While the state of the economy dominated the opening portion of last night’s debate, the focus later shifted to foreign policy. Voters questioned Senators Barack Obama and John McCain about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Israel and Iran. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up with the final highlights of the debate last night. After the economy, they talked, among other issues, foreign policy.
KATIE HAMM: 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?
SEN. BARACK 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 North-West 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. [...]
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.
TOM BROKAW: Senator McCain?
SEN. JOHN 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.” Senator 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 — 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.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Look, I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Senator 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, Senator 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.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you very much.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Senator 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."
TOM 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?
SEN. BARACK 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.
TOM BROKAW: Senator McCain?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Maybe.
TOM BROKAW: “Maybe.”
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Depends on how we respond to Russia, and 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.
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 US troops in support and defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the UN Security Council?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, thank you, Terry. 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 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, Senator 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.
TOM BROKAW: Senator Obama?
SEN. BARACK 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. 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.
AMY GOODMAN: Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain debating in town-hall-style in Nashville, Tennessee last night.
And this breaking news: the US Federal Reserve, Bank of England and European Central Bank have all cut interest rates by a half-point in a surprise coordinated move.