McCain and Obama Square Off

John McCain’s national campaign finally has an identified adversary: Barack Obama, despite Hillary Clinton’s last-minute pleas for a reprieve — will be the Democratic nominee this fall. And McCain is already seizing on the most obvious Obama weakness:  his inability to think quickly and answer questions for which he isn’t prepared. 

McCain seems to thrive in person-to-person debates. Obama is uncomfortable unless he is speaking prepared remarks to an adoring crowd. The two — in this and so many other ways — are polar opposites.

Wednesday, McCain said he wants joint town hall meetings across the country with his presidential opponent. He hopes they will promote a “pure form of democracy” and force Obama to “respond directly to the specific questions and concerns that people have” instead of pandering to audiences in eloquent but long, vague speeches.  As any good pol would want to, McCain seeks to apply his strength to Obama’s weakness. 

In a campaign conference call yesterday, McCain said Obama’s frequent “catch all phrases” do not capture the “specific positions and action for the future of the country.”

McCain hopes the American people will learn of and understand Obama’s ultra-liberal record: Obama was rated the most liberal US Senator by the non-partisan National Journal this year.

Both candidates delivered major speeches to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) this week, each acknowledging a vital connection and U.S. interest in the protection of Israel as a Jewish state.

In a conference call yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) noted a significant “disconnect” for these reasons. Obama pledged to “never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security”, but as Lieberman pointed out, he was one of only a handful of Senators that did not support last year’s Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Even the Senate’s other most liberal members — Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton — voted for the amendment — but not Obama.

In a debate last year, Obama called it “saber-rattling” but in yesterday’s speech he backtracked by saying we should boycott “firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whose Quds force has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.”

McCain, though he said he had not seen Obama’s speech, was not surprised by the sudden change in direction, noting that Obama often switches on issues. This one, though, was particularly “remarkable.”

“He made several comments on this amendment…that it would affect troop levels and was the wrong thing to do,” said McCain. “Now he goes before AIPAC and changes…he’s moving through various evolutions…and I don’t think the American people will buy it.”

McCain said it proves again that Obama lacks the experience and knowledge to make the judgments necessary in a time of war.

The Kyl-Lieberman amendment does not purport military action though Obama opposed on those grounds.

Randy Scheunnemann, senior foreign policy and national security advisor to the McCain campaign, said Obama never made any public statements supporting the designation of the IRG as a terrorist group until yesterday so it is “hard to escape the conclusion that…today when it’s AIPAC and a Pro-Israel audience that…Obama has a different message for different audiences.”

Obama made other switches in his speech as well. A few weeks ago, he referred to Iran as only a “tiny” threat compared to the Soviet Union during the Cold War but yesterday, he labeled the country a “grave threat.”

He blamed the U.S. decision to invade Iraq for strengthening the power of the Iranian regime. He said the United States knew of Iran’s threat to Israel before 2002 and “instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it.” Obama repeated that he said before we invaded that entering Iraq would “fan the flames of extremism in the Middle East.”

Lieberman was quick to disagree, saying, “It’s not because of what we’ve done in Iraq, it’s because Iran is a fanatical terrorist expansionist state…with a leadership that constantly threatens to extinguish the state of Israel.”

Obama’s opinions on Iraq and Iran were challenged recently when it was publicized he had visited Iraq only once — two years ago — and never spoke personally with US Army Commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, when he could have done so easily.

“Obama continues to deny that the surge has succeeded in Iraq — in direction contradiction to fundamental facts on the ground,” McCain said. “This is the 788th day… since he’s been to Iraq and has never requested to sit down and get a briefing from Petraeus.”

McCain concluded that, “That is a degree of lack of judgment about this war that I think Americans will not agree with.”

In the past, Obama has pledged to meet with the leaders of rogue nations such as Iran without pre-conditions but he went back on that statement too. He now claims he would meet with those leaders only if it advances American interests.

“He presents a false choice today that the only diplomacy can work is with Iranian leaders,” said Scheunemann, who also called Obama out on his negativity towards working more closely with European allies.

Obama said the U.S. was “outsourcing diplomacy” to European allies, provoking criticism from the McCain camp.

“To say we are ‘outsourcing diplomacy’ to European allies disparages the very essence of allied cooperation,” Scheunnemann said. “Sen. McCain wants to work with our allies …with sanctions. Sen. Obama seems more interested in…engaging in cowboy summitry with unnamed leaders.”

Obama’s constant calls for troop withdrawals appease a public sick of the Iraq war but don’t consider grave consequences for Israel’s safety, the stability of the region or the security of the US in the war on terror.

“Withdrawal from Iraq…regardless of the situation…that would lead to al-Qaeda declaring victory and giving Iran more power,” said Scheunemann, adding that to think a phased withdrawal wouldn’t have consequences is, “frankly, naïve.”

McCain admitted that Obama’s views on the now-successful troop surge have changed.

“It’s not the categorical condemnation of the surge that he articulated before — and again — I hope he goes to Iraq soon, sits down with Petraeus,” said McCain. “Any objective observer…will admit to the fact that the surge is success.”

McCain said Obama will have to discuss the success at length sooner or later — whether he wants to or not.