What they asked (or told) Petraeus and Crocker

Five presidential candidates had Q&A time with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker yesterday. You can see what they did with it by clicking here for Sens. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama and here for Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton. A sixth candidate, Rep. Duncan Hunter, had his turn Monday and delivered these opening remarks. The AP summarizes what the five senator-candidates did here and rounds up other candidate statements here.

Fred Thompson, Osama bin Laden and Howard Dean

This can't sit well with the Fred-head T-shirt hawkers.

Fred Thompson's recent emphasis on "due process" for Osama bin Laden just isn't as punchy as "Kill the terrorists."

Actually, the AP reports, first Thompson downplayed the importance of bin Laden; then he said bin Laden needs to be "caught and killed"; then he said, "No, no, no, we've got due process to go through." Shifting emphasis (whether you call it nuance or a flip-flop) also doesn't make for snappy T-shirts.

No doubt we'll be hearing about Howard Dean's December 2003 editorial board interview at the Monitor, where, discussing the possibility of bringing bin Laden to trial, he said he wouldn't prejudge his guilt (no active link):

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he's caught? Dean said he didn't think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.
But wouldn't most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America - and put to death?
"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials. So I'm sure that is the correct sentiment of most Americans, but I do think if you're running for president, or if you are president, it's best to say that the full range of penalties should be available. But it's not so great to prejudge the judicial system."

Next year's war debate?

A National Review Online columnist sees clever positioning regarding Iraq by Mitt Romney. In fact, the writer envisions a fall 2008 debate, with the Iraqi occupation very much continuing, where Romney says that knowing what he knows now, he would not have invaded Iraq (while Hillary Clinton is stuck with her vote to authorize that invasion). [Update: more here.]

The writer also likes what he heard yesterday from Newt Gingrich regarding Iraq and the broader war against Islamic terrorists.

Romney's questioner responds

Mark Riss, who asked a question of Mitt Romney at last week's debate, sent us this note:

"A few points about my comment directed to Mr. Romney. The question posed to him that prompted his initial response should never have been asked in the first place. It was designed to have him give the wrong answer and in this case it succeeded.

"Mr. Romney was absolutely correct in the first part of his response, in that we have a volunteer military. His sons have absolutely no obligation to serve. However, Mr. Romney has been in the public arena for quite some time. The nature of his position requires he choose his words with some care, and I'm sure by now that is second nature to him.

"Do I think he was disrespecting our troops' service? No. Poorly chosen words or not, do I believe he was at least somewhat serious when he compared that service with his sons'? Yes, and to me that shows a serious lack of empathy and a disconnect with a segment of society he wishes to lead. I would suggest Mr. Romney's wife never watched the evening news crying over an injury suffered to someone else's son on the campaign trail.

"Were my wife and I offended by his comment? Absolutely. You rarely if ever get the chance to respond in person (so to speak) to a comment someone in Mr. Romney's position makes that affects you, and it felt good to get the chance to do so. I wasn't looking for a mea culpa from Mr. Romney, I just wanted him to know how my wife and I felt.

"The writer's comments about my being "obviously emotionally overheated" were way off the mark. Passionate, yes, but I knew what I was saying. His comment on that matter leads me to believe he has no relative who has served in the war on terror, or he might better understand where we were coming from. We're not going to vote for Mr. Romney, but lots of other people will. Time to move on to other issues."

Here, from the transcript, is the exchange between Riss and Romney at the debate:

MARK RISS: Yes, what I’m obviously most interested in is how we can bring an endgame to the war in Iraq and yet still do it so that it’s a victory for us and a victory for the people of Iraq. And my question is to Governor Romney.

And that is, I’ve heard the other people up there articulate themselves a little bit better. But in your answer, I didn’t hear how you would end it. I didn’t hear an endgame plan from you and I would like a response on that.

And also along those same lines, sir, a comment.

I don’t think you fully understand how offended my wife and I were and probably the rest of the people who have sons, daughters, husbands and wives serving in the war on terror to compare your sons' attempts to get you elected (with) my son’s service in Iraq. (Cheers, applause.) I know you apologized a couple days later up there, a firestorm started. But it was wrong, sir, and you never should have said it.

MR. ROMNEY: Well, there is no comparison, of course. There’s no question. But the honor that we have for men and women who serve in armed forces is a place of honor we will never forget, and nothing compares to it. People who are willing to put their life on the line for American freedom are in a league of their own, and we owe them their -- our respect. And the sacrifice they make is something we’ll never forget.

The issue -- and I think Congressman Tancredo hit the nail on the head. This is not about broken pottery, and it’s also not about just getting out because we made a mistake. This is a global conflict going on. Radical, violent jihad. This effort ranges from Indonesia, Nigeria, and through Europe and into America, and this battlefield of Iraq is a place where we have to be successful because the consequences of what will happen on this global battlefield are enormous. And that’s why it’s so important for us to be successful with the surge, and I agree, it looks successful. I certainly hope it’s going to be fully successful. And as we are able to do that, we’re going to see ourselves able to continue in our efforts to overwhelm jihad.

The key is this: We need a global strategy -- and on my website you’ll see it -- a global strategy to help us overcome jihad globally because this is the threat which faces the entire civilized world.

UPDATE (Sept. 26): Mark Riss and his wife have been named co-chairs of the New Hampshire Military Families for McCain Coalition.

Ron Paul v. Mike Huckabee

"After Mr. Paul spoke, it seemed half the room booed, but the other applauded. When a thousand Republicans are in a room and one man of the eight on the stage takes a sharply minority viewpoint on a dramatic issue and half the room seems to cheer him, something's going on."

- Peggy Noonan, on Ron Paul's foreign policy and this exchange with Mike Huckabee on Iraq at Wednesday's debate.

We printed a transcript of the Paul-Huckabee exchange in today's Monitor.

For the record, Noonan goes on to write: "Ron Paul's support isn't based on his persona, history or perceived power. What support he has comes because of his views. As he spoke, you could hear other candidates laughing in the background. They should stop giggling, and engage in a serious way. Mike Huckabee, and for this I [heart] Huckabee, shot back that history will judge whether we were right to go in, but for now, 'we're there.' He echoed Colin Powell: We broke it, now we own it. 'Congressman, we are one nation. We can't be divided. . . . If we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America.' David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network says he doesn't know why Mr. Huckabee isn't in the top tier. I wonder too. Maybe he is and we don't know it."

UPDATE: Paul supporters are e-mailing a link to this column on the exchange with Huckabee.

Stark differences between the parties

A guest commentary on the Republican debate (transcript here) from Barnstead resident (and frequent Monitor letter writer) Bill Bunker:

Wednesday evening's Republican debate was both interesting and revealing, but several of the candidates surprised me by their performance and answers to questions.

By far, the weakest of the candidates were Ron Paul, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo. Brownback was uninspiring, Tancredo was too emotionally charged and Paul was reminiscent of Ross Perot. Paul's gleaming moment was his answer on 9/11. Brownback's centered on his answer on gay marriage. Tancredo's response to illegal immigration, stating that it was not about racism but about rule of law, was right on the mark. Paul's statement that he takes his marching orders from "international law" was disgraceful, and he came across as a raving maniac.

The cutaway interviews at Young's restaurant were interesting, with Mr. Rogers asking what we do with the illegals that are here already. I am not sure that any candidate gave an accurate response.

Heidi Turcotte's response supporting gay marriage was expected after hearing that she was a Health and Human Services social worker, as that profession feeds on the nipple of social dysfunction.

Mark Riss attacked Romney on comparing the service of his son to Romney's son working to get him elected. Riss was obviously emotionally overheated in his attack of Romney, but that's politics. I thought Riss's attack was a bit of a cheap shot and bullying over poorly chosen words by Romney.

James Tautkus did target Rudy Giuliani's family life, but I viewed his question as loaded. I felt for Giuliani as that is private and one cannot draw assumptions on ability to lead based on failed marriages or relationships with rebellious children. Many great military leaders have suffered from the same personal issues.

Getting back to the candidates, McCain seemed feeble but held his own. McCain gave the poorest answer on immigration, but one has to admire a man who sticks to his beliefs regardless of what it will do to his career aspirations. McCain had good answers on Iraq and was on the mark with his assessment that there will be a bloodbath should we withdraw. Unfortunately, his answers spotlighted his entrenchment in "politics as usual" in Washington.

Duncan Hunter was not only very strong in this debate and the least polished of the strongest candidates but reminded me of Jack Kemp. He was very presidential, had strong stances and overall, very confident. His responses on Iraq revealed his understanding of the facts, and his call for "victory" was inspiring. Hunter would be a strong leader and deserves more attention from voters.

Mike Huckabee's analogy that FEDEX and UPS can track million of packages but the government can't keep track of who is here in this country was a perfect response. His answer on abortion was passionate, speaking to respecting, valuing and elevating every life. Equally impressive was Huckabee's answers on Iraq and his challenge of wacky Ron Paul on Iraq. Huckabee is underestimated and quite articulate. My impression is that he would be a no-nonsense leader who would be honest and passionate.

Rudy Giuliani was less than impressive, and I felt that he seemed distant and uninspiring. Giuliani skated on the immigration issue but made a great point on Guantanamo. His shining moment was when he made the point asking when a government has won a war by announcing strategy and when they were going to withdraw. In the opening moments of the debate, Giuliani made a great point that none of the Democrats had run a city, state or business, and that is a valid argument.

Mitt Romney was blindsided by the journalists on the panel, most likely due to the fact that he is the frontrunner in New Hampshire. His answer on immigration was right on the mark, calling for federal funding to stop sanctuary cities. He was correct that the Z Visa is amnesty. On abortion, Romney took the safe position, but it makes sense: Let the people decide and level the playing field. On taxes, Romney was up against the wall, but in "Taxachusetts," 90 percent of the politicians represent one party, the Democrats. He did veto many bills and attempt to cut taxes, and that is both admirable and courageous in a state like Massachusetts. Romney seemed a bit frazzled but seemed to bounce back after every attack.

Concerning the threat from Iran, all candidates but Ron Paul gave reasonable and well-thought-out answers. Once again, Tancredo was a ball of emotion and showed his status as a second-tier player.

This debate revealed the stark differences between the beliefs and agenda of the Democrats and Republicans. It validated for me that the Republicans would provide better security, enforce immigration laws, be able to manage versus govern through social agenda, protect our borders, value human life, protecting the unborn, and not overtax the populace.

Five candidates did well in this debate tonight and they were: Huckabee, who was sincere, passionate and spoke with clarity; Romney, who withstood the harsh attacks and innuendo from the journalists but bounced back and was sincere; Hunter, who surprised me with his honesty, stature and command of the facts; McCain held his own, and it was his best debate yet, but his answers on immigration were too far off the mark, and amnesty is not an option. My assessment of McCain's performance was that he has only one way to go, and that is up; the pressure was not on as the expectations were low. Giuliani missed the mark all over the map but is still in the running and made good points about leadership and most importantly the need for the next president to be a "manager."

It would be interesting to have a joint debate with Republicans and Democrats participating and answering the same questions. That would be a "debate" that would give clarity to the direction that the leading candidates would take our country.

Ask away

Local bloggers Doug Lambert and Skip Murphy have been picked by Fred Thompson to help send him voters' questions, some of which Thompson says he will answer by video at his new website each day. You can watch Thompson's full video introduction to voters here. (And read a theatrical review here.)

The GOP debate in a New York minute

The Fox News website offered a fascinating way to watch the debate -- with real-time reaction from a focus group superimposed on the video feed. Afterward, pollster Frank Luntz discussed the debate with his 29 watchers, and the broad consensus was that John McCain rose far above their expectations while Rudy Giuliani disappointed. The comments regarding McCain featured words such as "clear" and "concise" and played up the concept of leadership. One man noted how often the other candidates on stage seemed to quote McCain approvingly. (One tribute from Mike Huckabee probably cemented this impression. Giuliani also helped by saying he'd probably be backing McCain if he weren't running.) As for Giuliani, one woman appeared to speak for the focus group when she said it bothered her how often Giuliani brought up New York, no matter the question. This is interesting: Up to now, Giuliani has mostly benefited from his record as mayor of New York; here, instead, was a note of caution from New Hampshire voters -- something to the effect of: Hey, New York isn't the whole country!

Another view: Jim Geraghty gives the gold medal to Rudy. He also has the transcript of Fred Thompson's appearance with Jay Leno, in which he said he ... really is running for president. Both Geraghty and Drew Cline think Romney had a rough night. This may have been because he faced some of the toughest questioning he's gotten.

UPDATE: Here is the Monitor's coverage of the UNH debate. And here is a video clip of the debate's best exchange, in which Huckabee and Ron Paul both forcefully articulated their cases for, respectively, finding an honorable way out of Iraq and getting out as quickly as possible. Our story summarizes:

Huckabee said his stance on Iraq is driven by a simple lesson he learned shopping with his mother as a boy: If you break something, you have to buy it.
"Well, what we did in Iraq, we essentially broke it," Huckabee said. "It's our responsibility to do the best we can to try to fix it before we just turn away."
Paul said that responsibility for war policy did not belong to Americans, but rather a small group of neoconservatives who "hijacked our foreign policy." He said Huckabee's position was about saving face.
"We've dug a hole for ourselves, and we've dug a hole for our party," Paul said. "We're losing elections, and we're going down next year if we don't change it, and it has all to do with foreign policy and we have to wake up to this fact."
"Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor, and that is more important than the Republican Party," Huckabee said to sustained applause.

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."