to even go into this. I was joking with an old veteran friend, who joked with me, about Iran.

But the point is that I know how to handle these crises. And Sen. Obama, by saying that he would attack Pakistan, look at the context of his words. I'll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I'll get him. I know how to get him.

I'll get him no matter what and I know how to do it. But I'm not going to telegraph my punches, which is what Sen. Obama did. And I'm going to act responsibly, as I have acted responsibly throughout my military career and throughout my career in the United States Senate.

And we have fundamental disagreements about the use of military power and how you do it, and you just saw it in response to previous questions.

Brokaw: Can I get a quick response from the two of you about developments in Afghanistan this week? The senior British military commander, who is now leading there for a second tour, and their senior diplomatic presence there, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is well known as an expert in the area, both have said that we're failing in Afghanistan.

The commander said we cannot win there. We've got to get it down to a low level insurgency, let the Afghans take it over. Cowper-Coles said what we need is an acceptable dictator.

If either of you becomes president, as one of you will, how do you reorganize Afghanistan's strategy or do you? Briefly, if you can.

Obama: I'll be very brief. We are going to have to make the Iraqi government start taking more responsibility, withdraw our troops in a responsible way over time, because we're going to have to put some additional troops in Afghanistan.

Gen. [David] McKiernan, the commander in Afghanistan right now, is desperate for more help, because our bases and outposts are now targets for more aggressive Afghan -- Taliban offenses.

We're also going to have to work with the Karzai government, and when I met with President Karzai, I was very clear that, "You are going to have to do better by your people in order for us to gain the popular support that's necessary."

I don't think he has to be a dictator. And we want a democracy in Afghanistan. But we have to have a government that is responsive to the Afghan people, and, frankly, it's just not responsive right now.

Brokaw: Sen. McCain, briefly.

McCain: Gen. Petraeus has just taken over a position of responsibility, where he has the command and will really set the tone for the strategy and tactics that are used.

And I've had conversations with him. It is the same overall strategy. Of course, we have to do some things tactically, some of which Sen. Obama is correct on.

We have to double the size of the Afghan army. We have to have a streamlined NATO command structure. We have to do a lot of things. We have to work much more closely with the Pakistanis.

But most importantly, we have to have the same strategy, which Sen. Obama said wouldn't work, couldn't work, still fails to admit that he was wrong about Iraq.

He still will not admit that he was wrong about the strategy of the surge in Iraq, and that's the same kind of strategy of go out and secure and hold and allow people to live normal lives.

And once they feel secure, then they lead normal, social, economic, political lives, the same thing that's happening in Iraq today.

So I have confidence that General Petraeus, working with the Pakistanis, working with the Afghans, doing the same job that he did in Iraq, will again. We will succeed and we will bring our troops home with honor and victory and not in defeat.

Financial Crisis

On the current financial crisis, Senator Obama blamed the wave of deregulation during the Bush years under Republicans for the current crisis. He accused Sen McCain of supporting the deregulation that precipitated the current crisis. In response, Sen McCain accused the lack of oversight by the Democratic Congress and Democrats' long-standing support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in helping promote easy home loans to those who could not afford them. Here's the transcript on this part of the debate:

Clark: Well, Senators, through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time. And through this bailout package, I was wondering what it is that's going to actually help those people out.

McCain: Well, thank you, Oliver, and that's an excellent question, because as you just described it, bailout, when I believe that it's rescue, because -- because of the greed and excess in Washington and Wall Street, Main Street was paying a very heavy price, and we know that.

I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington to make sure that there were additional protections for the taxpayer in the form of good oversight, in the form of taxpayers being the first to be paid back when our economy recovers -- and it will recover -- and a number of other measures.

But you know, one of the real catalysts, really the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I'll bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.

But you know, they're the ones that, with the encouragement of Sen. Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back.

And you know, there were some of us that stood up two years ago and said we've got to enact legislation to fix this. We've got to stop this greed and excess.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate and some -- and some members of Congress defended what Fannie and Freddie were doing. They resisted any change.

Meanwhile, they were getting all kinds of money in campaign contributions. Sen. Obama was the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history -- in history.

So this rescue package means that we will stabilize markets, we will shore up these institutions. But it's not enough. That's why we're going to have to go out into the housing market and we're going to have to buy up these bad loans and we're going to have to stabilize home values, and that way, Americans, like Alan, can realize the American dream and stay in their home.

But Fannie and Freddie were the catalysts, the match that started this forest fire. There were some of us -- there were some of us that stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.

Brokaw: Sen. Obama?

Obama: Well, Oliver, first, let me tell you what's in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can't get loans.

If they can't get a loan, that means that they can't make payroll. If they can't make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off.

And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country.

So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and that's why we had to take action. But we shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Now, I've got to correct a little bit of Sen. McCain's history, not surprisingly. Let's, first of all, understand that the biggest problem in this whole process was the deregulation of the financial system.

Sen. McCain, as recently as March, bragged about the fact that he is a deregulator. On the other hand, two years ago, I said that we've got a sub-prime lending crisis that has to be dealt with.

I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman [Ben] Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it.

A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we've got to reregulate, and nothing happened.

And Sen. McCain during that period said that we should keep on deregulating because that's how the free enterprise system works.

Now, with respect to Fannie Mae, what Sen. McCain didn't mention is the fact that this bill that he talked about wasn't his own bill. He jumped on it a year after it had been introduced and it never got passed.

And I never promoted Fannie Mae. In fact, Sen. McCain's campaign chairman's firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae, not me.

So -- but, look, you're not interested in hearing politicians pointing fingers. What you're interested in is trying to figure out, how is this going to impact you?

This is not the end of the process; this is the beginning of the process. And that's why it's going to be so important for us to work with homeowners to make sure that they can stay in their homes.

The secretary already has the power to do that in the rescue package, but it hasn't been exercised yet. And the next president has to make sure that the next Treasury secretary is thinking about how to strengthen you as a home buyer, you as a homeowner, and not simply think about bailing out banks on Wall Street.

Brokaw: Sen. Obama, time for a discussion. I'm going to begin with you. Are you saying to Mr. Clark (ph) and to the other members of the American television audience that the American economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they ought to be prepared for that?

Obama: No, I am confident about the American economy. But we are going to have to have some leadership from Washington that not only sets out much better regulations for the financial system.

The problem is we still have a archaic, 20th-century regulatory system for 21st-century financial markets. We're going to have to coordinate with other countries to make sure that whatever actions we take work.

But most importantly, we're going to have to help ordinary families be able to stay in their homes, make sure that they can pay their bills, deal with critical issues like health care and energy, and we're going to have to change the culture in Washington so that lobbyists and special interests aren't driving the process and your voices aren't being drowned out.

Brokaw: Sen. McCain, in all candor, do you think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better?

McCain: I think it depends on what we do. I think if we act effectively, if we stabilize the housing market -- which I believe we can, if we go out and buy up these bad loans, so that people can have a new mortgage at the new value of their home -- I think if we get rid of the cronyism and special interest influence in Washington so we can act more effectively.

My friend, I'd like you to see the letter that a group of senators and I wrote warning exactly of this crisis. Sen. Obama's name was not on that letter.

The point is -- the point is that we can fix our economy. Americans' workers are the best in the world. They're the fundamental aspect of America's economy.

They're the most innovative. They're the best -- they're most -- have best -- we're the best exporters. We're the best importers. They're most effective. They are the best workers in the world.

And we've got to give them a chance. They've got -- we've got to give them a chance to do their best again. And they are the innocent bystanders here in what is the biggest financial crisis and challenge of our time. We can do it.


On energy, Sen McCain emphasized the need to drill for energy in the US now to reduce dependence on foreign nations and help stabilize or cut prices. Obama responded by saying that the focus must be on promoting alternative, sustainable sources like wind and solar. McCain accused Obama of voting for a bad energy bill laced with pork and huge tax breaks for the oil companies. Here's the part of the transcript related to energy:

Brokaw: Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?

McCain: I think pure research and development investment on the part of the United States government is certainly appropriate. I think once it gets into productive stages, that we ought to, obviously, turn it over to the private sector.

By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary with this back-and-forth. It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney.

You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me. I have fought time after time against these pork barrel -- these bills that come to the floor and they have all kinds of goodies and all kinds of things in them for everybody and they buy off the votes.

I vote against them, my friends. I vote against them. But the point is, also, on oil drilling, oil drilling offshore now is vital so that we can bridge the gap. We can bridge the gap between imported oil, which is a national security issue, as well as any other, and it will reduce the price of a barrel of oil, because when people know there's a greater supply, then the cost of that will go down.

That's fundamental economics. We've got to drill offshore, my friends, and we've got to do it now, and we can do it.

And as far as nuclear power is concerned, again, look at the record. Sen. Obama has approved storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

And I'll stop, Tom, and you didn't even wave. Thanks.

Who Won?

Overall, I think Barack Obama fared well in a format that is known to favor John McCain. I would still give McCain a slight edge on his knowledge of the substance discussed and the points argued. Senator McCain made a bold proposal to allocate $300b to buy out bad mortgages, although he did not get into the specifics of it. Even as Obama criticized Musharraf and Pakistan for trying to negotiate peace with militants, I was disappointed that there was not much discussion on the broad consensus now reportedly emerging among US, UK, NATO and UN that the Afghan war can not be won by military means alone; that political negotiations are necessary.


libertarian said...

If Obama doesn't trip he's through. McCain has that albatross called Palin round his neck.

On Pakistan, Obama has to overplay his hand - given he's up against a war hero POW. Does not mean McCain will not use that "big stick" he talks about.

On the economy - both are clutching at straws - like everyone except Paulson and Bernanke. Not clear if even they know how to fix this mess.

On energy policy, offshore drilling is a disastrous idea. That production takes 5-10 years to come online - it will make no material difference to the supply or the price of oil. Instead, doubling or tripling federal subsidies for pluggable hybrids and EV's will yield real results starting 2010. With current subsidies, a Chevy Volt buyer will get $7500 off a $40000 car. If that were $15k - $20k, Nissan, Toyota and Chrysler (who all have PHEV projects targeted at 2010) would show the same urgency as GM. Solving the transportation problem in the US solves the oil problem worldwide: US uses about 21M (25% of world consumption) barrels of oil per day - 66% is transportation.

Waiting for the day when we can kick those arrogant, illiterate Saudis in the butt and send them back to riding on camels.

Riaz Haq said...


You are probably right about Obama's chances of winning. As far as Palin is concerned, I think McCain needs her to excite his party's evangelical, conservative base. Without her, his chances of winning are close to zero.

On Pakistan, I think tough talk will hurt rather than help. Remember what happened when Bush said "Bring it on"? If there's anything we've learned from Iraq, it is that we should be more tempered and be prepared to use carrots with sticks. Even Bush, Gates and Petraeus now favor talks with militants in Afghanistan.

On economy, I agree that we are all in unchartered waters. It's not clear what will work but I think the recent bailout plus McCain's proposal to buy out bad mortgages will help.

On energy, I agree with you on the importance of pursuing alternatives but it won't be sufficient for a while. Markets will react positively to the news of new offshore drilling. With new technology, environmental problems can be minimized even with drilling and the use of fossils with carbon capture.