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Candidates clash on foreign-policy ‘judgment’

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

ST. LOUIS | The presidential nominees slammed one another Sunday on foreign-policy judgment as Sen. Barack Obama promised an intense economic focus for the remainder of the election season.

Republican nominee Sen. John McCain said Mr. Obama "does not have the judgment necessary" to be president.

Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, said on ABC's "This Week" that voters will realize choosing Mr. McCain will bring "the same kind of government."

Host George Stephanopoulos pressured Mr. Obama to say Mr. McCain was "right" because he supported President Bush's surge of troops to Iraq, while Mr. Obama opposed it, since the Democrat has acknowledged the surge has helped reduce violence there.

"It's interesting to me why people are so focused on what's happened in the last year-and-a-half, and not on the previous five," he said, adding he thinks Mr. McCain "insists on continuing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

He said that Mr. McCain is resisting the Iraqi government's readiness to take responsibility, "even at a time when George Bush is prepared to say that we need to have some sort of time frame or timetable."

The Illinois senator stressed it is a matter of judgment, a similar argument he made to defeat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primary, because he opposed the war as a distraction from the war in Afghanistan from the onset, while she voted for it.

"If the question is, has the surge done much better than we expected — in combination with these other factors in reducing violence — the answer is yes," Mr. Obama said.

He said more important for the voters to decide is "the judgment to be made at the time the surge was put forward by the Bush administration," and said his Republican rival chose "to continue to give an open-ended, blank check to George Bush, without any strategy for political reconciliation," while his own stance was "to try to pressure this administration to come up with a more coherent, cohesive plan for how we are going to wind this war down."

With fewer than 60 days until the Nov. 4 election, the political shows highlighted Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin's absence from the Sunday circuit. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. suggested on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Mrs. Palin has been "sequestered" from the media.

Mr. McCain, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," defended his choice of Mrs. Palin despite her limited experience. He insisted his running mate stands for "reform," and would bring a "fresh wind" to Washington, adding that one of her qualifications was her role as "point guard" on the high school basketball team.

The Arizona senator said Mrs. Palin has "excited our base," but also the nation: "The electricity has been incredible."

As for Mr. Obama, he said: "I just don't think he has the judgment. And I'll let the American people decide on that issue. But I think I can make a strong case that, whatever the issue, he does not have the judgment necessary. I think that Sarah Palin obviously does."

But Mr. Biden, of Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, argued Mr. Obama is the one with superior judgment.

"Whether or not the surge worked is almost irrelevant now," Mr. Biden said. "[The Bush administration is] doing what Barack Obama has suggested over 14 months ago, turn responsibility over and draw down our troops. We're about to get a deal [from the U.S. and Iraqi governments] … saying we're going to set a timeline to draw down our forces."

He added, "The only guy in America out of step is John McCain. John McCain's saying, no timeline. They've signed on to Barack Obama's proposal."

Mr. Obama said while Mrs. Palin has proven to be a "skilled politician," she represents a continuation of the Bush administration.

"It tells me that he chose somebody who may be even more aligned with George Bush — or Dick Cheney, or the politics we've seen over the last eight years — than John McCain himself is," he said.

On CBS, Mr. McCain went after a chief Obama-Biden line of attack, defending his recent statement that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

He said he made those comments because "I have great confidence and faith in America, in our innovation and our capabilities," but quickly added: "These are tough times now."

Asked when Mrs. Palin will hold press conferences, Mr. McCain said he is "strongly recommending" that his running mate — who so far had only spoken to People magazine — come on "Face the Nation."

Soon after, ABC announced she would do an interview with anchor Charles Gibson in the coming week.

Much of the coverage focused on Mrs. Palin's introduction at the Republican National Convention.

Mr. Obama said he found it "puzzling" that Mr. McCain's convention focused attention mocking his experience as a community organizer before law school since the Republican talks about "extolling the virtues of national service."

Mr. McCain said on CBS he finds community organizing "very honorable," but thinks the mockery was a response to Obama aides "denigrating the fact that she had been mayor of a small town," referring to a campaign statement asserting her lack of experience because the town she led before she became governor has fewer than 10,000 people.