The Mystery Debate Theater team of Andrew Kingsford, Tim Willette and Steve Rhodes was scattered to the winds on Friday night, but we caught up with the video highlights and the transcript over the weekend to produce what we’re sure is the most vital debate commentary the world over . This transcript has been edited for length, clarity and comedy.
TIM: Maybe we should combine the debates with late-night TV commercials. “Sen. Obama, are you up all night with unpaid bills and debt?”
LEHRER: Let me begin with something General Eisenhower said in his 1952 presidential campaign.
STEVE: Adlai Stevenson is a pinhead?
TIM: My first act as president will be to rename Hi-Catoctin after my grandson.
LEHRER: Quote, “We must achieve both security and solvency. In fact, the foundation of military strength is economic strength,” end quote.
STEVE: So I take back what I said about the military-industrial complex!
TIM: Ah, backwards – military-industrial complex was from Ike’s farewell address. He learned a lot in eight years.
STEVE: So let’s build up what I’d like to call a military-industrial complex!
LEHRER: Gentlemen, at this very moment tonight, where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?
OBAMA: I’ve put forward a series of proposals that make sure that we protect taxpayers as we engage in this important rescue effort.
STEVE: None of which I’ll explain here tonight.
LEHRER: Senator McCain, two minutes.
STEVE: Or three pages, whichever explains your plan first.
MCCAIN: I want to emphasize one point to all Americans tonight: This isn’t the beginning of the end of this crisis. This is the end of the beginning.
STEVE: And, unfortunately, this isn’t the beginning of the end of this debate, it’s the end of the beginning.
LEHRER: How do you all stand on the recovery plan? And talk to each other about it. We’ve got five minutes. We can negotiate a deal right here.
STEVE: Yes, five minutes ought to do it.
LEHRER: Do you favor this plan, Senator Obama, and you, Senator McCain?
OBAMA: We haven’t seen the language yet.
STEVE: It could be in Sanskrit.
OBAMA: Two years ago, I warned that, because of the subprime lending mess, because of the lax regulation, that we were potentially going to have a problem and tried to stop some of the abuses in mortgages that were taking place at the time.
STEVE: Of course, I only warned Michelle, but still.
OBAMA: Last year, I wrote to the secretary of the Treasury to make sure that he understood the magnitude of this problem and to call on him to bring all the stakeholders together to try to deal with it.
STEVE: He never wrote me back. And he de-friended me on Facebook.
MCCAIN: Let me point out, I also warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and warned about corporate greed and excess, and CEO pay, and all that. A lot of us saw this train wreck coming.
STEVE: But we had a presidential campaign to run, so, you know, it kind of slipped through the cracks.
MCCAIN: You’ve mentioned President Dwight David Eisenhower. President Eisenhower, on the night before the Normandy invasion, went into his room and he wrote out two letters.
One of them was a letter congratulating the great members of the military and allies that had conducted and succeeded in the greatest invasion in history, still to this day, and forever.
And he wrote out another letter, and that was a letter of resignation from the United States Army for the failure of the landings at Normandy.
STEVE: I propose we fund this bailout by selling those letters on eBay!
TIM: Somehow we’ve lost that accountability, and I intend to restore it. So this morning I asked Gov. Palin to write two letters.
OBAMA: And although we’ve heard a lot about Wall Street, those of you on Main Street I think have been struggling for a while, and you recognize that this could have an impact on all sectors of the economy.
And you’re wondering, how’s it going to affect me? How’s it going to affect my job? How’s it going to affect my house? How’s it going to affect my retirement savings or my ability to send my children to college?
TIM: I just want to reassure everybody that Michelle and I are fine. We have a great 401(k) plan.
LEHRER: Are there fundamental differences between your approach and Senator Obama’s approach to what you would do as president to lead this country out of the financial crisis?
MCCAIN: Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It’s completely out of control.
STEVE: So as soon as we pass a $700 billion bailout, we can get right on that!
MCCAIN: The worst symptom on this disease is what my friend, Tom Coburn, calls earmarking as a gateway drug, because it’s a gateway to out-of-control spending and corruption.
STEVE: Actually, Coburn was referring to the new federally funded Coburn Concourse at Oklahoma City International Airport.
MCCAIN: You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana.
STEVE: And it turns out they’re genetically Republican!
MCCAIN: As president of the United States, I want to assure you, I’ve got a pen.
STEVE: Bob Dole gave it to me!
MCCAIN: This one’s kind of old.
STEVE: It’s the one I used to sign the Declaration of Independence.
MCCAIN: I’ve got a pen, and I’m going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk.
STEVE: Including the government’s phone and electricity bills?
MCCAIN: Now, Senator Obama has asked for $932 million of earmark pork-barrel spending, nearly a million dollars for every day that he’s been in the United States Senate.
TIM: Now, Senator Obama, you wanted to know one of the differences. He has asked for $932 million of earmark pork-barrel spending, nearly a million dollars for every day that he’s been in the United States Senate. Had we applied that money to the bailout instead, we’d only need to come up with another $699,068,000,000.
OBAMA: Well, Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state . . .
STEVE: Once I started running for president . . .
OBAMA: . . . whether it was for senior centers or what have you . . .
STEVE: . . . and there goes the senior vote . . .
OBAMA: . . . until we cleaned it up.
STEVE: Or until after the election.
OBAMA: And he’s also right that often-times lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these kinds of requests, although that wasn’t the case with me.
STEVE: I don’t even know what a lobbyist is. Your modern political ways frighten and confuse me.
OBAMA: But let’s be clear: Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year’s budget. Senator McCain is proposing – and this is a fundamental difference between us – $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country, $300 billion.
STEVE: I’m proposing $301 billion!
LEHRER: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Well, again, I don’t mean to go back and forth . . .
STEVE: Like it’s a debate or something.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama suspended those requests for pork-barrel projects after he was running for president of the United States. He didn’t happen to see that light during the first three years as a member of the United States Senate, $932 million in requests.
STEVE: Hey, he’s stealing my material! Next he’ll make a crack about those senior centers.
MCCAIN: I have fought against it my whole career. I was called the sheriff, by one of the senior members of the Appropriations Committee. I didn’t win Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate.
STEVE: No, Sandra Bullock did.
MCCAIN: Now, Senator Obama didn’t mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs.
OBAMA: I don’t know where John is getting his figures.
STEVE: My staff told me he didn’t know how to access my Web site.
MCCAIN: We had an energy bill before the United States Senate. It was festooned with Christmas tree ornaments.
STEVE: They were blinking. It was really quite sweet.
MCCAIN: Who fought against wasteful and earmark spending? Who has been the person who has tried to keep spending under control?
MCCAIN: Senator Obama has shifted on a number of occasions. He has voted in the United States Senate to increase taxes on people who make as low as $42,000 a year.
OBAMA: That’s not true, John. That’s not true.
MCCAIN: And that’s just a fact. Again, you can look it up.
OBAMA: Look, it’s just not true. And if we want to talk about oil company profits, under your tax plan, John – this is undeniable – oil companies would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks.
Now, look, we all would love to lower taxes on everybody. But here’s the problem: If we are giving them to oil companies, then that means that there are those who are not going to be getting them.
MCCAIN: With all due respect, you already gave them to the oil companies.
OBAMA: No, but, John, the fact of the matter is, is that I was opposed to those tax breaks, tried to strip them out. We’ve got an emergency bill on the Senate floor right now that contains some good stuff, some stuff you want, including drilling off-shore, but you’re opposed to it because it would strip away those tax breaks that have gone to oil companies.
LEHRER: Alright. Alright, speaking of things that both of you want, another lead question, and it has to do with the rescue – the financial rescue thing that we started – started asking about.
STEVE: Jesus, Lehrer, it was just getting good! No wonder no one wanted to room with you in college.
LEHRER: What are you going to have to give up, in terms of the priorities that you would bring as president of the United States, as a result of having to pay for the financial rescue plan?
OBAMA: Well, there are a range of things that are probably going to have to be delayed.
STEVE: And there’s no way you’re getting me to name them here tonight.
LEHRER: What priorities would you adjust, as president, Senator McCain, because of the financial bailout cost?
STEVE: I’ll go with Obama’s answer.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate. It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left.
MCCAIN: We tried to build a little ship called the Littoral Combat Ship that was supposed to cost $140 million, ended up costing $400 million, and we still haven’t done it.
STEVE: So he’s familiar with Chicago-style politics.
LEHRER: But if I hear the two of you correctly, neither one of you is suggesting any major changes in what you want to do as president as a result of the financial bailout?
OBAMA: No. As I said before, Jim, there are going to be things that end up having to be . . .
LEHRER: Like what?
OBAMA: . . . deferred and delayed. Well, look, I want to make sure that we are investing in energy in order to free ourselves from the dependence on foreign oil. That is a big project. That is a multi-year project.
LEHRER: Not willing to give that up?
OBAMA: Not willing to give up the need to do it but there may be individual components that we can’t do. But John is right, we have to make cuts. We right now give $15 billion every year as subsidies to private insurers under the Medicare system. Doesn’t work any better through the private insurers. They just skim off $15 billion.
STEVE: That’s less than the $18 billion in earmarks you shrugged off.
LEHRER: What I’m trying to get at this is this. Excuse me if I may, senator. Trying to get at that you all – one of you is going to be the president of the United States come January. At the – in the middle of a huge financial crisis that is yet to be resolved. And what I’m trying to get at is how this is going to affect you not in very specific – small ways but in major ways and the approach to take as to the presidency.
MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.
STEVE: What does that leave, shutting down national parks?
LEHRER: Let me figure out a way to ask the same question in a slightly different way here. Are you willing to acknowledge both of you that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the country as president of the United States?
OBAMA: There’s no doubt it will affect our budgets.
STEVE: I’m just not willing to tell you how.
MCCAIN: Well, I want to make sure we’re not handing the health care system over to the federal government, which is basically what would ultimately happen with Senator Obama’s health care plan.
STEVE: If only!
MCCAIN: Spending, I know, can be brought under control because I have fought against excessive spending my entire career.
STEVE: I mean, have you seen Cindy’s closet?
OBAMA: John, it’s been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending.
STEVE: We have a bingo.
MCCAIN: It’s well-known that I have not been elected Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate nor with the administration.
STEVE: Didn’t we already establish this?
MCCAIN: I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on Guantanamo Bay, on the way that the Iraq War was conducted.
STEVE: Huh, that actually comes to opposing the president about 10 percent of the time!
LEHRER: Much has been said about the lessons of Vietnam. What do you see as the lessons of Iraq?
MCCAIN: I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict. Our initial military success, we went in to Baghdad and everybody celebrated. And then the war was very badly mishandled. I went to Iraq in 2003 and came back and said, we’ve got to change this strategy. This strategy requires additional troops, it requires a fundamental change in strategy and I fought for it. And finally, we came up with a great general and a strategy that has succeeded.
This strategy has succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq. And we will come home with victory and with honor. And that withdrawal is the result of every counterinsurgency that succeeds.
And I want to tell you that now that we will succeed and our troops will come home, and not in defeat, that we will see a stable ally in the region and a fledgling democracy.
The consequences of defeat would have been increased Iranian influence. It would have been increase in sectarian violence. It would have been a wider war, which the United States of America might have had to come back.
So there was a lot at stake there. And thanks to this great general, David Petraeus, and the troops who serve under him, they have succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq, and we will come home. And we will come home as we have when we have won other wars and not in defeat.
OBAMA: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place.
Now six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so because I said that not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world, and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn’t finished the job in Afghanistan.
We hadn’t caught bin Laden. We hadn’t put al Qaeda to rest, and as a consequence, I thought that it was going to be a distraction. Now Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.
And I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right, but that’s not the case. We’ve spent over $600 billion so far, soon to be $1 trillion. We have lost over 4,000 lives. We have seen 30,000 wounded, and most importantly, from a strategic national security perspective, al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001.
MCCAIN: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That’s the decision of the next president of the United States.
Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure. Recently on a television program, he said it exceed our wildest expectations.
But yet, after conceding that, he still says that he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today. Incredibly, incredibly Senator Obama didn’t go to Iraq for 900 days and never asked for a meeting with General Petraeus.
Senator Obama is the chairperson of a committee that oversights NATO that’s in Afghanistan. To this day, he has never had a hearing.
OBAMA: Look, I’m very proud of my vice presidential selection, Joe Biden, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as he explains, and as John well knows, the issues of Afghanistan, the issues of Iraq, critical issues like that, don’t go through my subcommittee because they’re done as a committee as a whole.
But that’s Senate inside baseball. But let’s get back to the core issue here. Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.
They have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.
And so John likes – John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong.
MCCAIN: I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy. But I’d like to tell you, two Fourths of July ago I was in Baghdad. General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans, whose enlistment had expired, were re-enlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom.
I was honored to be there. I was honored to speak to those troops. And you know, afterwards, we spent a lot of time with them. And you know what they said to us? They said, let us win. They said, let us win. We don’t want our kids coming back here.
And this strategy, and this general, they are winning. Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.
OBAMA: That’s not true.
MCCAIN: They just passed an electoral . . .
OBAMA: That’s not true.
MCCAIN: An election law just in the last few days. There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity.
That’s what’s happening in Iraq, and it wasn’t a tactic.
OBAMA: Jim, there are a whole bunch of things we have got to answer. First of all, let’s talk about this troop funding issue because John always brings this up. Senator McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable, because he didn’t believe in a timetable.
I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable, and was open- ended, giving a blank check to George Bush. We had a difference on the timetable. We didn’t have a difference on whether or not we were going to be funding troops.
We had a legitimate difference, and I absolutely understand the difference between tactics and strategy. And the strategic question that the president has to ask is not whether or not we are employing a particular approach in the country once we have made the decision to be there.
The question is, was this wise? We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate. We need more troops there. We need more resources there. Senator McCain, in the rush to go into Iraq, said, you know what? We’ve been successful in Afghanistan. There is nobody who can pose a threat to us there.
This is a time when bin Laden was still out, and now they’ve reconstituted themselves. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.
But we can’t do it if we are not willing to give Iraq back its country. Now, what I’ve said is we should end this war responsibly. We should do it in phases. But in 16 months we should be able to reduce our combat troops, put – provide some relief to military families and our troops and bolster our efforts in Afghanistan so that we can capture and kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda.
And right now, the commanders in Afghanistan, as well as Admiral Mullen, have acknowledged that we don’t have enough troops to deal with Afghanistan because we still have more troops in Iraq than we did before the surge.
MCCAIN: Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama’s plan is dangerous for America.
OBAMA: That’s not the case.
MCCAIN: That’s what . . .
OBAMA: What he said was a precipitous . . .
MCCAIN: That’s what Admiral Mullen said.
OBAMA: . . . withdrawal would be dangerous. He did not say that. That’s not true.
MCCAIN: And also General Petraeus said the same thing. Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus have one thing in common that I know of, they both said that Iraq is the central battleground.
Now General Petraeus has praised the successes, but he said those successes are fragile and if we set a specific date for withdrawal – and by the way, Senator Obama’s original plan, they would have been out last spring before the surge ever had a chance to succeed.
And I understand why Senator Obama was surprised and said that the surge succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.
It didn’t exceed beyond mine, because I know that that’s a strategy that has worked and can succeed. But if we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and adopt Senator Obama’s plan, then we will have a wider war and it will make things more complicated throughout the region, including in Afghanistan.
STEVE: I have nothing funny to say about this exchange. I know the media is upset and even bored by the fact that this debate didn’t produce a witty but irrelevant signature line pre-written by an advisor about who paid for the microphones or who knew Jack Kennedy, but this is as real as it gets – and as a real as I’ve ever seen a presidential debate get. Maybe the pundits can’t bear an actual debate about an actual life-and-death issue.
LEHRER: Do you think more troops should be sent to Afghanistan, how many, and when?
OBAMA: Yes, I think we need more troops. I’ve been saying that for over a year now.
TIM: [LEHRER] Has anyone been listening? [OBAMA:] Not really.
MCCAIN: If you’re going to aim a gun at somebody, George Shultz, our great secretary of state, told me once, you’d better be prepared to pull the trigger.
I’m not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan. So I’m not prepared to threaten it, as Senator Obama apparently wants to do, as he has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan.
Now, you don’t do that. You don’t say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government.
OBAMA: Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here’s what I said.
And if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know, that, if the United States has Al Qaida, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out.
Now, I think that’s the right strategy; I think that’s the right policy.
And, John, I – you’re absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don’t know, you know, how credible that is. I think this is the right strategy.
Now, Senator McCain is also right that it’s difficult. This is not an easy situation. You’ve got cross-border attacks against U.S. troops.
And we’ve got a choice. We could allow our troops to just be on the defensive and absorb those blows again and again and again, if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate, or we have to start making some decisions.
And the problem, John, with the strategy that’s been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, “Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.”
And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren’t going after Al Qaida, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan.
That’s going to change when I’m president of the United States.
MCCAIN: I don’t think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power. Everybody who was around then, and had been there, and knew about it knew that it was a failed state.
But let me tell you, you know, this business about bombing Iran and all that, let me tell you my record.
Back in 1983, when I was a brand-new United States congressman, the one – the person I admired the most and still admire the most, Ronald Reagan, wanted to send Marines into Lebanon.
And I saw that, and I saw the situation, and I stood up, and I voted against that, because I was afraid that they couldn’t make peace in a place where 300 or 400 or several hundred Marines would make a difference. Tragically, I was right: Nearly 300 Marines lost their lives in the bombing of the barracks.
And then we had Somalia – then we had the first Gulf War. I supported – I supported that.
I supported us going into Bosnia, when a number of my own party and colleagues was against that operation in Bosnia. That was the right thing to do, to stop genocide and to preserve what was necessary inside of Europe.
I supported what we did in Kosovo. I supported it because ethnic cleansing and genocide was taking place there.
And I have a record – and Somalia, I opposed that we should turn – turn the force in Somalia from a peacekeeping force into a peacemaking force, which they were not capable of.
So I have a record. I have a record of being involved in these national security issues, which involve the highest responsibility and the toughest decisions that any president can make, and that is to send our young men and women into harm’s way.
And I’ll tell you, I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, “Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet with my son’s name on it.”
He was 22 years old and he was killed in combat outside of Baghdad, Matthew Stanley, before Christmas last year. This was last August, a year ago. And I said, “I will – I will wear his bracelet with honor.”
And this was August, a year ago. And then she said, “But, Senator McCain, I want you to do everything – promise me one thing, that you’ll do everything in your power to make sure that my son’s death was not in vain.”
That means that that mission succeeds, just like those young people who re-enlisted in Baghdad, just like the mother I met at the airport the other day whose son was killed. And they all say to me that we don’t want defeat.
OBAMA: Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet, too, from Sergeant – from the mother of Sergeant Ryan David Jopeck, given to me in Green Bay. She asked me, can you please make sure another mother is not going through what I’m going through.
STEVE: Make all the bracelet jokes you want – I was certainly tempted – but there’s nothing funny about this stuff.
MCCAIN: You might think that with that kind of concern that Senator Obama would have gone to Afghanistan, particularly given his responsibilities as a subcommittee chairman. By the way, when I’m subcommittee chairman, we take up the issues under my subcommittee. But the important thing is – the important thing is I visited Afghanistan and I traveled to Waziristan and I traveled to these places and I know what our security requirements are. I know what our needs are. So the point is that we will prevail in Afghanistan, but we need the new strategy and we need it to succeed. But the important thing is, if we suffer defeat in Iraq, which General Petraeus predicts we will, if we adopted Senator Obama’s set date for withdrawal, then that will have a calamitous effect in Afghanistan and American national security interests in the region. Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand there is a connected between the two.
LEHRER: What is your reading on the threat to Iran right now to the security of the United States?
MCCAIN: My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well.
Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let’s just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I’ve had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let’s be clear and let’s have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council.
I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people – a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world’s economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.
The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy.
STEVE: Although their bailout of al-AIG was a lot less expensive than ours.
OBAMA: Well, let me just correct something very quickly. I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist organization. I’ve consistently said so. What Senator McCain refers to is a measure in the Senate that would try to broaden the mandate inside of Iraq. To deal with Iran.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we’re going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying, they’ve probably been doing the right thing, because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior.
The point is that throughout history, whether it be Ronald Reagan, who wouldn’t sit down with Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko until Gorbachev was ready with glasnost and perestroika.
Or whether it be Nixon’s trip to China, which was preceded by Henry Kissinger, many times before he went. Look, I’ll sit down with anybody, but there’s got to be pre-conditions. Those pre-conditions would apply that we wouldn’t legitimize with a face to face meeting, a person like Ahmadinejad. Now, Senator Obama said, without preconditions.
TIM: Except that it’s the Revolutionary Guard, guys! The Republican Guard was Saddam’s elite force. Next stop: “I’m introducing legislation to designate all crossing guards as terrorists.”
OBAMA: First of all, Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran. So he may not be the right person to talk to. But I reserve the right, as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it’s going to keep America safe.
Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran – guess what – without precondition. This is one of your own advisers.
Now, understand what this means “without preconditions.” It doesn’t mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we don’t do what we’ve been doing, which is to say, “Until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won’t have direct contacts with you.”
There’s a difference between preconditions and preparation. Of course we’ve got to do preparations, starting with low-level diplomatic talks, and it may not work, because Iran is a rogue regime.
But I will point out that I was called naive when I suggested that we need to look at exploring contacts with Iran. And you know what? President Bush recently sent a senior ambassador, Bill Burns, to participate in talks with the Europeans around the issue of nuclear weapons.
Again, it may not work, but if it doesn’t work, then we have strengthened our ability to form alliances to impose the tough sanctions that Senator McCain just mentioned.
And when we haven’t done it, as in North Korea – let me just take one more example — in North Korea, we cut off talks. They’re a member of the axis of evil. We can’t deal with them.
And you know what happened? They went – they quadrupled their nuclear capacity. They tested a nuke. They tested missiles. They pulled out of the nonproliferation agreement. And they sent nuclear secrets, potentially, to countries like Syria.
When we re-engaged – because, again, the Bush administration reversed course on this – then we have at least made some progress, although right now, because of the problems in North Korea, we are seeing it on shaky ground.
And so I just have to make this general point that the Bush administration, some of Senator McCain’s own advisers all think this is important, and Senator McCain appears resistant.
He even said the other day that he would not meet potentially with the prime minister of Spain, because he – you know, he wasn’t sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean, Spain? Spain is a NATO ally.
STEVE: Yeah, but not a very good one. They never bring snacks to the meetings.
MCCAIN: I’m not going to set the White House visitors schedule before I’m president of the United States. I don’t even have a seal yet.
Look, Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face-to- face meetings between the president of the United States and the president – and Ahmadinejad. He did not say that.
OBAMA: Of course not.
STEVE: How did Henry Kissinger’s blessing suddenly become so important? Is he dating Lindsay Lohan or something?
MCCAIN: He said that there could be secretary-level and lower level meetings. I’ve always encouraged them. The Iranians have met with Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad.
What Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a “stinking corpse,” and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments.
TIM: Is that why he didn’t want to appear with Obama tonight?
OBAMA: Look, I mean, Senator McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the president would just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks. Nobody’s been talking about that, and Senator McCain knows it. This is a mischaracterization of my position.
When we talk about preconditions – and Henry Kissinger did say we should have contacts without preconditions – the idea is that we do not expect to solve every problem before we initiate talks.
And, you know, the Bush administration has come to recognize that it hasn’t worked, this notion that we are simply silent when it comes to our enemies. And the notion that we would sit with Ahmadinejad and not say anything while he’s spewing his nonsense and his vile comments is ridiculous. Nobody is even talking about that.
MCCAIN: So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” and we say, “No, you’re not”? Oh, please.
By the way, my friend, Dr. Kissinger, who’s been my friend for 35 years, would be interested to hear this conversation and Senator Obama’s depiction of his – of his positions on the issue. I’ve known him for 35 years.
OBAMA: We will take a look.
MCCAIN: And I guarantee you he would not – he would not say that presidential top level.
OBAMA: Nobody’s talking about that.
STEVE: Then why are we having this debate?
MCCAIN: Of course he encourages and other people encourage contacts, and negotiations, and all other things. We do that all the time.
And Senator Obama is parsing words when he says precondition means preparation.
OBAMA: I am not parsing words.
MCCAIN: He’s parsing words, my friends.
OBAMA: I’m using the same words that your advisers use.
STEVE: How do you think I know?
LEHRER: How do you see the relationship with Russia?
STEVE: From my bedroom window.
OBAMA: Well, I think that, given what’s happened over the last several weeks and months, our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because a resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region.
Their actions in Georgia were unacceptable. They were unwarranted. And at this point, it is absolutely critical for the next president to make clear that we have to follow through on our six-party – or the six-point cease-fire. They have to remove themselves from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
It is absolutely important that we have a unified alliance and that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship.
And we also have to affirm all the fledgling democracies in that region, you know, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs, that we are, in fact, going to be supportive and in solidarity with them in their efforts. They are members of NATO.
And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements, and they should have a membership action plan immediately to start bringing them in.
MCCAIN: Well, I was interested in Senator Obama’s reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia. His first statement was, “Both sides ought to show restraint.”
Again, a little bit of naivete there. He doesn’t understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government.
Now, I think the Russians ought to understand that we will support the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in the natural process, inclusion into NATO.
STEVE: I hear Spain’s spot may open up soon.
OBAMA: Over 26 years, Senator McCain voted 23 times against alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel.
MCCAIN: No one from Arizona is against solar. And Senator Obama says he’s for nuclear, but he’s against reprocessing and he’s against storing.
OBAMA: That’s just not true, John. John, I’m sorry, but that’s not true.
MCCAIN: It’s hard to get there from here. And off-shore drilling is also something that is very important and it is a bridge.
STEVE: T. Boone Pickens says “Drill, drill drill. But that misses the point.” Apparently you can go look at his plan on the Internet.
OBAMA: I have never said that I object to nuclear waste.
STEVE: I’m pro-nuclear waste!
MCCAIN: No one can be opposed to alternate energy.
OBAMA: All right, fair enough. Let’s move on.
STEVE: But next time we meet with preconditions!
LEHRER: What do you think the likelihood is that there would be another 9/11-type attack on the continental United States?
MCCAIN: I think it’s much less than it was the day after 9/11.
STEVE: He’s a Garpist.
OBAMA: This is the greatest country on Earth.
STEVE: Oh, I don’t know, Canada’s sort of cute.
OBAMA: Bin Laden is still out there. He is not captured. He is not killed. Al Qaida is resurgent.
In the meantime, we’ve got challenges, for example, with China, where we are borrowing billions of dollars. They now hold a trillion dollars’ worth of our debt. And they are active in countries like – in regions like Latin America, and Asia, and Africa. They are – the conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence, because we’ve been focused on Iraq.
We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens, not to mention, look at our economy. We are now spending $10 billion or more every month.
And that means we can’t provide health care to people who need it. We can’t invest in science and technology, which will determine whether or not we are going to be competitive in the long term.
There has never been a country on Earth that saw its economy decline and yet maintained its military superiority. So this is a national security issue.
We haven’t adequately funded veterans’ care. I sit on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and we’ve got – I meet veterans all across the country who are trying to figure out, “How can I get disability payments? I’ve got post-traumatic stress disorder, and yet I can’t get treatment.”
STEVE: But like I said, this is the greatest country on Earth!