I attended a foreign policy discussion this morning led by Richard Clarke (Former Counter-Terrorism Advisor to the National Security Council and Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Obama) and retired Major General Gration at the Harry Sudakoff Conference Center, New College of Florida.
The message from the speakers was clear: Senator McCain has been making dangerous decisions for our country for the past eight years and cannot be allowed to take us down the road the current administration has set us on.
The session was introduced by former Second Lieutenant Michael T. Burns, a Vietnam veteran who was shot down and held captive for 56 months during the conflict. Lieutenant Burns supported Senator McCain in his presidential bid in 2000, but has since both seen the choices of Senator McCain become troubling to him as a veteran and as well has seen Senator Obama to be the kind of Commander and Chief that he believes will serve us in the manner that our military, our veterans, the country and the world need.
Major General Gration talked about his decision to leave the Republican party and support Senator Obama. For most of this decade Maj. Gen. Gration was based in Stugart, Germany and in charge of US military plans and policies for 93 countries. He met the newly minted Senator Obama and traveled around Europe and Africa and was immediately impressed by him. “This guy was not like other senators. He wanted to know not just what we were doing, but why.” The Major General said that in his time spent with Senator Obama it became clear to him that he was a man who “thought about the future, and thinking about the future allowed him to put forth a vision”. He watched as Senator Obama went to hospitals in Botswana – where 34% of the population is infected with HIV, and where the entire population is forecast to consist of 10% AIDS orphans in coming years – and saw beyond a doubt that he “cares about people“. That he is a uniter who has the intelligence, humanity and capacity to make decisions that are intended to improve the human condition.
In Kenya, the entourage found themselves charged money to get their camera equipment into an event, without the ability to get receipts for the charges. On hearing about this, the Senator “was not happy”, and when the two men later met with the President of Kenya, Senator Obama surprised him by confronting the President with this and the other problems apparent during their visit, where in Maj. Gen. Gration’s experience other politicians would avoid raising such topics for fear of offending their host. The first thing the Senator told the President of Kenya was that the incident was unacceptable, and that the problems of corruption and tribalism in his country would keep them out of full membership in the civilized world. The next day, a brown paper envelope was delivered with the money they had been charged enclosed.
At several places in his talk, the Major General stressed that he had seen – throughout their time together – Senator Obama “stand up for the people”. In Chad, Darfour, South Africa and elsewhere. <sic>”Senator Obama gets it. We need a President who is capable of understanding the complexities and nuance of foreign policy and provide the leadership we require. We need a President who will stick up for America and stick up for the world. Leadership does matter.”
He also mentioned that among veterans, Sen. McCain has been rated positively by 20%, while Obama had been rated positively by 80%. “Senator Obama is passing that test, Sen. McCain is AWOL. After Vietnam we took care of broken bodies, but not minds, leading to 200,000 homeless veterans. Due to the policies promoted by Senator McCain, Iraq veterans with missing limbs were coming home to be charged for meals, television and phone calls from Walter Reid, Senator Obama went there and saw this for himself, and he did something about it.
“I have four criteria for Commander in Chief, from when I was a Republican.
“Who can use military force the way it was supposed to be used, as a tool of statecraft?
And who will give our men and women everything they need if we must put them in harm’s way?
“Who understands this complex world we live in? Who’s not going to say ‘you’re with us or against us’? Who’s going to understand the nuances? bring us through this tough world? Barack Obama has the intellect, but more than that, he listens.
“Look at our military. Who is going to be able to inspire us to make the next generation of our volunteer force? Who will inspire our young people to join the military, to join the peace corp? Who will inspire our elderly to tutor our youth?
“Finally, who’s going to take care of our vets? Senator Obama has the proven record of doing just that.”
To this deeply experienced military and foreign policy expert, Senator Obama is a critical choice for our country, and Senator McCain is a dangerous choice.
Richard Clarke took the podium.
“I have deep respect for Senator Obama regarding national security. His understanding is staggering, and his judgement has been spot on.” Mr. Clarke eviscerated the concept that Senator McCain’s decades in the Senate made him more qualified, “It’s not about how long, if long records were the metric, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld would have done a great job.”
Mr. Clarke explained that Barack Obama got his first argument on national security dead right. “Iraq. It was not easy to be against it, and Obama did it. He was right about all of that. It was unnecessary, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That was kinda my job to know that. I don’t know if you want to use him as an authority, but now even George Bush says there wasn’t any connection”. Mr. Clarke reminded us that Sen. McCain wanted to go to war with Iraq immediately after 9/11, “while bodies were still coming out of the Pentagon”. That he went on talk shows saying “Next stop Baghdad”, that within days he flew out to an aircraft carrier for a photo-op to promote the invasion of Iraq. “Obama asked for a timeline in the beginning, McCain said it was like Korea” and that we should keep people there indefinitely. “Keeping our troops there strengthens Al Qaeda”, and provides an incentive to youth in the region to support the governments they hate. “Obama consulted with military leaders, and they told him ‘you can get a a brigade a month out’. He called for a timeline based on that, and last month Iraq’s President agreed with him.” Rebutting the McCain’s campaign (that gov. Crist has been emailing around here in Florida) that Sen. Obama wants to capitulate to terrorists: “You hear people saying that Obama doesn’t want to use force? Wrong. He called for more troops in Afghanistan, infrastructure and agricultural assistance. Mcain said we should, quote: ‘muddle through’. Obama has been right on all of these Big Test issues. Obama has gotten an A, his opponent got and F.”
Mr. Clarke talked about the decision that Sen. Obama made in his VP pick. That Joe Biden was a responsible choice, someone who could step-in at a moment’s notice and lead the country. He compared the choice with that of John Kennedy, and how Lyndon Johnson stepped up and filled his shoes in the manner that was necessary in troubled times. “Another test both have taken “putting country first.”
He went on to discuss how we “can’t have a strong army without a strong economy”, and related the late-night emergency last week. After Congressman Frank, Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, gave his opening remarks, the room was silent. “Congressman Frank said ‘I’ve never seen so many Congresssmen silent’.” The Secretary of the Treasury said at that meeting: “We are days away from a complete economic collapse unless we pass a bailout bill”. Who is responsible for this situation? Phil Gramm, the architect of bank deregulation – the Graham Leach Bliley Act bears his name. “Phil Gramm created Sen. McCain’s economic policy.”
Senator Obama was calling for action on the economic problems we are having now months ago. He got that right, too. “We need someone like Obama who can see things around the corner, we need a smart president, someone with judgement. People say their economic policies are similiar, no they’re not! Thank god we did’t privatize Social Security, or Social Security would look like my 401K this morning, which is not looking so good.”
“For Scott and me – for national security – there’s no doubt who’s best. It’s Barack Obama.” He made no bones about how critical to your nation’s security it was to avoid “four more years of this”, and called on those in attendence to do everything they can to elect Senator Obama. “Don’t just vote and think that’s enough, not this year not this time, we need to do everything we can. Scott and I have never been involved in a Presidential campaign, it’s a little uncomfortable, but we’re going to ask you to operate outside your comfort zones, too. My mom said ‘never talk about politics or religion, this year we need to talk about politics.”
During Question and Answer, they were encouraged to make commercials to get their message out to the nation (I agree).
Asked “how is Senator Obama getting prepared to handle national security?”, Mr. Clarke stated that he has 612 people on his national security team, grouped into areas of expertise. Mr. Clarke runs the Terrorism Advisory Committee and initially told Sen. Obama, “I’ll get 4-5 experts”, to which the Senator replied: “No no, I want all of them”. Mr. Clarke has 72 people on his team.
how has the Intelligence Community been treated under Bush? “In the last 8 years we’ve had some folks who shouldn’t have had certain jobs” in Intelligence leadership. “Hundreds of CIA agents walked out the door (after one appointment), and with them went tens of thousnads of years of experience. The average agent now has less than 5 years of experience.”
On talking to our enemies: “The contrast between the two candidates is stark. Obama said ‘I’ll talk with anyone’. I worked for Ronald Reagan as an intel guy and a diplomat. Reagan called the Soviets an evil empire, then sent us off to negotiate with them.”
Maj. Gen. Gration added this final comment: “We have to get ahead of things. My day job is to get clean water to people, 5,000 children every day due to lack of clean water. Today, half of the African population – that’s 450 million people – are under the age of eighteen. We need to get ahead of these things now, and Barack Obama is the person who can help us do it.”
Three more experienced voices on national security would be impossible to find. Two of them had been avowed Republicans, and all three believe not only that Sen. Obama is a critical choice for our country at this time, but that Sen. McCain is a danger to our national – and global – security.