It’s not just Republicans that mouth the same shopworn talking points. If anything demonstrated a need for the Democratic candidates to rid their minds of talking points before answering a reporter’s questions, Obama’s and Edwards’ responses to a loaded question from Brian Williams does so in spades.
Here’s the question:
Brian Williams: Senator Obama, if, God forbid a thousand times, while we were gathered here tonight, we learned that two American cities have been hit simultaneously by terrorists and we further learned, beyond the shadow of a doubt it had been the work of Al Qaida, how would you change the U.S. military stance overseas as a result?
Unfortunately a week after the Democratic candidates South Carolina debate I have yet to come across a commentator who has addressed this. Several pundits have criticized Obama for his overly intellectual response, but they too missed the salient issue.
Neither he nor Edwards answered the question. Note as you read the answers that Williams finalized his question with the crucial phrase “how would you change the U.S. military stance overseas as a result?”
Obama: Well, the first thing we’d have to do is make sure that we’ve got an effective emergency response, something that this administration failed to do when we had a hurricane in New Orleans.
And I think that we have to review how we operate in the event of not only a natural disaster, but also a terrorist attack.
The second thing is to make sure that we’ve got good intelligence, a., to find out that we don’t have other threats and attacks potentially out there, and b., to find out, do we have any intelligence on who might have carried it out so that we can take potentially some action to dismantle that network.
But what we can’t do is then alienate the world community based on faulty intelligence, based on bluster and bombast. Instead, the next thing we would have to do, in addition to talking to the American people, is making sure that we are talking to the international community.
Because as already been stated, we’re not going to defeat terrorists on our own. We’ve got to strengthen our intelligence relationships with them, and they’ve got to feel a stake in our security by recognizing that we have mutual security interests at stake.
Williams: Senator, thank you.
Senator Edwards, same question: God forbid, two simultaneous attacks tonight, we knew it was Al Qaida, what would you change about U.S. military stance overseas?
Edwards: Well, the first thing I would do is be certain I knew who was responsible, and I would act swiftly and strongly to hold them responsible for that.
The second thing I would do — and, of course, some of these have been mentioned already — is find out how did this happen without our intelligence operations finding out that it was in a planning stage; how did they get through what we all recognize is a fairly porous homeland security system that we have in this country that has not been built the way it needed to be built?
You know, did the weapons that created these two simultaneous strikes come through our ports? Were they in one of the containers that have not been checked? How did these weapons get here, and how do we stop it from happening again?
I believe — and this goes to the question you asked earlier, just a few minutes ago — global war on terror. I think there are dangerous people and dangerous leaders in the world that America must deal with and deal with strongly.
But we have more tools available to us than bombs.
And America needs to use the tools that are available to them, so that these people who are sitting on the fence, the terrorists are trying to recruit the next generation get pushed to our side, not to the other side. We’ve had no long-term strategy. We need one and I will provide one as president.
Neither of these two very bright man answered the question. They each gave a canned response. Edwards did a better job because the gallery always appreciates saber rattling. But both answers were wrong.
This is the “correct” response:
Think about it for a few seconds if you disagree with me and then read my version of the “correct” answer.
If either Obama or Edwards had said the one word “nothing” it might have left Brian Williams speechless. He might have followed up for elaboration. Or he might have moved on to another question. That would have been fine, since it would have left the full response for after the debate when reporters no doubt would have asked for a fuller explanation and the candidate would have had more time to explain.
The explanation would be as follows:
As president I will put in place a compressive aggressive plan to assure that:
1) we destroy al Qaeda’s operations wherever they may be whether overseas or here,
2) that the homeland is protected,
3) that we have the very best disaster response capability ready to move to help our citizens should the worst happen.
Therefore, my answer to Brian Williams’ specific question as to what I would change about our military stance overseas, that is “nothing”, is meant to address the overall strategy of the United States.
Our overall overseas stance should not need to change.
However, if there was an attack such as Mr. Williams describes I would initiate a ready to go plan so our top experts would determine how terrorists were able to break though all the homeland security procedures I would have put in place.
I recognize I cannot stubbornly adhere to a way of thinking when events prove I may be wrong. A president should surround herself or himself with the best and brightest experts who candidly provide opposing viewpoints, and be taken seriously.
As president I will make sure the country is prepared for every contingency. I will do everything possible to leave nothing to chance. But we are fighting a resourceful and ruthless enemy, and we must be prepared for any eventuality.
If retaliation is a viable and appropriate response you can be assured that it will have been well planned in advance. It will be initiated in a manner that will make every American proud.