Monday, May 19, 2008

McCain and Obama on Iran

McCain and Obama on "EyeRan"

McCain and Obama Trade Barbs on Iran
By Michael Luo
Senator Barack Obama at a town hall meeting in Billings, Mont., on Monday. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)
CHICAGO — Senator John McCain challenged Senator Barack Obama on his home turf here today, attacking him for comments he made over the weekend downplaying the threat posed by Iran relative to the former Soviet Union.
Mr. McCain, who was in Mr. Obama’s hometown to address the National Restaurant Association, diverged from prepared remarks on economic issues to get in his jab at Mr. Obama.
Believing keeping the focus on national security is advantageous to Mr. McCain, his campaign has been continuing to try to make hay over Mr. Obama’s stated willingness to sit down with the leaders of rogue nations.
Arguing for engagement with the country’s foes, Mr. Obama said in a speech on Sunday that “strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries.”
John McCain in Chicago today. (Photo: Jeff Chiu/The New York Times)
“That’s what Reagan did with Gorbachev,” he said, adding, “I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela—these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we’re going to wipe you off the planet.”
He went on to argue that Iran spends “one-one hundredth of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance. And we should use that position of strength that we have to be bold enough to go ahead and listen.” Mr. McCain seized upon those comments today, his voice stern and dripping with contempt: “Obviously, Iran isn’t a superpower and doesn’t possess the military power the Soviet Union had. But that does not mean that the threat posed by Iran is insignificant.”
Speaking during a town hall meeting in Billings, Mont., Senator Obama fired back at Senator McCain. “Let me be absolutely clear: Iran is a grave threat.” But the Soviet Union posed a bigger threat, he said.
Mr. Obama said Iran has been emboldened as a result of the U.S. war in Iraq. “Iran is the biggest single beneficiary of the war in Iraq,” he said. “John McCain wants to double down that failed policy.”
“We should not just talk to our friends we should be willing to engage our enemies as well,” Mr. Obama added. “That’s what diplomacy is all about.”
Mr. McCain’s appearance was marred shortly after his skewering of Mr. Obama by a trio of protesters who stood up and began to shout anti-war slogans. The crowd of several thousand booed the protesters as they were being escorted out. The women were wearing aprons that read variously: “McCain don’t buy Bush’s war” and “Cookin’ up war with John McCain.”
Unruffled, Mr. McCain picked up where he left off, saying “we all have the right to free speech.”
Mr. McCain made sure to make note of his presence on his likely Democratic opponent’s home turf, drawing laughter and applause with this joke: “Many Democratic voters in Illinois are especially proud of their junior senator. They believe more than ever that Barack Obama was the right choice for the Senate in 2004. I couldn’t agree more, and I promise to do everything in my power to help him finish his first term in the United States Senate.”
But the bulk of Mr. McCain’s remarks were on the economy, where he sought to differentiate himself from his Democratic counterparts—he mentioned Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama early on but then focused exclusively on Mr. Obama—on taxes, trade and farm subsidies.
“Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have agreed to raise your taxes, to regulate your business more than ever, and to spend more of your money in Washington,” Mr. McCain said. “That’s their idea of “change,” but it sure sounds familiar to me.”
Mr. McCain also highlighted the episode that put Mr. Obama on the defensive while campaigning in Ohio earlier this year, when news leaked out that one of his senior policy advisers, Austan Goolsbee, had met with Canadian officials. According to a memo that was written up about the meeting by one official, Mr. Goolsbee downplayed the harsh rhetoric Mr. Obama had been using on the trail about the North American Free Trade Agreement as “political positioning.”
At the time, Obama officials said the memorandum inaccurately described Professor Goolsbee’s comments, as well as Mr. Obama’s position.
“Senator Obama is fond of scolding others for engaging in the “old-style politics,” but when he plays on fears of foreign trade he’s resorting to the oldest kind of politics there is,” Mr. McCain said. “It’s the kind of politics that exploits problems instead of solving them, that breeds resentment instead of opportunity.”

Notice how the article completely veered off Iran and drifted off into all kinds of other issues without a substantial discussion of Iran. What I am dumbfounded by is the unwillingness of our elected leaders to engage in any sort of substantive discussion of the politics on the ground in Iran - The Iranian people, Iran's version of Islam, Iran's place in the modern world, Iranian academic leaders, the Iranian version of democracy and theocracy, Iran's oil and gas resources and our strategic interests in it, Iran's influence as a Shiite theocracy on the rest of the Middle East, Iran's conflict with Al Qaeda, Iran's relationship with Syria and Hezbollah, A real clear discussion of where Iran is in building the bomb (people seem to have a muddled idea of where Iran is in terms of how much time they will need to build one. Estimates vary from 30 days to 10 years) etc. Do these people running for President think that we cannot handle the truth? Or do they think that our attention span is so limited that any substantive discussion is bound to fail? Is electing someone now an art of picking the wanna be with the best sound bites and who is able to project the most of scorn and contempt into their words? How tragic.

Byrd supports Obama

The NY Times Political Blog

May 19, 2008, 1:55 pm
Byrd Supports Obama
By Jeff Zeleny and Katharine Q. Seelye

BILLINGS, Mont. – Less than a week after his state went for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by 41 points, Senator Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia’s senior Democrat, endorsed Senator Barack Obama.
Mr. Byrd, the longest-serving member of the Senate, had purposefully steered clear of showing a preference in the presidential nominating battle between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton ahead of his state’s primary last Tuesday. But today he announced his support for Mr. Obama, declaring: “The stakes this November could not be higher.”
“After a great deal of thought, consideration and prayer over the situation in Iraq, I have decided that, as a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, I will cast my vote for Senator Barack Obama for President,” Mr. Byrd said in a statement. “Both Senators Clinton and Obama are extraordinary individuals, whose integrity, honor, love for this country and strong belief in our Constitution I deeply respect.” “I believe Barack Obama is a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history,” added Mr. Byrd, who voted against giving President Bush the authorization to go to war in Iraq in 2002 and has been a vociferous opponent of the war. “Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support.”
Two words worth noting in that statement: “humble Christian.” In the post-mortem of his overwhelming defeat, aides to Mr. Obama suspect many voters believed the misdirected rumors that he was Muslim.
So will the sentiment of Mr. Byrd -– an iconic figure in West Virginia who has served in the Senate since 1958, before Mr. Obama was born -– help allay concerns of some Democrats in a general election? Can Mr. Obama still be competitive in states that he lost by significant margins to Mrs. Clinton?
Above all, that is the question on the minds of Democrats this week.
With the endorsement, Mr. Byrd joins West Virginia’s other senator, Jay Rockefeller, in supporting Mr. Obama.
The endorsement also makes three more superdelegates for Mr. Obama on Monday, on the eve of the primaries in Oregon and Kentucky. Kansas Democratic Party Chair Larry Gates and Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz also announced their support for Mr. Obama.
Mrs. Clinton has been courting Mr. Byrd for some time, and openly did so on Mother’s Day, when she was campaigning in West Virginia in advance of its primary.
She told a small gathering that when she first began serving in the Senate, in 2001, her mother used to watch CSpan to try to catch a glimpse of her daughter. And during her TV-watching, she became familiar with Mr. Byrd, regarded by his colleagues as the chief expert on Senate history and procedure.
Mrs. Clinton said that her mother came to admire Mr. Byrd and hoped one day to meet him. Eventually she brought her mother to lunch with Mr. Byrd and they had a fine old time.
But apparently the personal connection was not strong enough to sway Mr. Byrd to her side as her hopes dwindle for the nomination.
Mr. Byrd’s endorsement of Mr. Obama is all the more interesting considering that as the senator once opposed integrating the military, filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and a young man he was briefly a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Byrd has frequently expressed regret for his past actions.

I have enormous respect for Senator Byrd.