Yesterday, the Democratic Presidential candidates (with the exception of Mike Gravel) met for a forum in front members of the AFL-CIO federation of unions at Soldier Field in Chicago. The forum was aired on MSNBC and was moderated by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.
Being an AFL-CIO event, the questions posed centered around labor and union issues. The first issue was one that has been quite prominent in the news and that is the collapse of the bridge across the Mississippi in Minneapolis, and the first wave of questions all related to the national infrastructure.
Of course, this wasn’t the only issue raised. Iraq came back into question, which gives him a chance to redeem his vies in the eyes of consumers of the mainstream media (which did a pretty poor job reporting his speech). In my opinion, he did an excellent job. And his campaign thought so too, as they have posted a segment of it to YouTube. Before you watch the segment, I think it is important to understand the context going in, so here is Senator Dodd’s answer before Obama’s repsonse:
OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton, thank you.
Senator Dodd, last week you had said that Senator Obama, quoting you, “His assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused.”
You added, “He should not be making unwise categorical statements about military options.” What, in your opinion, has been confusing?
DODD: Well, let me say on these matters here, I spent 26 years
on the Foreign Relations Committee dealing with these matters; almost every major foreign policy debate. Words mean things. We’ve got to be very careful about language that is used in terms of the danger and harm it can do to our nation.
My view was, when issues were being raised about Pakistan,
understand that while General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson, he may be the only thing that stands between us and having an Islamic fundamentalist state in that country.
So while I would like to see him change, the reality is: If we
lose him then what we face is an alternative that could be a lot worse for our country.
I think it is highly irresponsible of people who are running for
the presidency and seek that office to suggest we may be willing
unilaterally to invade a nation here that we are trying to get to be
more cooperative with us in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
So my views, and I say this respectfully to my friend from
Illinois here, I think it was wrong to say what he did in that matter.
I think it is important for us to be very careful about the
language we use; make it clear that if this United States is going to
build relationships around the world, we’re going to have to do so
with allies — in some cases, allies that we might not particularly
OLBERMANN: Senator Dodd, thank you.
OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, yes, you’ve taken some hits here from us. So yours is the last word on this subject.
As an alternate, here is a transcript of the videosegment:
OBAMA: Well, look, I find it amusing that those who helped to
authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our
generation are now criticizing me…
… for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not
the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism.
Chris, respectfully — and you and I are close friends — but the
fact is: You obviously didn’t read my speech. Because what I said
was that we have to refocus, get out of Iraq, make certain that we are helping Pakistan deal with the problem of Al Qaida in the hills
between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
OBAMA: But, Chris, if we have actionable intelligence on Al
Qaida operatives, including bin Laden, and President Musharraf cannot act, then we should. Now, I think that’s just common sense.
OBAMA: I don’t know about you, but for us to authorize the place
where the people who attack — where the people who attacked 3,000 Americans were not present, which you authorized, and then to suggest that somehow we should not focus on the folks that did…
OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, we’re well over.
OBAMA: … attack 3,000 Americans, I think is a problem.
OLBERMANN: We’re well over time.
Senator Clinton, I must ask for your — Senator Clinton?
Senator Clinton, give me your response to this. I’m going to
give you both a chance here. But, Senator Clinton, please give me
your response to what we’re hearing tonight.
CLINTON: Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals and it may well be that the strategy that we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence — but, remember, we’ve had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence — might lead to a certain action.
But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with Al Qaida and Taliban.
CLINTON: And remember: Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last
thing we want is to have Al Qaida-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons.
So, you can think big, but remember you shouldn’t always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don’t need that right now.
OLBERMANN: Senator Dodd — I owe Senator Dodd a response.
Your name was invoked in several of these answers. Please, take
30 seconds here.
DODD: Well, I just want to say, look — Barack, you know, I
certainly said, look, I made a mistake in that vote in 2002. I don’t
But when you make a mistake, as you run on something like this — I think if I had the courage, I made a mistake on the vote in 2002. If you’re making a mistake today, you ought to stand up and say so. It was a mistake in my view to suggest somehow that going in unilaterally here, into Pakistan, was somehow in our interest. That, I think, is dangerous. And I don’t retreat from that at all.
OBAMA: This came back to me and…
OLBERMANN: All right, Senator.
Senator Obama, 30 seconds and then I have to stop this.
OBAMA: I did not say that we would immediately go in
unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with Musharraf,
because the biggest threat to American security right now are in the northwest provinces of Pakistan. And that we should continue to give him military aid contingent on him doing something about that.
But the fact of the matter is that when we don’t talk to the American people — we’re debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have the right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that are part…
… of the debate that has to take place with respect to how
we’re going to shift our foreign policy. This is a…
He was cut off for a commercial break, but you can get the gist of what happened.
While clearing up what he actually said in his speech was important, more important for me was what he said in response to Senator Clinton’s remarks advocating self-censorship. We proclaim ourselves to be a democracy and yet Senator Clinton thinks that Presidential candidates should shield their views from the public on the topic of foreign policy.
When you think about it, it is this stance that is the truly dangerous one. We the American people are choosing the candidate we see as best suited to be President. During this election season, our foreign policy is a key issue if not they key issue in many people’s minds. To suggest that candidates keep their foreign policy views to themselves is folly. That would create a situation where voters pick their candidate on less than optimal knowledge of their positions.
Of course, a policy of openness goes against what the Clinton campaign has been running so far, and Iraq is a major weak point for Clinton, who maintains that her vote for the authorization of this war was correct and that it was the result of bad intelligence (which she didn’t actually read) and that it was poorly managed.
It will be interesting to see how this affects the polls, as Clinton apparently has been losing the gains she made with the cheap soundbite barbs she made last week seem to be wearing off because of her lobbying comments.
Here is a full transcript of the event, which I excerpted from earlier in the post.