Monday, September 22, 2008

Talking Points for Activists:

Debate #1: Foreign

And National

Security Policy

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

Point 1: Although this presidential debate is about foreign policy and national security, we cannot avoid mention of the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Without a strong economy we cannot be strong in national security. The Wall Street fiasco will cost well over $700 billion dollars, the current cost of the Iraq War. The mistakes in both cases, Wall Street and Iraq, were based on irresponsible misjudgments by many people in high places, including both parties.

Senator McCain was a key leader in pushing for the invasion of Iraq and the deregulation of Wall Street which have put our economy at risk and left nearly 5,000 Americans dead in Iraq. Senator McCain stood on a naval carrier yelling "Next stop, Baghdad!" as our pilots began that unnecessary war. A few years earlier, Senator McCain was criticized for ethical transgressions by the US Senate for his direct role in the Keating S&L scandal which put billions in taxpayer money at risk. It is fair to say that Senator McCain, with his close ally Sen. Phil Gramm, has been the Senate's leading voice for deregulation of Wall Street.

Point 2: Sen. McCain will claim, with some facts to his credit, that his advocacy of the surge in Iraq has paid off. Violence against American soldiers is down. But those America has been fighting in Iraq are not defeated. The situation is like a temporary interlude until the November elections are over.

We have put one side in power, a sectarian Shi'a coalition that has conducted ethnic cleansing, torture and the detention of 50,000 people in prisons where human rights are abused every day. We have left Moktada al-Sadr's army intact in Sadr City. We have paid off 100,000 on the Sunni insurgent side with money to stop shooting us. Neither side has made any significant moves towards political reconciliation. Both sides, including those the President put in power, want us to withdraw our troops in 15 or 16 months, a position Barack Obama has long advocated.

If peace really is "on the horizon", as the White House claims, we could begin withdrawing all our troops now. Instead, under the Bush-McCain plan, we will have more troops on the ground in Iraq next year than we did before the surge started. That's not peace, that's military occupation. Iraq is a time bomb.

Point 3: The solution is to withdraw our ground troops as promised, perhaps starting with an immediate redeployment from Iraq's cities. Any American advisers left behind must not be mercenaries caught in the cross-fire of a renewed civil war. All our efforts must be diplomatic and economic, conveying the message that some sort of coalition government among the Iraqis must be put together as the American occupation ends next year.

It is worth noting that both Bush and McCain have abandoned their long-standing principle of never accepting a withdrawal deadline, and now are playing election-eve word games about "horizons" and "aspirations". We all remember past presidents promising they would never send ground troops to Southeast Asia, or that peace was at hand, promises that allowed those men to win elections by not keeping their word. Now it's time for some straight talk with the American people.

Point 4: We should not leap from the simmering quagmire in Iraq to the hot ones of Afghanistan and Pakistan without a clear plan for peace. The deployment of any American advisers or combat troops to those countries, if at all justified, should be as temporary holding actions and consistent with respecting their sovereign rights. Our only legitimate goal is to deter al-Qaeda from planning attacks on America from sanctuaries in Pakistan, but that goal cannot be pursued in isolation, if Pakistan's people see us as foreign invaders, if civilian casualties continue to mount, and if terrorism spreads across Pakistan in response to our forays into the tribal highlands.

Point 5: Every civilian casualty, every destroyed village, gives birth to new al-Qaeda recruits. The only solution is to reduce the pool of potential terrorists by ending our policies that breed and inflame them, in particular:

--Afghanistan and Pakistan are two of the poorest countries in the world, and there is no credible economic development plan in place;
--Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan, and was our ally in the first war against the Taliban. Negotiations with Iran on these and other issues are indispensable to finding a solution in Afghanistan.
--Getting out of Iraq while continuing humanitarian assistance is crucial to opening a new chapter of diplomacy in the region.
--Resuming an American initiative towards the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process will begin to rebuild Arab and European confidence that America has a constructive role to play in dampening down the fires set by the Bush Administration with its surreal campaign to impose American-style democracy on the Middle East.

Point 6: John McCain has offered no diplomatic, political or economic approaches to managing, not to mention lessening, these multiple crises. But his acting as an isolated hawk- yelling about bombing Baghdad, singing about bombing Iran, encouraging a conflict with the Russians on their border - is comparable to being General Custer at Little Big Horn.

Point 7: Even the greatest power on earth cannot sustain more devastating experiences like the past five years in Iraq and the cascading catastrophe on Wall Street. Our military can't take the wear and tear of forever wars. Our economy can't take the flow of our taxes and profits to such a narrow stratum of the rich. Our cities and schools can't take the burden of budget cuts and tax breaks. Our environment, our rivers and streams, our eagles and polar bears, can't wait another generation. Our courts can't take the appointment of extremist judges who unilaterally diminish the civil rights, women's rights, labor rights and environmental protections past generations have fought and sacrificed for. Enough.

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