The first and only U.S. vice presidential debate between Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin just came to a close, and while I feel it was a clear win for Biden, Palin far exceeded my expectations. Viewers seem to agree – 84% of CNN viewers felt she did better than expected. Given the Governor’s recent “disastrous” interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, many believed tonight’s debate would be a repeat of such performances. Nevertheless, CNN’s opinion poll still found that debate watchers felt Biden did a better job by a 51% – 36% margin.
Now on to the foreign policy part of the debate, specifically the candidates’ responses related to the posed question, What’s the greater threat: a nuclear Iran or an unstable Pakistan? While Biden acknowledged that both scenarios were “equally dangerous,” he turned the question into a criticism of Republican presidential candidate John McCain‘s policy about terror instability. He asserted,
John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it’s going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from Al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s where they live. That’s where they are. That’s where it will come from.
Biden also emphasized his support for Pakistan’s democracy “by helping them not only with their military but with their governance and their economic well-being.” Sen. Barack Obama‘s running mate addressed the issue of madrassa reform, stating, “There have been 7,000 madrasses built along that border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we’re actually able to take on terrorism…” He also asserted, like Obama has in the past, that if the U.S. has credible and “actual” intelligence, they will go after Osama bin Laden, who “lives in that [border] area.”
Governor Palin responded to the question by stating,
Both are extremely dangerous, of course. And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was Gen. Petraeus and Al Qaeda, both leaders there and it’s probably the only thing that they’re ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq. You don’t have to believe me or John McCain on that. I would believe Petraeus and the leader of Al Qaeda.
The candidates addressed other foreign policy issues, including diplomatic relations with Iran, the possession of nuclear weapons, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The major focus, however, was undoubtedly the war in Iraq, as well as its relation to the war in Afghanistan. Palin suggested, “The surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan.” She asserted the U.S. will also win in Afghanistan because of Coalition forces “securing democracy,” “fighting terrorists,” and “building schools for children.”
Biden countered that with Afghanistan, “facts matter,” asserting, “The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge – the surge principles used in Iraq will not – well, let me say this again now – our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.” Palin responded, “Well, first McClellan did not say definitively that the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan…The counterinsurgency going into Afghanistan — clearing, holding, rebuilding the civil society and infrastructure — can work in Afghanistan. And those leaders who are over there, who have also been advising George Bush on this, haven’t said anything but that.”
On that point, Biden was referring to a Washington Post article released today citing the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who stated that while more U.S. troops are needed to fight the war there, “no Iraq-style surge” will end the conflict in the war-torn country. “The word I don’t use for Afghanistan is ‘surge,'” but a “sustained commitment to a counterinsurgency effort that would require a political solution, he told the Post. Moreover, despite Palin’s repeated referrals to that U.S. commander as McClellan, his actual name is, Gen. David D. McKiernan. Perhaps the Governor confused him with Maj. Gen. George McClellan, who led the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War?
During the debate, Biden demonstrated a more clear understanding of Pakistan, although to be fair, Palin didn’t really address Pakistan at all, except to insist that the central front of the war on terror is in Iraq. In that regard, it was a markedly different discussion compared to last week’s presidential debate, [see CHUP’s past coverage], when the candidates argued over the issue of attacking Pakistan. Although several people felt that Obama’s comments were off base on Pakistan last week, [and felt that McCain was more knowledgeable about the terrain], it is significant that his running mate took a more insightful approach when addressing the issues facing the country. [Image from the NY Times]
For a full transcript of the debate, click here.