Someone to lean on

What a pleasure it was to watch Obama and McCain compete over who is more ready to defend Israel.

September 28, 2008 15:53
4 minute read.
Someone to lean on

obama mccain 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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A exclusive blog In a campaign marked, like all campaigns, by differences of opinion, both of America's major party presidential nominees enthusiastically support Israel. At their first debate Friday night, America's two leading presidential candidates clashed over who was more likely to defend Israel against Iran most effectively. "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 [a] compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well," Senator John McCain insisted. "Now we cannot [have] 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," McCain noted. When it was his turn, Barack Obama responded: "So obviously, our policy over the last eight years has not worked. Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would be a game changer. Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East. Now here's what we need to do," Obama continued. "We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we're going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon." What a pleasure it is to watch two leading politicians in a great country compete over who is a more reliable ally, ready to defend democratic Israel against autocratic Iran. Note that neither candidate, standing before tens of millions of American people, hides or hedges his pro-Israel support. Of course, it is a far cry from mouthing support for Israel during a presidential campaign to figuring out an effective strategy to stop Iran. But both candidates were not merely playing for votes. They were demonstrating the breadth of the consensus in the United States about Israel. In fact, it often seems that American politicians are clearer and more eloquent in their support for the Jewish state than are most Israeli politicians. The most surprising twist in this story is that so many American leaders emphasize a nuclear Iran's threat to Israel - while ignoring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats to the United States as well. Over the years, Iranian extremists have threatened "the big Satan" - the United States - as viciously as they have threatened "the little Satan" Israel. That American politicians do not have to masquerade ardent support for Israel behind genuine fears for their own country reflects the breadth and depth of the Israel-America friendship. The exchange about Israel was in keeping with the impressive, substantive tone of most of the debate. While neither delivered a memorable line or a knock-out punch, both candidates acquitted themselves honorably. John McCain was dominant, especially in the second, foreign-policy-oriented, half. He showed he was vigorous and fast on his feet, not at all the plodding septuagenarian he appeared to be during the summer. Barack Obama was equally impressive, refusing to concede or be cowed by McCain's body blows. In fighting the older, more experienced foreign policy expert to a draw in the debate devoted to foreign policy, Obama repeated John Kennedy's accomplishment in simply sharing the stage and appearing to be the equal of his better-known and more experienced rival Richard Nixon in 1960 (although in that case, Kennedy and Nixon actually were peers; it was just Nixon's eight years as Vice President that set the two apart so dramatically). The American people benefited by watching such a substantive discussion by two clearly talented candidates during a time of crisis. It was instructive to see where the candidates agreed as much as where they disagreed. Both candidates' horror at the thought of a nuclear Iran, their criticism of Russia's invasion of Georgia, their concern over the excesses of Wall Street, demonstrated a common "Main Street" sensibility. The two candidates' clashes, particularly about the Iraq war, revealed that the American people have a clear and significant choice to make in November. Here, McCain was particularly strong, having been vindicated by the surge. Obama faltered, trying to repudiate the Iraq invasion without disrespecting the troops. The first debate may not have ensured a victory for either candidate but it may have helped Americans realize that regardless of who wins in November, the new president will be smart, sincere, and ready to lead.

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