|Ivan and I watched the first presidential debate at a “debate party” last Friday evening. Dominos may have delivered. Ivan didn’t think the candidates’ did. In his own words, he was “underwhelmed.” Friends around the campfire Saturday night agreed.
I disagree with my brilliant, but sadly misled, spouse and our friends who viewed the debate on a tiny telly out in the wilds of Columbus. It was a 60-40 TKO on style for Obama. He looked calm, controlled and interested. John McCain was angry and combative. Foreign affairs have been John McCain’s strong point, according to the ever present, never silent 24 hour news services. But McCain did not show he had a vast knowledge of world events. His expertise faltered past the surge is working and David Patraeus is a great general. His fumbling over the name of Iran's leader was a little embarassing. It was like seeing a big piece of lettuce dangling from his tooth. One wanted to look away and pretend it was unnoticed.
To use the War in Iraq as his centerpiece is an example of the deaf ear John McCain has turned to the American people. Simply put, Americans don’t like this war and want it over. A recent CNN poll found that 71% of those surveyed thought spending on the Iraq War is hurting the economy.
The surge was supposed to give the Iraqi government time breathing space to marshal its resources and (finally!) train its military forces. The strategy was to reach a diplomatic/internal settlement without sectarian violence making it impossible to move forward to reconstituting Iraq. The tactic was sending in more American troops. Tactics support strategy. So, while the tactic of increasing force is succeeding, the strategy of turning over Iraq to the Iraqis doesn’t come up in the US media much. (I bring up strategy and tactics because the two candidates argued this point).
McCain dwelt on the part of the surge philosophy he got right. The violence has decreased. In fact, it has decreased to such a level that American troop losses have been greater in Afghanistan for the last several months. What he did not dwell on is what he defines as success and how soon after his “Mission Accomplished”, our troops can pull out.
Obama punched a soft spot on the McCain foreign policy expertise by insisting that Afghanistan, not Iraq, should be the center of our battle against terrorism. That's the current address of Mr. Terrorism Osama bin Laden. Obama has said repeatedly that force levels there are inadequate. The generals in charge of Afghanistan have given Congress the same information, asking for two more combat battalions. Last I saw they are getting one more Marine battalion.
Throwing more and more troops at the problem will not fix Afghanistan. Ask the Russians how that worked out for them. Afghanistan became their quagmire that took a decade from start to ignominious end. Obama wants the Kabul government to work for its people and he says the poppy trade must be dealt with. Pakistan is part of the Afghan problem and must be part of its solution.
John McCain correctly said that the American government washed its hands of Afghanistan with the defeat of the Russians by the CIA backed resistance. He's right. That was a mistake we'll pay for over and over in American lives and treasure.
If you didn’t watch the debate and you are getting your information from television’s Monday morning quarterbacks, I encourage you to go to CSpan.org and watch it for yourself. Of course, if you are like 40% of West Kentuckians with internet access, you only have dial up and won’t be able to.
Maybe equal access to the internet (we stand 17th in the world now in broadband access) will come up in another debate. Maybe the candidates will bring real world solutions to the table and not bingo cliche phrases.