Obama and McCain on Afghanistan Neo-Cold War(Evil Empire )and Defense of Israel after Iranian attack.
From Debate 10-7-08
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.
Brokaw: Sen. McCain, this question is for you from the Internet. It's from Alden in Hewitt, Texas.
How can we apply pressure to Russia for humanitarian issues in an effective manner without starting another Cold War?
McCain: First of all, as I say, I don't think that -- we're not going to have another Cold War with Russia.
But have no doubt that Russia's behavior is certainly outside the norms of behavior that we would expect for nations which are very wealthy, as Russia has become, because of their petro dollars.
Now, long ago, I warned about Vladimir Putin. I said I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B. He has surrounded himself with former KGB apparatchiks. He has gradually repressed most of the liberties that we would expect for nations to observe, and he has exhibited most aggressive behavior, obviously, in Georgia.
I said before, watch Ukraine. Ukraine, right now, is in the sights of Vladimir Putin, those that want to reassemble the old Soviet Union.
We've got to show moral support for Georgia.
We've got to show moral support for Ukraine. We've got to advocate for their membership in NATO.
We have to make the Russians understand that there are penalties for these this kind of behavior, this kind of naked aggression into Georgia, a tiny country and a tiny democracy.
And so, of course we want to bring international pressures to bear on Russia in hopes that that will modify and eventually change their behavior. Now, the G-8 is one of those, but there are many others.
But the Russians must understand that these kinds of actions and activities are not acceptable and hopefully we will use the leverage, economic, diplomatic and others united with our allies, with our allies and friends in Europe who are equally disturbed as we are about their recent behaviors.
Brokaw: Sen. Obama.
McCain: It will not be a re-ignition of the Cold War, but Russia is a challenge.
Brokaw: Sen. Obama? We're winding down, so if we can keep track of the time.
Obama: Well, the resurgence of Russia is one of the central issues that we're going to have to deal with in the next presidency. And for the most part I agree with Sen. McCain on many of the steps that have to be taken.
But we can't just provide moral support. We've got to provide moral support to the Poles and Estonia and Latvia and all of the nations that were former Soviet satellites. But we've also got to provide them with financial and concrete assistance to help rebuild their economies. Georgia in particular is now on the brink of enormous economic challenges. And some say that that's what Putin intended in the first place.
The other thing we have to do, though, is we've got to see around the corners. We've got to anticipate some of these problems ahead of time. You know, back in April, I put out a statement saying that the situation in Georgia was unsustainable because you had Russian peacekeepers in these territories that were under dispute.
And you knew that if the Russians themselves were trying to obtain some of these territories or push back against Georgia, that that was not a stable situation. So part of the job of the next commander-in-chief, in keeping all of you safe, is making sure that we can see some of the 21st Century challenges and anticipate them before they happen.
We haven't been doing enough of that. We tend to be reactive. That's what we've been doing over the last eight years and that has actually made us more safe. That's part of what happened in Afghanistan, where we rushed into Iraq and Sen. McCain and President Bush suggested that it wasn't that important to catch bin Laden right now and that we could muddle through, and that has cost us dearly.
We've got to be much more strategic if we're going to be able to deal with all of the challenges that we face out there.
And one last point I want to make about Russia. Energy is going to be key in dealing with Russia. If we can reduce our energy consumption, that reduces the amount of petro dollars that they have to make mischief around the world. That will strengthen us and weaken them when it comes to issues like Georgia.
Brokaw: This requires only a yes or a no. Ronald Reagan famously said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?
Obama: I think they've engaged in an evil behavior and I think that it is important that we understand they're not the old Soviet Union but they still have nationalist impulses that I think are very dangerous.
Brokaw: Sen. McCain?
McCain: Depends on how we respond to Russia and it depends on a lot of things. If I say yes, then that means that we're reigniting the old Cold War. If I say no, it ignores their behavior.
Obviously energy is going to be a big, big factor. And Georgia and Ukraine are both major gateways of energy into Europe. And that's one of the reasons why it's in our interest.
But the Russians, I think we can deal with them but they've got to understand that they're facing a very firm and determined United States of America that will defend our interests and that of other countries in the world.
Brokaw: All right. We're going to try to get in two more questions, if we can. So we have to move along. Over in section A, Terry Shirey -- do I have that right, Terry?
Shirey: Senator, as a retired Navy chief, my thoughts are often with those who serve our country. I know both candidates, both of you, expressed support for Israel.
If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops in support and defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the U.N. Security Council?
McCain: Well, thank you, Terry (ph). And thank you for your service to the country.
I want to say, everything I ever learned about leadership I learned from a chief petty officer. And I thank you, and I thank you, my friend. Thanks for serving.
Let -- let -- let me say that we obviously would not wait for the United Nations Security Council. I think the realities are that both Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles.
And our challenge right now is the Iranians continue on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons, and it's a great threat. It's not just a threat -- threat to the state of Israel. It's a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.
If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all the other countries will acquire them, too. The tensions will be ratcheted up.
What would you do if you were the Israelis and the president of a country says that they are -- they are determined to wipe you off the map, calls your country a stinking corpse?
Now, Sen. Obama without precondition wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions. That's what he stated, again, a matter of record.
I want to make sure that the Iranians are put enough -- that we put enough pressure on the Iranians by joining with our allies, imposing significant, tough sanctions to modify their behavior. And I think we can do that.
I think, joining with our allies and friends in a league of democracies, that we can effectively abridge their behavior, and hopefully they would abandon this quest that they are on for nuclear weapons.
But, at the end of the day, my friend, I have to tell you again, and you know what it's like to serve, and you know what it's like to sacrifice, but we can never allow a second Holocaust to take place.
Brokaw: Sen. Obama?
Obama: Well, Terry, first of all, we honor your service, and we're grateful for it.
We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
And so it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it.
And we will never take military options off the table. And it is important that we don't provide veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests.
It is important, though, for us to use all the tools at our disposal to prevent the scenario where we've got to make those kinds of choices.
And that's why I have consistently said that, if we can work more effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions on Iran, if we can reduce our energy consumption through alternative energy, so that Iran has less money, if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it's an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.
Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks -- not just with our friends, but also with our enemies -- to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences.
If you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to re-join the community of nations.
Now, it may not work. But one of the things we've learned is, is that when we take that approach, whether it's in North Korea or in Iran, then we have a better chance at better outcomes.
When President Bush decided we're not going to talk to Iran, we're not going to talk to North Korea, you know what happened? Iran went from zero centrifuges to develop nuclear weapons to 4,000. North Korea quadrupled its nuclear capability.
We've got to try to have talks, understanding that we're not taking military options off the table.