Both presidential candidates cited the Holocaust in pledging to prevent genocide.
Tom Brokaw, who moderated Tuesday’s debate, the second in this race, in Nashville, asked the candidates to outline their foreign policy doctrines of intervention.
“We may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake,” said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic candidate. “If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in? If we could have stopped Rwanda, surely if we had the ability that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invoked the same benchmark, although he chided Obama for wanting to leave Iraq. “I understand that we have to say, ‘Never again’ to a Holocaust and ‘Never again’ to Rwanda,” McCain said. “But we also better be darn sure we don’t leave and – and make the situation worse, thereby exacerbating our reputation and our ability to address crises in other parts of the world.” Obama has called for a phased withdrawal from Iraq coordinated with its government.
Both candidates also said they would not seek international approval to defend Israel in case it is attacked by Iran. McCain pivoted his response to once again chide Obama for agreeing over a year ago to meet Iran’s leaders without preconditions.
“What would you do if you were the Israelis, and the president of a country says that they are, they are determined to wipe you off the map; calls your country a stinking corpse?” he said. “Now, Senator Obama, without precondition, wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions.” Obama has since walked back from that position, saying he would want to prepare for such a meeting.
Obama said he would not remove military options from the table, but made the case that forceful diplomacy was also needed. He endorsed preventing Iran from importing refined oil, a proposal championed in recent months by Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“If we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need, and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost benefit analysis, that starts putting the squeeze on them,” Obama said. “Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks not just with our friends but also with our enemies, to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that if you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences. If you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to re-join the community of nations.”