Senior Editor Paul Jay spoke to Real News Analyst Pepe Escobar after the debate to get his reaction. Pepe believes that the election is all but over and he identifies the “that one” moment as the defining moment of the debate and a clear illustration of the contempt which McCain harbors for Obama.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: On Tuesday night, Barack Obama and John McCain held their second debate in the presidential campaign. And joining us from Washington, DC, to share his reactions to the debate is Real News analyst Pepe Escobar. Welcome, Pepe.
PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me.
JAY: So what’d you think of the debate, Pepe?
ESCOBAR: Well, there’s a [fat lady singing] somewhere in the US, maybe at the Met in New York. I think this thing is over. McCain disappeared today. He looked like a reptile. You know, he didn’t even know where to go on stage. And then, I would think, in the near future this will be remembered as the “that one” debate.
JAY: Alright. Let’s show the moment you’re talking about.
JAY: I’ll set it up here, ’cause the whole moment was rather interesting, because Brokaw asked McCain, “Do you think innovation will be best advanced through a Manhattan Project, a big mega-research project, or out of thousands of garages?” McCain doesn’t understand the question at all.
ESCOBAR: He doesn’t understand the question. Exactly.
JAY: Yeah. He says something about, well, government should start it and then hand it over to private industry, which is a whole ‘nother conversation on how all the risk should be taken by the public and then hand the profits over to private industry. But we don’t need to talk about that now.
ESCOBAR: Exactly. And then he dropped his bomb: buy up all the mortgages.
JAY: Well, now, hold on. Before that, he does this thing about “Did you know who voted for the Bush energy plan?” And then he looks at—we’re getting to the moment you just talked about, so we’re going to roll this right now.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary of this back-and-forth. It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? Might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me.
So, Pepe, what’d you think of that moment?
ESCOBAR: “That one” is the graphic illustration of all the contempt that McCain has for Obama. It couldn’t be scripted by any Hollywood screenwriter, it was so visible, was visceral, was tactile. How come this black intellectual upstart is here debating with me, the grandson/son of admirals? You know, John Sidney McCain III, “I’m entitled to be the president of the United States.” I think a lot of people all over the country, they interpreted like this.
JAY: It was a very stark moment where he went off script and his real feelings emerged. And I guess it’s partly because they’ve been getting so vicious out on the campaign, and both he and Palin, that it was hard to kind of reinvent McCain for the debate on mainstream TV, where he’s supposed to look a little more civilized. But let’s move ahead. Let’s talk about the foreign policy section of the debate. What jumped out for you?
ESCOBAR: A lot of things, especially the exchange on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obama defended his Pakistan policy—if we have actionable intelligence, we would strike inside Pakistani territory against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. And he made a revelation, I would say, that the most important, number-one national security priority of the United States is to kill Osama bin Laden. This is Obama’s words, textual words. So I guess in a certain cave in Waziristan nowadays somebody must be feeling very important.
JAY: Now, I thought for the first time Obama actually went after some of McCain’s more inflammatory rhetoric. Let me show a little clip here where he talks about McCain’s song.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I’m green behind the ears, and I’m just spouting off, and he’s somber and responsible.
MCCAIN: Thank you very much.
OBAMA: Senator McCain—this is the guy who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don’t think is an example of speaking softly. This is the person who, after we had—we hadn’t even finished Afghanistan, where he said, “Next up: Baghdad.”
JAY: So what’d you think of this moment, Pepe?
ESCOBAR: Well, McCain set it up for Obama, and it was a slam dunk. He was saying—Obama started like this: “Ah, he’s saying that I’m green behind my ears, that I don’t know what I’m saying. But this is the guy who sang ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,’ and he was in favor of annihilation of North Korea. And he doesn’t talk to anybody, any foreign leader.” And it was visible, because McCain was slightly behind Obama when Obama was saying that very forcefully, very cool, calm, and collected. And he was visible. McCain totally froze on stage. He was pacing around the stage like a reptile for, you know, most of the first one hour. And when Obama said that, he was just like, “Wow.”
JAY: I thought it was a clear victory for Obama, if you want to talk about it in terms of horse-race politics, especially on the economic side. Maybe on the foreign policy side it was a little bit—at that level of horse race it was a little bit more even. But I was kind of disturbed by something Obama said near the end, and he may have said this before, but I hadn’t heard it, where he specifically called for stopping refined petroleum products going to Iran, and saying that we can do this kind of thing. And he’s buying into all the unproven allegations that Iran’s even trying to have a nuclear program—and he’s done this before—and he buys into all the same assumptions as McCain about Iran. But he kind of one-ups him on this, on this issue of we can actually—it’s going back to this resolution that was in the Senate that didn’t go very far to have a kind of blockade around Iran.
ESCOBAR: Absolutely. And, in fact, the foreign policy positions on both sides, they’re practically indistinguishable—you know, demonization of Russia, demonization of Iran, even, you know, in passing, demonization of Venezuela from Obama. And something that I found absolutely horrible: Tom Brokaw asked them if Russia could be considered—
JAY: Evil empire.
ESCOBAR: —the empire of evil again.
JAY: Yeah, right.
ESCOBAR: And Obama actually said they engage in evil behavior. These are his actual words. And McCain said maybe they could be an evil empire. He was trying to hedge his bets even on demonization of Russia.
JAY: Well, actually, this is the same guy who—McCain—last time says, “I look into Putin’s eyes and see KGB.” So all of a sudden you don’t know which McCain is showing up. But I agree: Obama is indistinguishable on the Georgia question, and people that watch The Real News and follow this story know that most of the analysts that know the region say that Georgia certainly instigated this fight with Russia, even if Russia was wanting it.
ESCOBAR: And Obama sounds like a neocon when he’s blaming Putin and Russia. Is that—and he sounds exactly like McCain. And he upped on McCain on the Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Pakistan-Afghanistan conundrum, the whole thing. And he defended his position that there’s going to be a sort of surge in Afghanistan. And what McCain was saying was basically there will be a surge in Afghanistan, and he was trying to claim the credit for himself. So he had no way to go, McCain, because Obama was even more of a hawk than McCain himself.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know why on Pakistan Obama doesn’t articulate things he said before and his vice presidential candidate, Biden, has actually articulated quite well, which is the need for a serious program of economic assistance and economic reconstruction in Pakistan, that if you don’t deal with Pakistan’s economy, you can’t deal with this as a military solution. And Obama doesn’t talk about that.
ESCOBAR: No, he doesn’t. And, in fact, when Brokaw asked, “Do we need once again another pro-American dictator in Afghanistan?” Obama more or less endorsed this position.
JAY: No, no, no, no, no. No, he didn’t. No. He said that we do need a democracy, he said, but [inaudible]?
ESCOBAR: Okay. But we need a democracy. But if we don’t have a pro-American strongman, this is not going to work. And the way he put his conversation with Karzai was like he was admonishing Karzai: “Look, you’ve got to behave; otherwise there’s going to be another one.”
JAY: Well, neither of them dealt with Brokaw’s question with any seriousness. Brokaw quoted some of the British leadership, diplomatic and military, saying [inaudible]
ESCOBAR: Exactly. This week—absolutely. The top British diplomat in Kabul and British military commander who’s going back to Great Britain, they both said, “Look, this is unwinnable, obviously.” And the Brits have already been there, and they have already been defeated at the Khyber Pass and the tribal areas, so they know what they’re talking about.
JAY: I mean, anyone that knows the situation, I think, knows—and maybe it’s too late, but after 9/11 and the beginning of the Afghan War, Bush proposed a type of Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. He said, “We’ll never leave you, and we’ll *rebuild.” None of that happened.
ESCOBAR: *Actually [inaudible] I remember. I was there, Paul, in December 2001. I was there when, you know, the special envoys arrived. They had a press conference at the InterContinental in Kabul. They told us, “Look, there’s going to be $5 billion to Afghanistan, like, next month,” and nothing materialized. Nothing.
JAY: When Obama made his foreign policy speech a few weeks ago, he mentioned the Marshall Plan about three times, and he’s not talked about it again.
ESCOBAR: Nope. Nope, not at all. And, look, this is something they cannot say out loud, especially in a debate: Afghanistan has no strategic importance for the US, except as a transit route for pipelines coming from Turkmenistan and going to Pakistan and India, and that’s it. Nobody cares about Afghanis.
JAY: Well, as far as the election goes—.
ESCOBAR: They’re trying to apply a pipeline for 20 years over there, and it’s not going to happen.
JAY: Well, as far as the election goes right now, if it was held today, Obama would win. And it’s kind of hard to see how that scenario changes unless something very dramatic happens, and it’s hard to even see what that might be now.
ESCOBAR: Exactly. Well, [inaudible] October. The October surprise, in fact, was the late-September, early-October surprise, was the financial crisis, which is practically the end of a certain idea of American capitalism as we know it, you know, of financially driven American capitalism. This is gone. This is over. This was the surprise. And because of that, Obama will win the election. I think the campaign is being very well organized. Today he looked cool, calm, collected, presidential. People are starting to feel comfortable with the idea of a President Obama. And if we look at that, I would say, sometimes creepy and eerie graphic on CNN in the lower third, every time Obama was being positive or describing his tax program or his health care plan, his ratings shot through the roof among undecided voters in Ohio. Every time that McCain was trying to say, which was his mantra—he said it 20 times today—”I know how to do this, I know how to fix this, I’ve been there, I met all the leaders, blah-blah-blah,” he fell flat, totally flat.
JAY: I think it does leave one with some hope about the American people, whatever you really believe about Obama. It leaves one with something hopeful about the American people, that they are willing to elect a liberal black man as president of the United States and are rejecting the kind of virulent racism. And there’s something optimistic—it leaves me somewhat optimistic, that whatever Obama is or isn’t—.
ESCOBAR: Yes. I think historically this would be absolutely overwhelming. I think the only factor that would make Obama lose this election is, on November 4, racism rears its ugly head, and then he might lose three, four, five points on election day. I hope it doesn’t happen.
JAY: It doesn’t seem to be. Of course, if one wants to go to the extremes of conspiracy theory, there’s some people suggesting there may not be an election, that there’s a lot of talk on, drumbeat about possible terrorist attacks between now and November 4 and what that might mean to our electoral process. But—.
ESCOBAR: The neocon October surprise?
JAY: Or not. I mean, it could be a neocon surprise; it could be an al-Qaeda surprise; it could be somebody else’s surprise. I don’t know. [inaudible]
ESCOBAR: But I think American voters are smart enough now, after eight years, to know where it’s coming from and why.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Pepe.
ESCOBAR: Thanks very much, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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