Sneak Peek of This Fall’s Election?

By Jennifer Parker

Feb 27, 2008 3:07pm

The question to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, at last night’s debate: "Do you reserve a right as American president to go back into Iraq once you have withdrawn with sizable troops in order to quell any kind of insurrection or civil war?"

Obama’s answer: "As commander in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests. And if al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad. So that is true, I think, not just in Iraq, but that’s true in other places. That’s part of my argument with respect to Pakistan. I think we should always cooperate with our allies and sovereign nations in making sure that we are rooting out terrorist organizations. But if they are planning attacks on Americans like what happened on 9/11, it is my job, it will be my job as president to make sure that we are hunting them down."

At a town hall meeting in Tyler, Texas, this morning, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took issue with Obama’s "if al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq" phrase.

"I am not embarrassed to tell you that I did not watch the Democratic debate last night, but I am told that Sen. Obama made a statement that is Al Qaeda came back to Iraq after he withdraws, after the American troops are withdrawn, then he would send military troops back to its Al Qaeda established base in Iraq.

"I have some news — Al Qaeda is in Iraq," McCain said to laughter. "It’s called: ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq."

"And my friends, if we left, they would not be establishing a base. They would be taking a country and I am not going to allow that to happen. I will not surrender to Al Qaeda."

Watch the video HERE.

As reported by ABC News’ Bret Hovell and Sunlen Miller, Obama responded to this, saying, "I said well I would always reserve the right to go in and strike against al Qaeda if they were in Iraq, so ya know, this is how politics works. McCain thought that he could make a clever point by saying ‘well let me give you some news Barack, al Qaeda IS in Iraq,’ like I wasn’t reading the papers, like I — like I didn’t know what was going on. Well, first of all, I DO know that al Qaeda is in Iraq, that’s€™s why I’ve said we should continue to strike al Qaeda targets. But I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq! I’ve got some news for John McCain: he took us into war along with George bush that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged."

Obama finished, "I’ve been paying attention, John McCain! That’s the news. So John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that’s cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars. I intend to bring [it] to an end so that we can actually start going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan like we should have been doing in the first place! That’s the news John McCain!"

I don’t doubt that Obama knew that Al Qaeda in Iraq exists, but I also think it’s clear he doesn’t think of the group as a threat to stability in the region as much as McCain does.

Expect McCain to hit Obama on national security over and over and over.

McCain’s interest in kitchen table issues beyond knowing the difference between Medicaid and Gatorade might not impress you, but his depth of knowledge — if not his judgment — on national security issues and foreign affairs is leaps and bounds more encyclopedic than Obama’s.

And I suspect presented with month after month of McCain pounding Obama as out of his depth on life-or-death issues, suburban moms and swing voters may not be as forgiving of Obama’s various misstatements and missteps as Madison liberals and, well, some in the media.

Discuss.

- jpt

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