Obama v. McCain debate, 26 Sep 2008

For all it's worth, here are a few points from the debate that I couldn't restrain myself from blauhgging about:

1. McCain on Pakistan: "[Obama] said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan. Now, 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."

With those words, McCain admits that the US doesn't need to follow international laws. We just need to pay lipservice to them while we're carrying out assassinations, sending special forces into Iran and Pakistan. When Nixon ordered bombing of Laos and Cambodia, he didn't say that out loud. Apparently McCain approved of that.

He's applying Don't Ask/Don't Tell to military actions. McCain is hereby announcing his policy that he will lie to leaders of other nations, people of other nations, and necessarily to US citizens, because how else would he keep these secrets from anyone else?

It's not even "Don't Ask" or a lie by omission, because you know they're going to ask. Journalists and contacts from other countries are going to say, "We saw one of your R/C planes with the missiles on it cruising over our Minister of Culture's barn, and ten Americans were apparently LARPing Rainbow Six out in the back forty. Why have you sent troops across our border?" The president can't just keep quiet about it or do like your mom when you ask if she already bought the Castle Greyskull that you asked for for Xmas: "Maybe I did, maybe I didn't." He has to deny that shit. He has to make an outright lie.

2. Obama on how Republicans saw Musharaff: "He's a dictator but he's our dictator". It's a cliche, but it's a pitch perfect characterization of how McCain and conservatives have reacted and dealt with Musharaff. I wish Obama had hit back harder when McCain tried to justify Musharaff taking power by saying that Pakistan was a "failed state" before that. No matter how bad it was before, this is McCain's justification of a military coup.

I've been saying the same thing for years about Bush's 1999 campaign gaffe when a reporter quizzed him on the names of some heads of state. Bush couldn't remember the head of Pakistan by name, but to show he knew something, Bush said it was a general who had just taken power and that The General would bring "stability" to the region. Ignorant pundits talked about how the quiz was an "ambush," how people would fail on this kind of quiz, but to me the big gaffe that should have waken people up was Bush supporting a god damn military coup. How many other nations would he like to see stabilized by removing democracy, other than Pakistan and the US?

When you tease out the shit they say about stability, you begin to see that they would have said the same things about Mussolini. What opponents of democracy now calls "stability" (when they're supporting dictators) is what people used to call "making the trains run on time." They aren't talking about human lives or democracy being stabilized, they mean making the world safe for capitalism.

3. McCain on health care: "I want the families to make decisions between themselves and their doctors. Not the federal government."

Hmmm, I could go to the doctor for this twig growing out of my nipple, or I could continue to pay my heating bills. My decision is to give up on the possibility of health care because it's too expensive. Good thing the federal government didn't insert themselves in my important health care choice!

If you can't afford adequate health care, there's no doctor at all involved in the decision that you can't fucking afford to see any doctor. If you can't afford adequate health care under the current system, then which doctor you would have chosen is moot. Your choice of doctor is the step that comes after deciding to see the doctor, deciding that you won't become part of that statistic - the majority of bankrupcies happen after a medical emergency in the family.

Obviously it would be better to have the government organize health care for you, even if it's a doctor who gives you the stink-eye or talks with an accent, even if they organize it poorly, than to go without health care.

That's only looking at it from the perspective of people who have no "insurance" or feel they can't afford health care right now. It doesn't even get into the fact that for people who can afford health care, it is known that other nations spend less on health care and receive better results. [Citation needed, but I'm too lazy.] If you're blindingly rich, then you will find the best health care in the US supposedly, but for most people, you will pay more for the same level or worse compared with a person in some other country with nationalized health care.

Sorry, it's an old gripe. You probably have heard the arguments, but I can't believe McCain et al still misrepresent it to people and get away with it.

3. McCain brought up his "maverick" opposition to torture, but he voted against a bill in February that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other forms of torture prohibited in the Army Field Manual. He toed the line on that vote.

Anyway, it's only a "maverick" position among Republicans. Dems and liberals already opposed torture. Actually US law and our signing of the Geneva Conventions means that opposition to torture should be the default position among people who value our laws, in spite of Bush and most Republicans lately moving away from that position. McCain might as well claim he's a maverick because he opposes murder or rape.

5. McCain mentioned a few times that if we didn't handle Iraq the right way and "win" the war, then we'd have to come back, that the next generation would have to fight in Iraq again.

"A war that I was in, where we had an Army, that it wasn't through any fault of their own, but they were defeated. And I know how hard it is for that -- for an Army and a military to recover from that. And it did and we will win this one and we won't come home in defeat and dishonor and probably have to go back if we fail."

Okay, the current war in Iraq is a sort of second engagement, as if Gulf War I had been unfinished. But if you want to draw a comparison with Vietnam, the US never went back there. I presume McCain normalized relations with Vietnam not because he was expecting that we would eventually go back there or "have to go back there" since "we" "failed".

It was a good thing that politicians were pressured to stop an illegal and immoral war in Vietnam. It didn't feel good to the soldiers who had been told they must win the war ("win" in terms set by the kind of people who launch illegal and immoral wars). Sorry, but I've said it before: if we could have made a choice in 1960 or 1965 to make millions of US soldiers and politicians depressed for not getting to "win" their war, and prevent the deaths of 50k US soldiers and 2 million give or take Vietnamese (not counting soldiers and civilians killed in Cambodia or Laos or nearby?), shouldn't we have taken it? Modern supporters of the Vietnam war seem to be saying that it was a tragedy that so many soldiers had to come back sad about the war, as if that was more important to consider than whether we should have been at war in the first place.

Setting that aside, when McCain talks about needing to "come back" to Iraq later, it begs the question of what standard we should have for invading a country or re-invading it, what standard he has in mind.

It's not that we will "probably have to go back" to re-invade Iraq at some point in the future if the goals of Bush and McCain aren't met before withdrawing troops. Failing to meet their goals won't threaten the human security of our country or the human security of the region. It might threaten the financial security of some people in our country, rich people, the only people worth talking about, generalized as the "national interest". Then they will probably lie again that our human security is threatened, pretending it's necessary to invade again after the Vietnam Syndrome Iraq Syndrome has faded in a decade or two.

Given the premise that what some rich people want is what everyone in the country needs, then we probably would "need" to go back if their goals were not met. The premise is shit, so the conclusion is shit.

6. McCain pointed out that Obama had not been to Afghanistan or Waziristan, and hadn't been to Iraq as early or as often as McCain had. I wish Obama had said that staging photo ops in dangerous territory doesn't make your foreign policy better or more well-informed. I don't know how to phrase that with an acceptable level of diplomacy, but I wish he had defended himself against such an idiotic appeal to emotion.

The same for "experience". Living through a couple decades in Congress counts as "experience" but it doesn't mean you've learned anything from it or made reasonable judgments based on that experience. One hundred more years in Iraq, that's the kind of thing McCain's experience leads him to say. I'd rather have a less experienced guy saying reasonable things about what we need to do than a more experienced guy saying the same old unreasonable shit.

7. McCain on the winning strategy in Iraq that he hopes to apply to Afghanistan: "There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity."

This reminds me of an old guy I met, the foster father of a friend from college, who told about the naughty way they would sing "The Sheikh of Araby", a popular song when they were young.

I'm the Sheik of Araby (WITHOUT NO PANTS ON)
Your love belongs to me. (WITHOUT NO PANTS ON)
At night when you're asleep (WITHOUT NO PANTS ON)
Into your tent I'll creep. (WITHOUT NO PANTS ON)

Or the trick of modifying (improving?) fortune cookies by adding "in bed" to whatever they say.

"A new wardrobe brings great joy and change in your life. ... IN BED!"
"You will be sharing great news with all people you love ... IN BED!"
"Your many hidden talents will become obvious to those around you. ... IN BED!"

The phrase that should be added to every sentence or clause of that statement by McCain is "because we bribe them."

"There is social, economic progress, and a strategy,
a strategy of going into an area (which they let us do BECAUSE WE BRIBE THEM),
clearing and holding (which they let us do BECAUSE WE BRIBE THEM),
and the people of the country then become allied with you (as long as WE BRIBE THEM and not a fucking moment longer).
They inform on the bad guys (BECAUSE WE BRIBE THEM).
And peace comes to the country, and prosperity. (UNTIL WE STOP BRIBING THEM)"

What McCain diagnoses as "social, economic progress" and "peace" and "prosperity" may or may not be partly attributable to the Surge and new strategies in Iraq. The other factors that should be emphasized are that the US is now literally making payments to people who used to be insurgents. And there has been so much ethnic cleansing already carried out by the different factions that it may explain the drop in violence -- they already killed or chased away most of the targets of ethnic cleansing, so those numbers have gone down. And Moqtada al-Sadr's faction agreed to stop fighting the US around the time the Surge started. That's seems like a short term affect on the levels of violence, not a problem that has been solved for the long term. They may be taking time to regroup and rearm for a renewed battle after US troops withdraw or draw down. It doesn't seem likely that they're renouncing violence for good.

This situation is like McCain saying, "See, you can tell it's getting better because the bleeding stopped!" after he put a band-aid on a rattlesnake bite.

8. Re: Obama's plan to beef up the war in Afghanistan and endorsement of spilling over into neighboring Cambodia, I mean Laos, I mean Pakistan. I'm going to vote for him because I think he's less dangerous than McCain, but the continued existence of Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are not good enough excuses for us to maintain illegal wars in those places. The way to stop Al Qaeda and find the killers is through police work, not through war. Keeping troops in Afghanistan is keeping a reason for people there to fight back. What would Texans do if some other nation diagnosed them as having a failed state and used it as an excuse to invade? They would fight back against the invasion and the occupiers. Later Billy Bob Thornton would star in the movie about it. (I know it's not analogous to the Alamo, but Billy Bob would still star in the movie.)

There will certainly be a power struggle between factions in Afghanistan when the US withdraws, whether it's sooner or later, and the damage from that is to be blamed on the criminals who illegally invaded, not on the people who end the illegal occupation. It will be a fucking mess, but it should be dealt with legally. The war should not be maintained just because we worry about our favorite faction being unable to win a civil war, or as if the war we are taking part of is less damaging or more stabilizing than a civil war would be.

Never mind. You've probably heard the arguments for all that too, and I probably won't change your mind. Just wanted to make clear that I'm not an unthinking shill for Obama. I think, then I shill.

9. McCain: "Reform, prosperity, and peace, these are major challenges to the United States of America."

Right, we wouldn't want any of those things to happen. John McCain will overcome challenges like reform, prosperity and peace. All his experience has led to overcoming those challenges.