If I were McCain’s speechwriter…
When aided by a teleprompter, Barack Obama is one fancy orator. John McCain isn’t. This hard fact of life is likely to be one of the most important factors in determining the presidential race, especially when the “responsible” media goes out of its way to amplify Obama’s message, and in turn vilifies McCain’s. Setting aside an inherent ideological bias that one finds among reporters when encountered as individuals, the fact that Obama speaks so well makes for good TV, and hence, for good ratings, so that’s another reason the media likes to play him up so much—it’s a fatter paycheck.
There’s nothing I can do about these factors, except to imagine that in my version of a perfect world, such would be McCain’s retorts to Obama’s rhetoric on national security issues:
Obama point: “Saddam was not a threat; secular Ba’athists had no connection with Al-Qaeda.” (Obama retroactively saying that Iraq shouldn’t have been considered a threat)
McCain counterpoint: “Saddam had networks in the US that had even recruited US citizens [e.g. Susan Lindauer-a congressional aide].
“Saddam had infiltrated and corrupted the UN’s oil-for-food program/scam—the scope of this was incredible. The UN headquarters is in Manhattan. The UN oil-for-food scandal went all the way up to the very top of that organization [It even involved Kofi Anan’s son, as well as Kofi Anan’s chief aides].
“Saddam could have put such networks at the service of Al-Qaeda; Al-Qaeda was desperate, it was fleeing Afghanistan in 2001, and they would worked with anyone, as demonstrated by them seeking sanctuary in Iran [Osama Bin Laden’s eldest son, Saad, is in Iran].
“Saddam’s guys and Al-Qaeda’s operatives had each other’s numbers; they were on each other’s rolodexes. This is an undisputed fact that has been thoroughly investigated by congressional oversight into our pre-war intelligence [What was in dispute was the extent of this relationship at that point in time, the evidence suggested that there were no operational partnerships for specific terrorist acts; such a partnership would come later as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was launched—see below].
“Saddam’s network of spies could have enabled Al-Qaeda to re-enter our country. Saddam’s spy rings even extended to your hometown of Chicago, Senator, [e.g. Khaled Abdul-Lateef al-Dumeisi, Sami Latchin] and we didn’t uncover these networks until we went to Baghdad and captured the Iraqi intelligence archives. Who knows what Saddam was capable of? This was a tyrant who used WMDs against his own people and was cunning enough to corrupt top officials at the UN, which I shouldn’t have to remind you is headquartered in Manhattan. We headed him off.
“Forget what the US intelligence community and European intelligence services told us about the positive existence of Iraqi WMD before the Iraq invasion; the fact is that we knew Iraq, at least in the past, had WMD because Saddam used them against his own people …and that is a fact that nobody disputes because if you dispute it then let me take you on a little trip to Halabja to see the effect of Saddam’s WMDs on newborns over there, to this day. Saddam’s WMDs continue to poison the DNA of Iraqi infants.”
Obama point: “Al-Qaeda had no connection to Iraq before the invasion; Secular Baathists wouldn’t work with al-Qaeda”
McCain counterpoint: “But they were invited there by Baathists to fight against us; that was the Sunni insurgency, an alliance of Saddam’s Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda—which disproves the argument that secular terrorists [the Ba’athists] would never join forces with religious terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists, whatever guises they assume.
“If you tell me these two couldn’t have joined, you could never fathom the irrational hatred extremists of all ilks have towards us and towards decency—whether they be Islamo-fascists who crash planes into our buildings or just Baathist-fascists who gas children—and the Iraqi insurgency would prove you wrong. There was an axis of Baathists and Al-Qaeda in action—it was called the insurgency in Iraq.”
Obama point: “I was right because I spoke out against the Iraq War in 2002”
McCain counterpoint: “I don’t care about your speeches in 2002. Maybe you were carried away by the pacifist anti-war movement that would rail and protest against any form of warfare. I’d like a world without war too; I know too much about what war is. But the reality is that we are knee deep in a war that was forced upon us, we didn’t fire the first volley. We are in Iraq and you can’t wish that away.
“We had been at war against Saddam since ’91. We never stopped being at war against Saddam. Since the first Gulf War, our policy was to whack Saddam if he got out of his box [Operation Desert Fox 1998]. The Clinton administration called it a policy of “containment”; one in which the United Nations was supposed to watch America’s back. But how contained was Saddam when he was bribing his way through the United Nations?
“A leader needs a strategy which doesn’t seek to go back in time, there are no do-overs, you have to confront the challenge in the here and now…you can’t just take your ball and go home when you’re done playing.
“Our enemies are always on a look-out for an opportunity to strike back at us. We are at our most vulnerable when we seem weak; when we seem lost in self-doubt; when we seem apologetic and unsure of ourselves. We have nothing to be ashamed of: We are the United States of America, and we are the world’s only leader. They will resent us for our strength and wealth. We will hear all sorts of gripe, and we’ll see all sorts of two-bit thugs trying to faze us, trying to get us to blink and cower.”
Obama point: “Iraq was a breeding ground for terrorists”
McCain counterpoint: “No, it was a graveyard for terrorists. They were drawn there and defeated there. They were defeated by an Iraqi and American alliance. Iraqis, like we did the morning of September 11th, saw the true evil nature of these Islamic fascists. The terrorists that killed almost 3000 innocent Americans the morning of Sept 11 didn’t result from our being in Iraq…the idea that there is a root cause for crashing passenger planes into office buildings attempts to explain and look for a logical justification …beyond the fact that this was murder.
“After 9/11, we needed to send a message and we did, but instead of giving Bin Laden a message, Senator Obama would have given him a massage.
“Islamists attacks are now at a trickle in Iraq. Iraq was only a breeding ground as long as the jihadists thought they could win. Islamists made Iraq the center of their global jihad; they came face to face with American will; exhausted their resources in Iraq; and now their defeat in Iraq is imminent and their will to fight broken.”
Obama point: “Iraq diverted our attention away from Afghanistan”
McCain counterpoint: “We’ve been in Afghanistan since 2001 and we continue to take the fight to the enemy.
“Don’t get panicky, Sen. Obama. During WWII, we did not say let’s not distract ourselves from our fight in the Pacific against Japan by going after Hitler in Europe. You’re not treating this as a war, you’re treating it as if the terrorists have legitimate grievances against us, as if we will get anywhere just by talking to them; grievances that can get sorted out over a friendly game of beach volleyball. If we sit down with the enemy, they will assume that we’re ready to surrender.
“So, if we are losing the battle in Afghanistan as the headlines are screaming, Senator Obama, then who is winning? It certainly ain’t the Taliban, not with those enemy body-counts. When was the last time you saw the Taliban shut down a girls’ school; they are not in charge, they are not in control in Afghanistan. And the extremists are not in control in Iraq; they are no longer publicly beheading hairdressers and barbers for giving young Iraqis western-looking haircuts.
“We must show our resolve in the face of the enemy. Every time al-Qaeda places a bomb in a public square in Afghanistan, we should not get scared, we should not cut and run. That is the very definition of what terrorism seeks to do, spreading terror and panic. When you look at the situation on the ground—not the media headlines—the picture is different.
“Terrorists use bully tactics, America is not going to allow some two bit bully push us around, we’re going to step up and get in their faces. We’re going to stand our ground and push back hard. That’s who we are. That’s always been the American spirit. And that’s the grit and determination that we need our enemies to fear, always.
“America should never cut and run. We did this in Somalia, and failed to respond decisively to the terrorist threat in the 90s…and the people that hit us on September 11 called us a paper tiger and thought that we did not have the will and fortitude to take the fight to the enemy.
“When Senator Obama says that he will end a war that we are winning, these are not the words befitting of the greatness of America and the sacrifice of our people in uniform, he brings us right back to the weak position our enemies thought we on the morning of September 11.
“We sent a message: “Don’t mess with us.” Senator Obama you want to send a fruit basket and a massage gift certificate saying, “please forgive us.””
Obama point: “We took our attention off of Osama”
McCain counterpoint: “Actually, the very fact that Bin Laden is in hiding in a cave somewhere is testament to the fact that we have him on the run.
“Al-Qaeda had to shift its operations to Iraq. Al-Qaeda didn’t try to turn Afghanistan into a Caliphate [The declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq]. They tried to turn Iraq into one.
“The point is not Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda is a nebulous multi-headed Hydra that can attack anywhere on the globe. It’s not about a single guy cowering in a cave who is probably looking forward to being martyred. It about showing those who mean us harm, the ones who were morbidly impressed by 911, that a membership card in Al-Qaeda is a one-way ticket a world of pain in the here and now, not to a heavenly paradise. We must break their will to fight, and we are. I’m not distracted by a bomb here and there, when I know that the enemy has broken ranks and is fleeing ahead of our fighting men and women.
“The US is the world’s only superpower. We can do more than one thing at once. And if our institutions [the Central Intelligence Agency] are not able to keep us safe and take the fight to the enemy on more than one front—which is the nature of 21st century warfare—then major, sweeping reforms should be instituted within our institutions so that they can respond to the shifting threats of the real world we live in.”
Obama point: “the surge didn’t work because there was no Iraqi political result”
McCain counterpoint: “Obama’s point is the reverse surge argument: that Americans are in the way of sectarian reconciliation. I have news for Senator Obama: we already know that the surge has worked. Some knew before it started that it would work because some of us had seen battles before. We didn’t panic, we re-tooled and re-loaded and went out there for another showdown. We learnt from what didn’t work at first, and we adapted and overcame. That’s a very American story. Young soldiers and Marines will have great war stories for the grandkids. The terrorists will remember the same events with a shudder. The Surge is this great generation’s Battle of the Pacific.
“The surge proved that, with increased security, that Iraqis could finally come closer together than ever. We are not in their way, on the contrary, we made way for them to come together.
“For example: Sunnis have rejoined Maliki’s government; and, Maliki took on his one-time allies among the Shi’a militias head-on, and smashed Iranian-sponsored Shi’a dead-squads in Basra and beyond.
“This stability was far more critical to the healing process than anything else, and it brought about bottom to top reconciliation that will be lasting. The insurgents and death squads were dealt with. Senator Obama is focusing on the peels, rather than the core.”
Obama point: “McCain wants to keep troops in Iraq forever”
McCain counterpoint: “What I say is that we need a sufficient amount of troops for the mission. I criticized the mismanagement of the war by the Bush Administration, I advocated the surge, I sought the advice of and supported General Petraeus. As a result, now because of our courage and steadfastness, we are at the point that—instead of cutting and running like Sen Obama continues to advocate—we are at the point that we can start bringing our troops home. From combat operations, we are moving to peacekeeping and rebuilding the Iraq. The mission has changed, so our troop levels can change accordingly.
“Our military is fixing potholes in Baghdad streets instead of dodging IEDs. While that’s a welcome change, fixing potholes is not their job, it is Maliki’s. And we are at the point now, on the verge of victory, when we can tell the Iraqis, “you can go now.” Like parents dropping their children off at college, “You have a stable foundation, now find your own path.” We’re not going to like some of things they may experiment with early on, but we should be proud that we’ve gotten them this far.
“Staying in Iraq was never the goal in and of itself; victory was. Victory was and is our mission. Victory is the goal…and we will stay until we achieve it. This is not about “should I stay or should I go”, it’s about seeing the mission through to the end as the world’s leader; and, as the leader of the US, I will accept nothing short of victory. And what we have in Iraq is starting to look and feel like victory. We will stay to make sure, and then our troops should receive the victory parades that they deserve…not tirades from angry and irrational protestors.
“Our cause, our fight against tyranny, has been the noblest…as in allowing girls in Afghanistan to go to school for the first time, to freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam’s torture chambers and sadistic sons.”
Obama point: “SOFA is stalled-Iraqis want us out”
McCain counterpoint: “If PM Maliki feels so sure of the situation, he should leave our custody and protection in the Green Zone and venture out on his own. If he’s going to talk the talk, he should walk the walk.”
Obama point: “We can just end this war”
McCain counterpoint: “Senator Obama, since Iraq is so important, what is your take on our #1 enemy in Iraq?
“Doesn’t it take two to make a war? You say that you want to end the war, but I don’t think our enemy wants to end it.
“The same Baathist thugs killing for Saddam before the US invasion hired the worst butchers of al-Qaeda like Zarqawi to wage the insurgency. Zarqawi was known as the “Master of the Butchers.” This is the same Zarqawi who beheaded a young idealistic American citizen [Nicholas Berg] in a horrific video. Should we allow the world to think he can get away with doing this to an American? No, just like we hunted Zarqawi down and killed him, we will do this throughout the world to the thugs and butchers who target our citizens and the innocents of the world.
“Have you been following Iraq closely? This is not about Bin Laden any more. Catch up. Keep up.
“Do you know the name Abu Omar al-Baghdadi? Tell us what you think of his last speech? To jihadists across the Middle East, he’s a much bigger deal than Bin Laden. Thousands of jihadists have pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi as the new caliph of an emerging Islamic Empire. He’s our top enemy in Iraq. What does he think of your unilateral plan to “end the war” as you keep saying? Are you going to negotiate with him? He has already laid out surrender terms for America, are you going to accept them?”
Obama point: “the US military says al-Baghdadi is a fictitious character”
McCain counterpoint: “No, you need to update your briefings on Iraq: the U.S. military now concludes that he is a real person.”
Obama point: “Talking to countries like Iran is a strategy”
McCain counterpoint: “Have you heard Ahmadinejad talk? Do you really want to waste your time on this loon? Have you read his 17-page rant to the United States? If you haven’t then I don’t blame you, no one can make sense of what he’s saying. When you talk with people, you should make sure that it is with someone who makes sense, not someone who is foaming at the mouth. It’s common sense: you don’t pet a rabid dog.
“Are you going to get a polite word in edgewise as the Iranians chant “Death to America, death to Israel”? What makes you think they want to talk with you, Senator Obama? They call us the Great Satan.
“Even as the supposed moderate Khatami was calling for a “Dialogue of Civilizations” Iran was working on a clandestine nuclear program. While the well meaning diplomats at the UN and beyond claimed Iran was reaching out—BTW, the same type of people that Saddam was able to corrupt and play for fools in the oil for food scandal—Iran was cheating.
“What are you going to do when you talk with Iran? Take the shrapnel from an IED in Iraq that says ‘made in Iran 2007’ and say to Ahmadinejad, “excuse me, you forgot this in Iraq.””
Obama point: “We need to reach out to Iran and Syria to find a settlement for Iraq”
McCain counterpoint: “In effect you will be reaching out to the forces which contributed to the insurgency and the destruction of Iraq. You don’t solve a murder by tasking the killer with the investigation.”
Obama point: “The Iraq War is adversely impacting the US economy; this is money we should have been spending at home”
McCain counterpoint: “We’re not spending anything on Iraq. The Iraqis have their own budget for reconstructing their country, and they have to worry about their own problems in how to spend it. What we spend on Iraq is actually what we spend on the individual American soldier, Marine or airman. If you want to spend less, then take it up with the Pentagon’s logistic department. If you to want to give poorer standards, and reduce readiness for our fighters, then it is an issue of whether you want to downsize our military forces, not a spending issue. Having the best, recruiting the best, arming our recruits with the best of gear in order to defend our homeland has a price-tag. If keeping us safe is too steep of a price-tag for you, then just come out and say that you will save on expenses by downsizing the military.”
Obama point: “Iraq didn’t keep us safe”
McCain counterpoint: “Well, something seems to be working, since we haven’t been attacked on our home turf since 911. We took the fight to them, instead of them running amok in our neighborhoods and malls and playgrounds, like they did in Baghdad, like they did in Madrid and London.”
Obama point: “you want to be in Iraq for a hundred years”
McCain counterpoint: “Yeah, I want our companies and investors to be in a prosperous and safe Iraq for hundreds of years, getting some of that multi-billion reconstruction money buying U.S. products and services. Sure, why would I lock myself out of such a lucrative market when the Europeans, when the Russians and the Chinese, are setting up permanent shops over there?”
Obama point: “I have a timetable for withdrawal”
McCain counterpoint: “Senator Obama picks a meaningless number—16 months—not from military commanders, but because it sounds certain and catchy.
“That is not how wars should be fought. The first thing that goes out the window in a war is the battle plan. A commander must respond to the facts on the ground.”
Obama point: “We’ve been too easy on the Pakistanis”
McCain counterpoint: “Our heart goes out to the Pakistanis: they are now confronting the same scourge that afflicted Spain and London, and Russia, and Turkey, and the US. Instead of pointing fingers in such a crisis, let’s find ways to help our Pakistani allies fight the scourge of terrorism. Zardari, the new president of Pakistan, lost his wife to a terrorist attack. She was a great woman, the great leader of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, she bravely confronted the terrorists knowing full well that they are out to get her. Her husband is now the president, are you going to accuse him of being soft on terrorism to score a campaign talking point?”
Obama point: “There are serious issues with the Iraqi Sunni Awakening”
McCain counterpoint: “These are like trade union negotiations. It is about jobs and pay checks…and threatening to go on strike. Don’t panic every time someone makes a threat, especially one they cannot deliver on. Don’t panic, Senator. With experience, one gets to recognize what’s really called a bluff.”
Closing remarks: Why national security should matter to the American voter:
McCain: “9/11 was real; the IEDs in Iraq were real. The people that Senator Obama wants to talk to, the Iranian government, do shout ‘Death to America’ on every occasion, and do train militias that kill American men and women in Iraq. We were not imagining all of this. This is not paranoia at play, this is a real threat. We are not imagining that there are enemies out to get us. Those two planes did crash into the twin towers. It wasn’t all just a bad dream.
“And you cannot just close your eyes and wish it all away.”