Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Few New Insights from Sunday’s Democratic Presidential Debate

Sunday’s Democratic Presidential Debate at Drake University in Iowa was, more or less, a recap of recent barbs traded by Sens. Obama and Clinton, but did offer some new insights into the positions of other candidates.

As a quick breakdown of who said what…

Sen. Clinton reemphasized her opposition to meeting with leaders of adversarial countries without preconditions and to publicly discussing the potential use of nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

Sen. Dodd concurred, pointing out that Pakistani President Musharraf is “the only person that separates us from a jihadist government in Pakistan with nuclear weapons.”

Sen. Biden opined that the U.S. needs a Pakistan policy, not a Musharraf policy, while Gov. Richardson quipped that he’s already met the dictators in question.

And Sen. Obama, for his part, said that there’s not much difference between his critics and said that it’s “common sense” that “if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and we've exhausted all other options, we should take him out before he plans to kill another 3,000 Americans.”

Moderator George Stephanopoulos then pointed out that Sen. Clinton had previously said that she would take the nuclear option off the table regarding Iran and asked her about the difference between her and Obama’s comments. Clinton responded by saying that she was referring to a specific effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to drum up support for military action against Iran, including nuclear bunker busters, and repeated the importance of not talking about hypotheticals.

Obama retorted that he didn’t see a difference between the two sets of comments, adding, “No military expert would advise that we use nuclear weapons to deal with [al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan].”

Former Sen. Edwards agreed with Clinton to “not talk about hypotheticals in nuclear weapons” but stated that he would not only stop nuclear bunker busters, but would also “lead an international effort over time to eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet.”

Richardson wrapped up the point by saying that he, too, would not discuss hyptheticals involving nuclear weapons, and would declare a policy of no first use, would build international support for nuclear nonproliferation, and would pursue a “treaty on fissionable material,” presumably the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

Provided below are the excerpted highlights of the debate as they regard to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation. The full transcript can be found here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Clinton, you did tell the Quad City Times that Senator Obama's views on meeting with foreign dictators are naive and irresponsible. Doesn't that imply that he's not ready for the office?

CLINTON: Well, George, we had a specific disagreement, because I do not think that a president should give away the bargaining chip of a personal meeting with any leader, unless you know what you're going to get out of that.

It takes a lot of planning to move an agenda forward, particularly with our adversaries. I think the next president will face some of the most difficult international dangerous threats and challenges that any president has faced in a very long time.

We're going to have to mend fences with our allies. We're going to have to deal with global warming. We're going to have to get back on the track of trying to prevent nuclear proliferation -- and so much else.

So I think that, when you've got that big an agenda facing you, you should not telegraph to our adversaries that you're willing to meet with them without preconditions during the first year in office.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Dodd, you've called Senator Obama's views confusing and confused, dangerous and irresponsible. Do you think he's ready to be president?

DODD: Well, again, I'd certainly underscore the point that Senator Clinton has made here. The point I'd make on that, when I disagreed with my colleague from Illinois, was about the issue of whether or not a speech, a prepared speech, which suggested here a hypothetical situation and a hypothetical solution here -- that raised serious issues within Pakistan.

As I pointed out before, the only person that separates us from a jihadist government in Pakistan with nuclear weapons is President Musharraf. And, therefore, I thought it was irresponsible to engage in that kind of a suggestion here. That's dangerous. Words mean something in campaigns.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, it seems like your colleagues here don't want to reach the judgment that you've made. Why isn't Senator Obama ready?

BIDEN: Look, I think he's a wonderful guy, to start off, number one. It was about Pakistan we were talking about. The fact of the matter is, Pakistan is the most dangerous, potentially the most dangerous country in the world. A significant minority of jihadists with nuclear weapons. We have -- and I disagree with all three of my friends -- we have a Pakistan -- we have no Pakistan policy; we have a Musharraf policy. That's a bad policy. The policy should be based upon a long-term relationship with Pakistan and stability.


RICHARDSON: You know, it's interesting. You talk about the dispute between the two senators over dictators that -- should we; should we not meet?

I've met them already, most of them. All my life I've been a diplomat, trying to bring people together. …


OBAMA: … George, I don't actually see that much difference or people criticizing me on the substance of my positions. I think that there's been some political maneuvering taking place over the last couple of weeks.

I do think that there's a substantive difference between myself and Senator Clinton when it comes to meeting with our adversaries. I think that strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries. We shouldn't be afraid to do so.

We've tried the other way. It didn't work.

I think that, if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and we've exhausted all other options, we should take him out before he plans to kill another 3,000 Americans. I think that's common sense.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Clinton, one of the areas that -- one of the things that Senator Obama just talked about is that he thinks that some of your differences aren't as great as people have said.

Your campaign criticized Senator Obama after he made a comment ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Al Qaida, yet, here's what you said last year when asked about Bush administration reports that they might use tactical nuclear weapons in Iran. Take a look.


CLINTON: No option should be off the table, but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table. And this administration has been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way we haven't seen since the dawn of the nuclear age. I think that's a terrible mistake.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So Senator Obama rules out using them against Al Qaida. You rule out using them against Iran. What's the principal difference there?

CLINTON: Well, George, you've got to put it into context. I was asked specifically about what was, very clearly, an effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to drum up support for military action against Iran.

Combine that with their continuing effort to try to get what are called bunker-buster bombs, nuclear bombs that could penetrate into the earth to go after deeply buried nuclear sites.

And I thought it was very important. This was not a hypothetical, this was a brushback against this administration which has been reckless and provocative -- to America's damage, in my opinion.

So I think there's a big difference, and I think it's a difference that really goes to the heart of whether we should be using hypotheticals. I mean, one thing that I agree with is we shouldn't use hypotheticals. You know, words do matter.

And this campaign, just like every other things that happens in the United States, is looked at and followed with very great interest. And, you know, Pakistan is on a knife's edge. It is easily, unfortunately, a target for the jihadists. And, therefore, you've got to be very careful about what it is you say with respect to Pakistan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you accept that distinction?

OBAMA: There was no difference. It is not hypothetical that Al Qaida has established base camps in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That was acknowledged in the national intelligence estimates. And every foreign policy understands that.

No military expert would advise that we use nuclear weapons to deal with them, but we do have to deal with that problem.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The one I just asked, was there a difference between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama on this issue.

EDWARDS: I personally think, and I would as president, not talk about hypotheticals in nuclear weapons. I think that's not a healthy thing to do. I think what it does for the president of the United States is it effectively limits your options. And I do not want to limit my options, and I don't want to talk about hypothetical use of nuclear weapons.

I would add to that that I think what the president of the United States should actually do, beyond stopping bunker-buster nuclear weapons, which this administration's moving forward with, is what America should do and what I would do as president, is to actually lead an international effort over time to eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet. That's the way to make the planet more secure.


: You know, when a president talks about foreign policy, a president has to be clear.

And this talk about hypotheticals, I think, is what's gotten us in trouble. Here's what I would do on nuclear weapons: I wouldn't, as an American president, use nuclear weapons first. However, you can never take the military option off the table.

The key is that in our foreign policy today, this administration has used the military option preemption. It should be diplomacy first, negotiation, build international support for our goals, find ways that America can get allies in our fight against terrorism, against nuclear proliferation.

We should have a treaty on fissionable material, loose nuclear weapons -- that's even more dangerous today than nuclear weapons.

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