McCain, Obama clash over Pakistan policy

Democrat for attack on Pakistan, Republican says no

NEW YORK: US presidential candidates — Republican John McCain and Democratic Barack Obama — on Friday differed on Pakistan, especially over US attacks into the country’s territory.

During the first of a series of televised debates ahead of the November election, McCain, 74, while emphasizing the need for Pakistan’s support, said he would not publicly state a policy of attacking militants in Pakistan. On the other hand, Democratic rival Obama responded that the United States should attack militants if Pakistan was unwilling to do so.

In the debate held at Oxford, Mississippi, Obama said $10 billion in aid to the Pakistan government over the last seven years had failed to rid the border region of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, which he said was key to success in Afghanistan and that Washington might need to act alone. “If the United States has Al-Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out,” he said.

McCain called for a quiet policy. “You don’t do that. You don’t say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government,” he said. He said support from the Pakistani people was necessary. He cautioned that newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari has his “hands full” and said “this area on the border has not been governed since the days of Alexander the Great.”

“I’m not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan,” he said. The debate also saw a little role reversal. It was Obama who seemed more aligned with President George W Bush’s current policy of authorizing the American Special Forces to cross the Afghan-Pakistan border into the tribal areas.

In one of the more heated moments of the debate, Obama argued that he would take the war to Osama bin Laden’s cave door, whether Pakistan cooperated or not. And it was McCain, who argued that without Pakistan’s cooperation, any such operation was doomed.

At its core, the candidate’s argument is about the “central front” in the war on terrorism. Obama said it was, and always has been, Pakistan’s tribal areas and the neighbouring areas of Afghanistan.

In a 90-minute debate that gave undecided voters their first chance to directly compare the White House candidates in the Nov 4 election, McCain and Obama traded heated jabs over the economy and security, highlighting broad policy differences but producing no major blunders or knockout blows.

McCain questioned the first-term senator’s readiness for the White House. “I honestly don’t believe that Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience, and (he) has made wrong judgments in a number of areas,” the Arizona senator said.

Obama repeatedly tied McCain to the policies of unpopular Republican President George W Bush and said both men had been too focused on the Iraq war while ignoring other problems. “The next president has to have a broader strategic vision about all the challenges we face,” he said.

Neither candidate appeared to score a clear victory in the debate, the first of three such encounters. The debate between the vice presidential contenders, Republican Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska and Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, is next up on Thursday.

“I hope I made you proud tonight,” McCain told the cheering supporters at a small rally after the debate. He headed immediately back to Washington to take part in negotiations on a bailout package for the US financial industry.

Both McCain and Obama said they were optimistic Congress would come up with a $700 billion rescue plan but agreed the huge price tag would limit their agendas as the next president. McCain said he would freeze federal spending as president on most programmes other than defence and veterans’ care, and accused Obama of being a big-spending liberal who could not bring together Republicans and Democrats. “Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the Senate,” said McCain, who aggressively attacked Obama and at times put him on the defensive. “It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left.”

Obama said McCain would cut taxes for the wealthy and slash corporate tax rates, and said support of anti-regulatory approaches by Republicans like McCain had led to the collapse on Wall Street. “This is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policy promoted by George Bush and supported by Senator McCain,” he said.

While Obama talked tough on Pakistan, McCain was harsh against Russia. McCain denounced Russia as a KGB-run state and chided Barack Obama as naive. McCain said Obama had misunderstood Russia’s intentions by calling for restraint on both sides when fighting erupted between Russia and Georgia in August over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

“A little bit of naivetب there,” said McCain. “Russia has now become a nation fuelled by petro-dollars that has basically become a KGB apparatchik-run government. I looked in Mr Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters — a K, a G and B,” McCain said.

Obama called Russia’s incursion into South Ossetia “illegal and objectionable.” The candidates agreed that Georgia and Ukraine should be allowed to join the Nato alliance and Obama said they should be given an immediate plan for membership.

Source: The News, 28/9/2008

Leave a Reply