Thursday, October 9, 2008
McCain, Obama clash again on Pakistan policy
WASHINGTON: Despite sparring over Pakistan in their second debate on Tuesday night, the two presidential candidates ended up saying the same thing, though in somewhat different words.
While Democrat hopeful Senator Barack Obama said the United States should only take action inside Pakistan if the government there was unable or unwilling to do so, Republican Senator John McCain was more conciliatory, recommending that the US use soft language with Pakistan but carry a big stick.
Both candidates favoured working with Pakistan in the hunt for Al Qaeda and other groups allegedly operating out of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas into Afghanistan and threatening the lives of US military personnel.
McCain opted for “working and co-ordinating our efforts together, not threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick”.
He accused Obama of threatening to invade Pakistan, a charge the Democratic contender denied, stressing that he had only recommended that the US go at it alone if Pakistan was unable or unwilling to move despite actionable intelligence.
McCain warned that any precipitate action against Pakistan would create adverse public opinion.
They were both equally determined as to how they would deal with Osama Bin Laden. Obama said, “And if we have Osama Bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill Bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.”
McCain couched his position in more amenable terms, saying, “Now, our relations with Pakistan are critical, because the border areas are being used as safe havens by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and we have to get their support.” He favoured the strategy followed by Gen Petraeus in Iraq ’to get the support of the people’.
He went on to propose, “We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan, where I visited, a very rough country, and get the support of the people, and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel Taliban and others. And by working and co-ordinating our efforts together, not threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.”
Obama said, “It’s so important for us to end the war in Iraq to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that’s funding terrorism. But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can’t coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he’s making peace treaties with the Taliban. What I’ve said is we’re going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our non-military aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these terrorists.”
Obama was at pains to establish that contrary to McCain’s charge, he had never threatened to invade Pakistan. He said, “I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Senator McCain continues to repeat this.”