Obama Camp: It's A Debate About Judgment

Oct 27, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

John McCain may think he's already won the debate, and Jim Lehrer may ask a lot of questions about the economy, but as this Obama campaign memo shows, the Obama team isn't shying away from questions over foreign policy or national security.

As Obama has consistently argued, it's a question of judgment -- not a question of experience.

Although this memo doesn't focus on temperament, I think that's the other key contrast in this debate: Obama's steady-hand versus McCain's erratic, gambling nature.

TO: Interested Parties

FR: The Obama Campaign

RE: Obama's Good Judgment Proven Right; McCain's Bad Judgment Proven Wrong

DA: September 26, 2008

On the biggest foreign policy questions of the last 8 years, Barack Obama has made the right judgment, and John McCain sided with George Bush in making the wrong one. Those Bush-McCain judgments have been a disaster for our security and standing, leading to the most catastrophic foreign policy record in generations. As time has proven Obama right and McCain wrong, events have repeatedly forced the Bush Administration in the direction of Obama. In some cases, McCain has shifted his positions; in others, he has stubbornly clung to his failed policies. So in John McCain, the American people will get four more years of the worst parts of the Bush foreign policy. With Barack Obama, we will get change, and judgment we can trust.


Judgment: In 2002, Obama opposed going to war in Iraq. He warned of an "occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences." McCain was George Bush's biggest cheerleader for war, and said we'd be "greeted as liberators." Now, we've spent over five years, lost over 4,000 lives, and spent nearly a trillion dollars fighting a war  against a country that had no WMD, and nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.  Obama was right about Iraq. McCain was wrong.

Plans: Obama has consistently called for a timetable to responsibly remove our combat brigades from Iraq, and to succeed by transitioning control to the sovereign Iraqi government. McCain called any timetable "surrender." The Iraqi Prime Minister then endorsed Obama's timetable, forcing the Bush Administration to agree to a "time horizon," and leaving McCain alone in his stubborn refusal to end this war. Obama has a plan to succeed in Iraq and to end the war. McCain has a plan for staying. 


Judgment: For years, Obama has called for a focus on Afghanistan, which is the central front in the war on terror. McCain said we could "muddle through" in Afghanistan, and said in 2005 that we'd "already succeeded" in Afghanistan. Now, seven years after 9/11, Afghanistan is sliding into deeper violence and chaos. Obama was right about Afghanistan. McCain was wrong.

Plans: Obama called over a year ago for at least 2 combat brigades, more training for Afghan security forces, and increased non-military assistance. McCain followed Obama's call for more troops by a year, but couldn't say how many troops or how we could get them without ending the war in Iraq. The Bush Administration - responding to military commanders - announced a modest plan to shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan that doesn't go far enough.  Obama has led on Afghanistan with a plan to win. McCain has followed and has no plan to win.

Osama bin Laden / al Qaeda

Judgment: Obama said in 2002 that we should "finish the fight with bin Laden" instead of shifting our focus to Iraq. McCain said in 2002 that catching bin Laden was not that important. Now, bin Laden is still on the loose. Obama was right about bin Laden, McCain was wrong.

Plans: After al Qaeda established a safe-haven on the Afghan-Pakistani border, Obama said last August that we should take out high level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have actionable intelligence about their whereabouts, and Pakistan cannot or will not act. McCain called that position "naïve." Now, as al Qaeda has built up its sanctuary and launched more attacks, the Bush Administration has been forced by events to embrace the Obama position. McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to take out bin Laden if he is in Pakistan. Obama will take out bin Laden if we have him in our sights, McCain won't.


Judgment: Obama has consistently said that we must use all tools of American power - including tough, direct American diplomacy - to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. McCain supported the Bush policy of not talking to Iran, and saber rattling in Washington. Now, after 8 years of Bush-McCain policy, Iran has advanced its nuclear program, increased its influence in the region, continued its support for terror, elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President, and Israel is more endangered. Obama was right about Iran, McCain was wrong.

Plans: Obama's call for pressure on Iran through direct diplomacy without preconditions has been endorsed by five Secretaries of State - including Republicans Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker. Even the Bush Administration relented, and sent a high-ranking diplomat to participate in direct talks with Iran and our European allies. McCain stands alone in unconditionally ruling out diplomacy. Obama will use the strength of American diplomacy to pressure Iran, McCain offers no alternative to more of the same or a war with Iran


Judgment: Obama called for a solution to the crises in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and said last spring that we need intensive international engagement to preserve Georgia's territorial integrity. McCain has belligerently called for Russia's expulsion from the G-8, breaking with our European allies, and antagonizing Russia. Obama was right, McCain was wrong.

Plans: Both Obama and McCain called from the outset of the conflict in Georgia for Georgia's territorial integrity to be respected. Obama and Joe Biden proposed $1 billion in humanitarian assistance for the people of Georgia, and McCain offered belligerent rhetoric. The Bush Administration has embraced the Obama-Biden proposal. Obama has a plan to stand with Georgia. McCain has empty tough talk and dangerous saber rattling.

Alliances and NATO

Judgment: Obama supports strong alliances to advance American interest, including a greater NATO contribution to Afghanistan. McCain has marched in lockstep with the Bush rhetoric, with the kind of cowboy bluster that has shredded our alliances and alienated us in the world. In the run-up to the Iraq War, he called key European allies "vacuous and posturing" even as they had troops serving alongside us in Afghanistan. Obama is respected around the world, McCain's approach has squandered our standing.

Plans: Obama will meet with our NATO ally Spain, which currently has troops serving in Afghanistan. Secretary Rice has described our relations with the Zapatero government as "warm." McCain refuses to meet with the Prime Minster of Spain. Obama will restore relations with our allies and seek greater contributions to the mission in Afghanistan. McCain won't even meet with a NATO ally.