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The Debate: The War Versus the Surge

It happened fast and it was inevitable: John McCain wanted to talk about the success of the surge and did not want to address whether it was wise to start the Iraq war in the first place. Obama wanted to focus on the decision to go to war. He acknowledged some of the surge’s successes, but moved quickly to why the war was a terrible idea and actually weakened our efforts in Afghanistan and against Bin Laden.

The real debate was over which of these two ways of thinking about Iraq should loom largest in the minds of voters who are still undecided.

Obama scored one on defense: McCain’s claimed Obama had voted against funding the troops in Iraq. Obama argued that he favored funding the troops in a bill that included a timeline for withdrawal, and that McCain opposed a funding bill that included a timeline. Obama said he opposed a funding bill that included no timeline. Their difference was on the timeline, Obama said, not on funding troops. It was a clear way of talking about Senate procedure without making people’s eyes glaze over, or saying anything like poor John Kerry memorably did on a similar matter.

I thought Obama did well on the Iraq part of the debate, though I’m sure those who still support the war cheered McCain. But even a tie on foreign policy is a net plus for Obama.

By E.J. Dionne  | September 26, 2008; 10:25 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Next: The Debate: Senator Been There, Done That

Comments

why is obama so happy to be deferential and on the defensive to a crusty old liar?


hasn't the democratic party learned how to fight, yet?


i'll vote for neither of the collusionists, nor accept their illusions.

Posted by: forestbloggod | September 26, 2008 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Obama smoked McSame on Iraq because, unfortunately, McSame [to quote Charlie Daniels] Is "still in Saigon in his mind." Iraq is the war he HAS to win and that is why he keeps playing the POW card. I thought Barrack should have called him on his voting record of voting agaist veterans including his recent vote against the GI Bill. Considering how much the senator from Arizona is supposed to be the foreign policy expert, Obama gave him as good, if not better, than he got.

Posted by: braultrl | September 26, 2008 10:58 PM | Report abuse

McCain is still too stuck in the war of his generation: Vietnam. He wants to be fighting that war and hasn't transitioned into the 20th C. And by the way, he was talking "tactic" rather than "strategy." I think McCain has a hard time seeing the larger picture on a lot of things. He's caught in details. Obama shows the "Big Picture" kind of thinking. What we need in the 21st C.

Also McCain sadly is too much the old guy acting condescending and disapproving -- coming across as stony, cold, petulant, and occasionally allowing his voice to shake with emotion -- but not in an effective way. If he was trying to connect with voters, he won't -- at all --with young people.

The "my friends" thing is really old. Very grandfatherly.

Posted by: cturtle1 | September 26, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse

McCain told lies like he does on the campaign trail. Check the facts. Obama defended his record which was right.

Posted by: MILLER123 | September 26, 2008 11:28 PM | Report abuse

ABC News' Teddy Davis, Arnab Datta, and Rigel Anderson Report: During an interview with CBS News' Katie Couric which aired Thursday evening, Sarah Palin called Barack Obama "beyond naïve" for wanting to talk "without preconditions" to rogue leaders.

"I think, with Ahmadinejad, personally, he is not one to negotiate with," said Palin, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "You can't just sit down with him with no preconditions being met."

"Barack Obama is so off base in his proclamation that he would meet with some of these leaders around our world who would seek to destroy America and that, and without preconditions being met," she continued. "That's beyond naïve. And it's beyond bad judgment."

Asked if she considers former Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to be "naïve" for supporting talks without preconditions, Palin said, "I've never heard Henry Kissinger say, 'Yeah, I'll meet with these leaders without preconditions being met.'"

Palin was overlooking that Kissinger (with whom she met earlier this week) has backed negotiating directly with Iran over its nuclear program and other bilateral issues -- a point which Couric reconfirmed at the closer of her interview.

"Incidentally," said Couric, "we confirmed Henry Kissinger's position following our interview, he told us he supports talks if not with Ahmadinejad, than with high-level Iranian officials without preconditions."

When contacted by ABC News about the split in position with Kissinger, the McCain-Palin campaign had no immediate comment.

(You can play with words all you want but its obivious McCain and Palin don't know the people in their own corner. Listen to the question that was asked of the five heads of state. Kissinger can clean it up now Reporters are trying to debate the debates without checking facts.)

Posted by: MILLER123 | September 26, 2008 11:36 PM | Report abuse

I think it is very important to pound home how much McCain is still lying.

Obama won. Even Mark Halperin, the acknowledged purveyor of common wisdom who bends over backwards to support the GOP, said Obama won.

Posted by: MadAsHell3 | September 26, 2008 11:47 PM | Report abuse

President Palling, that got nice ring dont it. i wanna ride her holy rollercoaster for eight years. she one hottie beauty queen and got experience to she meet leaders at un say how ya doin she wear nice safety goggles and pile hair up high!!!!! and she nice to stacy courick said ill find stuff and get back to ya.!!!!!! macain palling o8!!!!!! yay team! Democracy paarty doomed they know start enough wars for mass instruction weapon.

Posted by: DaveMiner | September 26, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Let's looks at Obama's biggest lie: He's not going to raise taxes. He's on record as saying he's going to roll back Bush's tax cuts, which means my taxes go up. Call it what you will, your taxes will go up.
As for the war, if we pull out before Iraq is able to defend itself, Iran WILL move in and consolidate its power in Iraq. Those who think that won't happen are delusional. If we do not support Iraq, then Iran will. Do you really want Iran to get strong and have more oil revenues?? If we throw a withdrawal timeline, insurgents and Iran will sit and wait for that date to pass and then will move in to destabilize all the gains we made thus far. Invading Iraq is now a moot point, we’re there and we need to make sure we finish the job.

Posted by: HELOLUMPY | September 27, 2008 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Every morning when i wake up the first thing i do is thank the Lord i'm a Democrat..!!

Posted by: gatorsn09 | September 27, 2008 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Obama, John's name is not Tom nor is it Jim.

Getting rattled really made the standardly smooth Lawyer seem substandard.
Obama did make it clear he gets hot under the color a little more easily than Mc Cain. I was suprised by that.

It might have been Obama's arrogance at hearing himself speak so many times with applause , that he didn't expect Mac to have any debate sbility.

There was no doubt that once the decision was made where to wage this war, (rather than our streets or in a tunnel filled sand dune without high tech) we need to figure how to keep the sword in the heart of Islam.

I see no reason to go backwards on that decision and try to point old fingers, we are in it and we must decide what is best for our own best interest.

From World events in the recent news, it seems clear that Nato will have to step up in Iraq to keep the terrorists reporting back to fight there, instead of their turf.

When to hold and when to fold is the real question.
Mc Cain seems to have the savy to get us out in the right way.

Posted by: dottydo | September 27, 2008 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Obama, John's name is not Tom, nor is it Jim.

Getting rattled really made the standardly smooth Lawyer seem substandard.
Obama did make it clear he gets hot under the collar a little more easily than Mc Cain. I was suprised by that.

It might have been Obama's arrogance at hearing himself speak so many times with applause , that he didn't expect Mac to have any debate ability.


There was no doubt that once the decision was made where to wage this war, (rather than our streets or in a tunnel filled sand dune without high tech) we need to figure how to keep the sword in the heart of Islam.

I see no reason to go backwards on that decision and try to point old fingers, we are in it and we must decide what is best for our own best interest.

From World events in the recent news, it seems clear that Nato will have to step up in Iraq to keep the terrorists reporting back to fight there, instead of their turf.

When to hold and when to fold is the real question.
Mc Cain seems to have the savy to get us out in the right way.

I just picture World leaders that are intent on themselves dealing with todays Obama, and I think he might make a good President later on. He just needs to be a Senator and on some committees first.

I think after tonight he tinks so too.

Posted by: dottydo | September 27, 2008 12:16 AM | Report abuse

It really bothers when people simply say "the surge worked".

If all we mean is that it calmed things down for the moment, then sure, it worked. But we should be looking for long term stability.

The real effects of the invasion, and the surge, are yet to be seen. If we can carefully withdraw from Iraq and it doesn't crumble, then I'll be more likely to accept that the surge worked. Otherwise, it was just an expensive delay tactic. At this point, it's just too early to call.

Even if it turns out we successfully withdraw and "the surge worked", I'll still go on record predicting that this whole war was a waste of lives and money and goodwill. Iraq will not be measurably better off as a nation even 10 years from now because of this invasion. If they are, then I'll stand corrected.

Posted by: jafield | September 27, 2008 12:19 AM | Report abuse

To helolumpy, I guess you'd rather believe what you believe regardless of the facts. Obama has been on record for a very long time saying he would tax only the rich, which seems a pretty good idea now that we're going to have more massive debt, thanks to Republican administration of eight years. The war is part of that massive expenditure. Massive. Those who insist we "finish the job" or "win the war" cannot define what that looks like. Never. What does it mean? McCain never defines what it means either. Iran's leaders have been invited to meet with Iraq's democratically elected leader, and they held hands! They used to be enemies. They held each other in check. Now, who knows? Are we never going to leave? Is that how we win? McCain sees the details and is now very tired. Obama sees the whole picture. We need a leader for the 21st C.

Posted by: cturtle1 | September 27, 2008 12:22 AM | Report abuse

I was greatly relieved McCain didn't pull a line out: "There you go again." "Fuzzy math, fuzzy math."

Although I'm an Obama supporter, I thought it was pretty much a tie. However, I thought it was weird how McCain wouldn't look at Obama. Is this how McCain would treat another world leader, whom he considered an adversary? He looks like a mental case when he does that, like he can't act like a civil human being.

McCain's use of the word "naive" is particularly ironic, when he picked a VP who is beyond naive, to downright scary.

Pulling out of the debate initially, along with some of his statements in the last two weeks, I think will help some people on the fence see who is the dignified, thoughtful, "presidential" candidate, and who is the desperate, befuddled old man who will say or try anything to get elected, and often blurts out embarrassing things he has to try to explain, for which there is no valid explanation.

Posted by: MrGrug | September 27, 2008 12:26 AM | Report abuse

It's too simplistic to say that the "surge worked", as if that was all there was too it,adding troops.A lot happened concurrently,the Sunni and Shia stopped fighting each other (the only way to get us to leave), and the Iraqis military and Police have gotten better with the increase in training and experience. I think that our presence there created most of the problems that we've faced , we became the proverbial "unwelcome house-guests ". How can you know how to leave when you go in half-cocked...Bush style ?

Posted by: F7711 | September 27, 2008 12:42 AM | Report abuse

One thing that was pretty funny is how McCain who graduated almost last in his class kept saying that Obama "didn't understand"......I wish that Obama had busted him out on that.

Posted by: F7711 | September 27, 2008 12:46 AM | Report abuse

Which of the candidates gave us a better vision of how they'd deal with the maveric states, Iran, North Korea, Russia, without leading the US into another war?

McCain hasn't a clue & scares the pants off me.

Posted by: tornado888 | September 27, 2008 12:52 AM | Report abuse

"One thing Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus agree on is that Iraq is the center of the war on terror."- John McCain

Bin Laden loves that the US military is bogged down in Iraq bleeding young lives and billions of dollars and continuing to alienate much of the world, while effectively recruiting soldiers for the OBL army. He's playing Bush and McCain and Petraeus for fools and they've swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. "The surge is working. The surge is working." Oh, the blinding, seductive vapors of hubris...more deadly than all the armies and firepower that can be mustered.

Posted by: PeterSchweitzer | September 27, 2008 3:00 AM | Report abuse

Oh please. This is what is so distressing about the media today. Being IN THE TANK for Obama.

Obama was clearly outmatched. He was grasping at straws almost the whole time. Stumbling. Stuttering. Interrupting. Could barely name the key figures involved, including the name of the soldier who was KIA.

I really want the media to PROVE to me they are being journalists and not in the tank for Obama. Please answer the following questions:

1) Obama is still insisting Al Qaeda is stronger than ever. How does that jive with the WaPo's own story that AQ is getting "decimated" as a result of the success of the surge?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/29/AR2008052904116.html?nav=rss_world

2) Obama kept on insisting he knew the difference between "tactical" and "strategic," then uses the example of having Bin Laden in the sights in Pakistan and claiming that he would make the "strategic" decision to take him out then and there.

Please tell me again seriously that Obama knows the difference between making a tactical versus a strategic decision.

3) Obama insists that the surge was "tactical" but yet, surprise surprise, much of Iraq is now in control of the Iraqis, including Anbar province. There's been some major political reconciliation recently, too. So maybe the WaPo should ask Obama whether the Surge was, in fact, a strategic effort to introduce sustained stability so that socio-economic-political progress can be made or not.

Because all Obama kept on insisting was the surge was a short-sighted tactical move.

I could go on, but is it worth it? The media is so in the tank, that even a piss poor effort like the one displayed tonight by Obama (it was absolutely PAINFUL to rewatch Obama's responses) can be chalked up as "holding his own."

No wonder the media has a lower approval rating than even Bush.

Posted by: lavalight | September 27, 2008 3:58 AM | Report abuse

It's a shame that when McCain vows that we need to "win" in Iraq so that our blood and treasure will not be lost in vain, Obamma cannot truthfully note that the blood and treasure has indeed been shed in vain. After nearly six long years, the damage has been done in this pointless war of choice.

Posted by: Bartolo | September 27, 2008 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Someone must explain to me under what definition of the word "working" can anyone state "the surge is working." The goal of the surge *was* to bring about political resolution and get the troops home. At this point, there is no political resolution in Iraq (relative to pre-surge conditions) and the surge-level troop count is still in Iraq. Either McCain is imagining the state of affairs in Iraq or he's invented a new definition for the word "working."

Posted by: HonestLee | September 27, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

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