John McCain: in his own words

We've posted audio clips from John McCain's interview with Monitor editors and reporters here. Coverage of the interview is here, and coverage of his appearance at Concord High School earlier in the day is here. Video of the Q&A concerning McCain's age is here.

A debate preview? In the first audio clip, McCain discusses the surge, reminding us that some months ago, John Edwards looked to score points by disparaging the "McCain surge." (Here is a Dec. 29, 2006, video clip of Edwards criticizing the upcoming surge, which he dubbed part of the "McCain doctrine.") Given the many recent positive reviews the surge has received, don't be surprised if McCain uses the Edwards line to remind tonight's GOP debate audience how hard he advocated for the surge.

Is Clinton asking too much?

In her editorial board meeting at the Monitor, Hillary Clinton said that if she receives the Democratic nomination she'll tell voters they should send her to D.C. with a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, too. Is that a bold play for the future? Or a misreading of the public's recent shift toward the Democrats?

It could be Clinton's on to something. If people really want change, if they really want to stick a thumb in the eye of not just George Bush but the whole Republican Party, then maybe they will want to place all their chips on the Democrats.

But in times of uncertainty, Americans seem to like divided government. Asking for the presidency is no small thing itself. Demanding a Democratic Congress, too, may just seem presumptuous.

- Geordie Wilson

Hillary Clinton: in her own words

We've posted audio clips from Hillary Clinton's editorial board interview. You can read the Monitor's coverage here and here.

Regarding the first clip, which was actually the final Q&A: Clinton had earlier referenced the need to isolate Islamic extremists (memo to Rudy*: That was her name for our enemy) in part by persuading their non-extremist neighbors that the United States is worth befriending. She noted, however, that doing so is especially hard if the only insight into American culture that people in Muslim countries have comes from, say, Baywatch and professional wrestling. (It was an Afghan general visiting Fort Drum, N.Y., who told Clinton this was the case!)

Certainly what has transpired in Iraq (or, more to the point, the perception of events there) can now be counted among the things most Muslims think they know about the United States. So we asked Clinton: What will the next American president have to say to the rest of the world about Iraq while trying to make the case that we're the good guys?

Her answer begins: "I think we'll have to not only talk about Iraq, we'll have to talk about Abu Ghraib, we'll have to talk about Guantanamo. And I think we have to start by acknowledging that the United States has made life very difficult for people inside Iraq and in the region. . . ."

Those who have been hung up on Clinton's refusal to apologize for her vote to authorize President Bush to use military force in Iraq -- she often says instead that she takes responsibility for her vote -- may hear a pregnant pause after the phrase "the United States has made . . ." Clinton did not say that the next president should apologize for the invasion of Iraq. (You could say, though, that she made clear the United States will have to take responsibility for the invasion.)

*Regarding Rudy: He might have begun his answer by saying: We should remind the world what a service our military did by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And John McCain, the candidate most associated with support of the mission in Iraq, might have made the point about Saddam and made the point about taking responsibility for the mess that followed his overthrow.

Conservative space aliens for Romney

From Doug Lambert at GraniteGrok:

"If I were a conservative space alien dropped on earth today and listened to the various candidates, Mitt would most likely be the guy for me. He is saying the right things conservatives want to hear on nearly every issue. Unfortunately for Mitt, I am no space alien. I've been around a while, as he has. The problem, as amply evidenced, is whether or not what we get today is what we'll get tomorrow. Most people only have two Achilles' heels. How many does Mitt Romney have?"

If the election were held yesterday . . .

. . . here is what might have happened.

Tancredo the trendsetter

The Wall Street Journal is none too pleased with the immigration back-and-forth between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani: "Are Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani competing for the Republican Presidential nomination, or for the job of vacation replacement for Lou Dobbs?"

Tom Tancredo couldn't be happier: "I’m happy now that almost every one of my colleagues, standing up there on the stage, running for the Republican nomination, is sounding like Tom Tancredo when it comes to illegal immigration."

Counting Mitt's millions

How rich is Mitt Romney? A few different answers, in increasing order:

Last Monday, the campaign announced: "Governor and Mrs. Romney's assets are valued between $95 and $287 million."

In subsequent news reports, the campaign said the Romneys "hold assets worth between $190 million and $250 million."

Steve and Cokie Roberts evidently added in Romney's sons' trusts and wrote: "His immediate family owns trusts worth as much as $350 million."

The biggest numbers attached to Romney's name predate these reports. In his book A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney, Hugh Hewitt writes:

"The chairman of the Massachusetts State Democratic Party, Phil Johnston, pegged Mitt Romney's net worth as between $500 million and $600 million in an interview he gave to MSNBC. . . . And Johnston may have missed by a factor of 100 percent the true size of Romney's holdings, which many observers estimate in excess of a billion dollars.

"A half billion or a billion, it doesn't really matter. If elected, Mitt Romney would be the wealthiest president in American history -- by a lot."

A visible theme for Clinton

You can watch Hillary Clinton's new ad, "Invisible," here. The theme -- that too many Americans have been invisible to President Bush -- has been a major one for Clinton since at least her speech to New Hampshire Democrats at the 100 Club dinner back in March. The Monitor's coverage of the speech is here. This video clip captures the long form of the "invisible" refrain used in the ad.

Giuliani and Edwards: two visions of foreign policy

Continuing its series of position papers from presidential candidates, Foreign Affairs gives space in its current issue to Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards. From the summaries:

Giuliani: "The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges: setting a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order, strengthening the international system the terrorists seek to destroy, and extending the system's benefits. With a stronger defense, a determined diplomacy, and greater U.S. economic and cultural influence, the next president can start to build a lasting, realistic peace."

Edwards: "In the wake of the Iraq debacle, we must restore America's reputation for moral leadership and reengage with the world. We must move beyond the empty slogan 'war on terror' and create a genuine national security policy that is built on hope, not fear. Only then can America once again become a beacon to the world."

We linked to the pieces from Mitt Romney and Barack Obama here.

UPDATE: See two very different takes on Rudy's foreign policy vision here and here.

Sarko on the lake

As an aside during his post-straw poll analysis, Michael Barone relates this exchange: "Sarkozy is vacationing on Lake Winnepesaukee [sic] in New Hampshire, where Romney owns a vacation house. I asked Romney if Sarkozy was staying near his house, and he said he was staying next door, and that Sarkozy's people had inquired about using Romney's house; Romney said his staff had turned them down, and that he thinks it would have been great if Sarkozy were staying in his house." (More on the French president's visit here, here and here.)

Regarding the straw poll itself, Barone writes: "My conclusion is that the sag in turnout is bad news for the Republican Party. It suggests a lack of enthusiasm and esprit. Romney makes the point that eight years ago Republicans were enthused at the prospect of the end of the Clinton administration and were optimistic about taking back the White House. Today, by contrast, they seem depressed or at least unenthusiastic by the record of the Bush administration and pessimistic about holding the White House."

Meanwhile, Drew Cline, moonlighting at the Corner, quips: "I entirely agree that it is utterly silly to think that the opinions of 14,000 Iowa Republicans amount to a hill of soy beans in this world. Except, they do. Because let's face it, if you're running for the GOP nomination for president and you can't convince a few thousand Iowa Republicans to vote for you (hello, Tommy Thompson!), then what prayer have you of convincing anyone else to vote for you?"

JFK + W = Obama?

Mort Kondracke doesn't want the JFK (or GWB) rerun he thinks Barack Obama's campaign conjures up:

"The foreign policy offered by Sen. Barack Obama is bold, idealistic, muscular, expansive, Kennedy-esque. It also is, as his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton charges, naive and irresponsible. It sounds like the vision of a freshman senator. Or, possibly, a Texas governor with no foreign policy experience. . . .

"There are many attractive ideas in Obama's agenda, including a new language-savvy Americas Voice Corps to work in the Muslim world and programs to fight poverty and ignorance. Obama wants America to be 'the relentless opponent of terror and tyranny and the light of hope to the world.' It all echoes John F. Kennedy -- 'we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe' -- and Obama clearly means to be the torchbearer for a new generation. But America also needs a president with the experience to avoid a Bay of Pigs, a Vietnam or an Iraq War."

Re: Obama on terrorism

Days after Barack Obama suggested Hillary Clinton was stuck in Bush-Cheney mode on the idea of talking with our enemies, blogger Jerome Armstrong says Obama's speech today adds up to "a continuation of the Bush doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive attacks in the mid-east, with Obama adding Pakistan to the list."

UPDATE: Interesting reactions here, including from Peter Bergen and sometime-friend-to-Ron Paul Michael Scheuer, familiar to readers of The Looming Tower (as well as their own books).

Obama on terrorism

Today's Monitor editorial calls on Democrats to make clearer their plan for dealing with Islamic terrorism. On cue, here is Barack Obama's speech today at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Excerpts:

"What we saw that morning [9/11] forced us to recognize that in a new world of threats, we are no longer protected by our own power. And what we saw that morning was a challenge to a new generation. The history of America is one of tragedy turned into triumph. And so a war over secession became an opportunity to set the captives free. An attack on Pearl Harbor led to a wave of freedom rolling across the Atlantic and Pacific. An Iron Curtain was punctured by democratic values, new institutions at home, and strong international partnerships abroad.

"After 9/11, our calling was to write a new chapter in the American story. To devise new strategies and build new alliances, to secure our homeland and safeguard our values, and to serve a just cause abroad. We were ready. Americans were united. Friends around the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We had the might and moral suasion that was the legacy of generations of Americans. The tide of history seemed poised to turn, once again, toward hope.

"But then everything changed. We did not finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We did not develop new capabilities to defeat a new enemy, or launch a comprehensive strategy to dry up the terrorists’ base of support. We did not reaffirm our basic values, or secure our homeland. . . .

"It is time to write a new chapter in our response to 9/11. . . .

"I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. This requires a broader set of capabilities, as outlined in the Army and Marine Corps’s new counter-insurgency manual. I will ensure that our military becomes more stealth, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists. We need to recruit, train, and equip our armed forces to better target terrorists, and to help foreign militaries to do the same. This must include a program to bolster our ability to speak different languages, understand different cultures, and coordinate complex missions with our civilian agencies. . . .

"And I won’t hesitate to use the power of American diplomacy to stop countries from obtaining these weapons or sponsoring terror. The lesson of the Bush years is that not talking does not work. Go down the list of countries we’ve ignored and see how successful that strategy has been. We haven’t talked to Iran, and they continue to build their nuclear program. We haven’t talked to Syria, and they continue support for terror. We tried not talking to North Korea, and they now have enough material for six to eight more nuclear weapons.

"It’s time to turn the page on the diplomacy of tough talk and no action. It’s time to turn the page on Washington’s conventional wisdom that agreement must be reached before you meet, that talking to other countries is some kind of reward, and that Presidents can only meet with people who will tell them what they want to hear. . . .

"We know where extremists thrive. In conflict zones that are incubators of resentment and anarchy. In weak states that cannot control their borders or territory, or meet the basic needs of their people. From Africa to central Asia to the Pacific Rim – nearly 60 countries stand on the brink of conflict or collapse. The extremists encourage the exploitation of these hopeless places on their hate-filled websites.

"And we know what the extremists say about us. America is just an occupying Army in Muslim lands, the shadow of a shrouded figure standing on a box at Abu Ghraib, the power behind the throne of a repressive leader. They say we are at war with Islam. That is the whispered line of the extremist who has nothing to offer in this battle of ideas but blame – blame America, blame progress, blame Jews. And often he offers something along with the hate. A sense of empowerment. Maybe an education at a madrasa, some charity for your family, some basic services in the neighborhood. And then: a mission and a gun.

"We know we are not who they say we are. America is at war with terrorists who killed on our soil. We are not at war with Islam. America is a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people. The vast majority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims have no use for bin Ladin or his bankrupt ideas. But too often since 9/11, the extremists have defined us, not the other way around. When I am President, that will change. We will author our own story. . . .

"We are in the early stages of a long struggle. Yet since 9/11, we’ve heard a lot about what America can’t do or shouldn’t do or won’t even try. We can’t vote against a misguided war in Iraq because that would make us look weak, or talk to other countries because that would be a reward. We can’t reach out to the hundreds of millions of Muslims who reject terror because we worry they hate us. We can’t protect the homeland because there are too many targets, or secure our people while staying true to our values. We can’t get past the America of Red and Blue, the politics of who’s up and who’s down.

"That is not the America that I know. The America I know is the last, best hope for that child looking up at a helicopter. It’s the country that put a man on the moon; that defeated fascism and helped rebuild Europe. It’s a country whose strength abroad is measured not just by armies, but rather by the power of our ideals, and by our purpose to forge an ever more perfect union at home.

"That’s the America I know. We just have to act like it again to write that next chapter in the American story. If we do, we can keep America safe while extending security and opportunity around the world. We can hold true to our values, and in doing so advance those values abroad. And we can be what that child looking up at a helicopter needs us to be: the relentless opponent of terror and tyranny, and the light of hope to the world.

"To make this story reality, it’s going to take Americans coming together and changing the fundamental direction of this country. It’s going to take the service of a new generation of young people. It’s going to take facing tragedy head-on and turning it into the next generation’s triumph. That is a challenge that I welcome. Because when we do make that change, we’ll do more than win a war – we’ll live up to that calling to make America, and the world, safer, freer, and more hopeful than we found it."

The paradox of Iraq

The transcript of Hugh Hewitt's recent interview of John Burns of the New York Times printed to 16 pages. This excerpt hints at why it's worth reading in full.

"HH: One of the arguments for those favoring a timeline for withdrawal that’s written in stone is that it will oblige the Iraqi political class to get serious about such things as the oil revenue division. Do you believe that’s an accurate argument?

"JB: Well, you would think it would be so, wouldn’t you, that the threat of withdrawal of American troops, and the risk of a slide into catastrophic levels of violence, much higher than we’ve already seen, would impel the Iraqi leadership to move forward. But there’s a conundrum here. There’s a paradox. That’s to say the more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They’re much more inclined to kind of hunker down. So in effect, the threats from Washington about a withdrawal, which we might have hoped would have brought about greater political cooperation in face of the threat that would ensue from that to the entire political establishment here, has had, as best we can gauge it, much more the opposite effect, of an effect that persuading people well, if the Americans are going, there’s absolutely no…and we’re going to have to settle this by a civil war, why should we make concessions on that matter right now? For example, to give you only one isolated exception, why should the Shiite leadership, in their view, make major concessions about widening the entry point for former Baathists into the government, into the senior levels of the military leadership, that’s to say bringing in high ranking Sunnis into the government and the army and the police, who themselves, the Sunnis, are in the main former stalwarts of Saddam’s regime. Why would the Shiites do that if they believe that in the end, they’re going to have to fight a civil war? This is not to reprove people in the Congress who think that the United States has spent enough blood and treasure here. It’s just a reality that that’s the way this debate seems to be being read by many Iraqi politicians.

"HH: Would a, John Burns, a contrary approach yield the also counterintuitive result that if Congress and the United States said we’re there for two or three more years at this level, would that assist the political settlement, in your view, coming about?

"JB: Unfortunately, I think the answer to that is probably not, and that’s something that General Casey and General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker now, General Petraeus’ partner, if you will, are very wary of. They understand that there has to be something of a fire lit under the feet of the Iraqi leaders. It’s a paradox, it’s a conundrum, which is almost impossible to resolve. Now I think the last thing that you need is an Iraqi leadership which is already inclined to passivity on the matters, the questions that seem to matter most in terms of a national reconciliation here, the last thing they need is to be told, in effect, the deadline has been moved back three years. I would guess the way, if you will, to vector all of this would be to find some sort of solution, indeed it was the benchmark solution, which would say to them if you come together and you work on these benchmarks, then you will continue to have our support. But it seems to me that the mood in Congress has moved beyond that. The mood in Congress, as I read it from here, at least those who are leading the push for the withdrawal, are not much interested anymore in incremental progress by the Iraqi government. They’ve come to the conclusion that this war is lost, that no foreseeable movement by the Iraqi leaders will be enough to justify the continued investment of lives and dollars here by the United States, and that it’s time to pull out. And of course, you can make a strong argument to that effect."

The Democrats' choice

Rather than change vs. experience, the key Clinton-Obama dynamic, suggests Andrew Sullivan, is "the choice between a defensive crouch and a confident engagement. It is the choice between someone who lost their beliefs in a welter of fear; and someone who has faith that his worldview can persuade a majority."

Sullivan writes: "Clinton has internalized to her bones the 1990s sense that conservatism is ascendant, that what she really believes is unpopular, that the Republicans have structural, latent power of having a majority of Americans on their side. Hence the fact that she reeks of fear, of calculation, of focus groups, of triangulation. . . . Obama is different. He wasn't mugged by the 1980s and 1990s as Clinton was. He doesn't carry within him the liberal self-hatred and self-doubt that Clinton does. The traumatized Democrats fear the majority of Americans are bigoted, know-nothing, racist rubes from whom they need to conceal their true feelings and views. The non-traumatized Democrats are able to say what they think, make their case to potential supporters and act, well, like Republicans acted in the 1980s and 1990s."

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