Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The First Presidential Debate and Its Implications

The first debate for presidential election 2008 was held at the University of Mississippi on September 26, which was sponsored by CNN and moderated by Jim Lehrer (see the transcript and the video). Prior to the debate, the Washington Post reported that economic fears due to recent financial crisis give advantages to Senator Barack Obama over Senator John McCain (“Economic Fears Give Obama Clear Lead over McCain in Poll”; Washington Post; September 24, 2008). As I mentioned in a previous post “Strength and Weakness of McCain and Obama”, voters prefer Obama when the issue is on the economy, and they prefer McCain when it is on foreign policy. According to polls just after the debate, Obama leads McCain. Despite the impression on TV, has Barack Obama succeeded in convincing voters that he is ready to govern the nation?

It is critical that substantial percentages of voters are still undecided. BBC reports intensified rivalry between both candidates. According to this report, “CBS News found that 39% gave Mr. Obama victory, 25% thought John McCain had won, and 36% thought it was a draw.” Just before the day of TV debate, AP says that both candidates are competing to appeal for would-be Clinton voters, and 18% of voters are still undecided. Neither enjoys definite advantage over rival. The report says that swing voters see “McCain leads on Iraq, terrorism, taxes, corruption, immigration and gun rights, while Obama has an edge on health care, gay marriage, the environment, stem-cell research, racial equality and education” (“Poll finds 18 percent of voters undecided”; AP; September 25, 2008).

The first TV debate does not seem to change the trend so much. Senator Barack Obama may have impressed slightly better impression on voters, but BBC says neither he nor Senator John McCain succeeded in showing persuasive ideas on the economy. To the contrary, BBC comments “McCain wins on points.” This is quite noteworthy, because BBC is too well-known for its center left stances, as witnessed in the Falkland War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War.

BBC reporter Kevin Connolly asserts “But in the foreign policy section of the debate, it seemed to me John McCain emerged a clear winner, although there were individual issues like Iraq on which the Democratic contender more or less held his own.” On Iran, John McCain suggested a new idea that the League of Democracies should contain the threat of the rogue regime, and asserted resolute attitude to defend Israel. Barack Obama did not impress such a clear attitude to Iranian threat. Also, Obama failed to address his own policy to curb Russian threat, and McCain argued him too naïve to manage a Russia increasingly moving toward czarist authoritarianism.

Only on Iraq, could Obama show difference from McCain’s policy. However, remember that Barack Obama modified his viewpoint of early withdrawal after he talked with General David Petraeus in Iraq. Actually, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari visited the United Nations, and requested US led coalition not to withdraw precipitously simply because of economic crisis. In addition, Foreign Minister Zebari said that the Iraqi government hopes to sign a security agreement with the United States before the presidential election on November 4. This implies that Iraqi leaders are gravely concerned with Barack Obama’s approach to Iraq (“Iraq hopes economic crisis won't affect US troops”; International Herald Tribune; September 27, 2008). As I have mentioned in a previous post, “The State of Iraq: By Gen. Jack Keane, Frederick Kagan, et al”, General Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute have been insisting this.

At the first TV debate, neither candidate knocked out their opponent. Barack Obama may capture the heart of those who are annoyed with the Bush administration. But his weakness on foreign policy was reconfirmed. He is not ready to become the Commander in Chief. Remember! It is center left BBC that pointed this out.