Haaretz Service and News Agencies
October 9, 2008
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama told an audience at the second U.S. presidential debate on Tuesday that he would deliver a tough and direct message to Iran that if they did not change their behavior there would be dire consequences.
Obama’s opponent, Republican John McCain, reiterated that he would never allow a second Holocaust to take place, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats to “wipe Israel off the map.” The Republican candidate also repeated his criticism of Obama’s willingness to hold direct negotiations with the Islamic republic, without preconditions.
The debate, which was town-hall style, included questions from an audience of 80 selected voters, identified as undecided. The candidates were also asked questions sent via the Internet, and selected by moderator Tom Brokaw, during the 90 minute debate held at Belmont University in Nashville Tennessee.
Retired U.S. Navy officer and audience member, Terry Shirey, addressed both candidates saying, “I know both of you have expressed support for Israel. If despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops to support Israel or wait for approval from the United Nations Security Council?”
Both McCain and Obama said they would come to Israel’s aid against an attack from Iran during the debate, with McCain saying he would not wait for UN approval to intervene militarily, and Obama saying that the U.S. cannot take the military option off the table or allow the Islamic Republic to acquire a nuclear weapon.
After repeatedly thanking Shirey for his service, McCain was first to respond saying “we obviously would not wait for the United Nations Security Council. I think the realities are that both Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles.”
McCain also said he believed the U.S. needed to join with their allies in a “league of democracies” to stop Iranian behavior, hopefully causing them to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons.
“At the end of the day, my friend,” McCain told the Shirey, “I have to tell you again, and you know what it’s like to serve, and you know what it’s like to sacrifice, but we can never allow a second Holocaust to take place.”
Obama thanked Shirey for his service, too and said that the U.S. could not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon for it would be a “game-changer” in the Middle East.
Calling Israel the U.S.’s strongest ally in the region and one of their strongest allies in the world, Obama said nuclear weapons in the hand of the Iranians would create the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
McCain and Obama also clashed on the Iraq war, but shied away from the rancor and character attacks of the days leading up to the face-off.
Neither candidate offered new proposals on the war, which McCain supports and Obama has opposed from its inception. Likewise they did not put forward new proposals to shore up America’s crumbling financial system, a significant drag on the four-term Arizona senator’s candidacy given his membership in the incumbent party of deeply unpopular President George W. Bush.
McCain said Obama would bring U.S. troops home from Iraq in defeat. Obama said the war was draining the U.S. Treasure of $10 billion a month, money that was needed to put a floor under the country’s failing financial system.
McCain said America’s troubled economy would require the government to scale back benefits now enjoyed by older Americans, and both men agreed that U.S. government entitlement programs – social security retirement payments and medical insurance for the elderly – had to be reformed.
McCain did, however, quip at one point that trying to pin down Obama’s tax plan was like trying to nail Jell-O (gelatin) to the wall.
Obama shot back, “Sen. McCain, I think the Straight-talk Express lost a wheel on that one,” referring the name McCain has applied to his campaign bus and jet.