Russert's questions on foreign policy in general indicate that he should try reading past the second paragraph of front-page articles and maybe look at a map. His questions were more like plot scenarios for 24 than reality-based queries. On Iraq he first invented the following screenplay:
You both have pledged a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. You both have said you'd keep a residual force there to protect our embassy, to seek out Al Qaida, to neutralize Iran. If the Iraqi government said, President Clinton or President Obama, you're pulling out your troops this quickly? You're going to be gone in a year? But you're going to leave a residual force behind? No. Get out! Get out now! If you don't want to stay and protect us, we're a sovereign nation, go home now. Will you leave?Both candidates made the obvious point that the U.S. cannot stay in Iraq against the wishes of the elected Iraqi government. I suppose it would not have been presidential to point out that actual foreign policy decisions and actions consist of long chains of inter-related discussions with many actors before a decision is announced, rather than like a montage of video clips from a Fox docudrama. I would imagine that President Clinton or Obama would have some private discussions with Iraqi counterparts before announcing a specific decision on withdrawal. Obama put it reasonably well:
We will be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. We will give ample time for them to stand up to negotiate the kinds of agreements that will arrive at the political accommodations that are needed. We will provide them continued support.Unsatisfied, Russert pressed on:
RUSSERT: I want to ask both of you this question, then. If this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in totality, and Al Qaida resurges andThe number of misconceptions contained in this question is mind-boggling. Just to mention two: First, the most likely negative consequence of a careless withdrawal from Iraq is not a resurgence of al-Qaida, which would not exist in Iraq without the US invasion, but a resumption of sectarian and factional warfare that could increasingly involve Iraq's neighbors. (Hence the need to coordinate a withdrawal with a diplomatic initiative involving all neighbors, including Syria and Iran.)
goes to hell, do you hold the right in your mind as American president to reinvade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it? Iraq
Second, a reinvasion by the US would not stabilize Iraq!!! What planet is he living on? Does he think the candy and flowers will come out of their underground bunkers this time? How are you supposed to answer a question like that? I was disappointed that neither candidate pointed to the imbecility of the question, but Hillary Clinton did at least refuse to answer such a flawed question:
: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I believe that... CLINTON
RUSSERT: But this is reality.
: No, well, it isn't reality. You're making lots of different hypothetical assessments. CLINTON
Then we move on to Russia. I suspect that Russert forgot that the USSR doesn't exist any more. He really should look at a contemporary map. Otherwise, I can't think of how to explain this question:
And if he [future Russian President Dmitri Medvedev] says to the Russian troops, you know what, why don't you go help Serbia retake Kosovo, what does President Obama do?Obama gave a pretty good answer about relying on multilateral security arrangements. I wish he had noted that in order to get to Serbia Russian troops would first have to invade Ukraine and then cross Romania or Hungary, both of which are now members of NATO.
I'm not an expert on this subject, but I occasionally see press articles about the Russian Army, which appears to have its hands quite full trying to regain control of the territory of Russia. A casual google search of the subject turned up this recent AFP survey of experts on the subject:
It would have been nice for the candidates to mention this. They also both missed an opportunity to make a very important point: President Putin has been able to build his domestic political base and start to rebuild Russia's military for one single reason: the huge increase in oil prices that has taken place during the Bush administration. Neither candidate mentioned that the world's continuing dependence on fossil fuels -- and the Bush administration's obsession with maintaining a military presence in the Persian Gulf -- have strengthened the regimes in Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, not to mention in all the other countries where oil revenues are funding corruption and authoritarianism. Despite the numerous harmful effects of oil dependence, the Bush-Cheney administration's only strategy is to occupy the Persian Gulf and drill in wilderness areas. This should be a much higher priority campaign issue.
But analysts say Moscow's bark is worse than its bite.
Putin warns of a new arms race and promises a military renaissance, but Russia's military budget is less than one twentieth that in the United States and most of its weaponry is relatively outdated.
"Russia is trying to flex its muscles and trying to be a player on the world stage," Bob Ayers, at the Chatham House think-tank in London, told AFP. But "in a military sense they are not a major player now ... It's just PR."
Russian military analyst Alexander Goltz said that both Moscow and Western political circles were responsible for hyping routine military exercises by Russia's forces.
In the West "certain intellectual circles are searching for confirmation of the Russian leadership's militaristic tendencies," he said. "They exaggerate any military activity."
Meanwhile, Russia's propaganda machine also presents "the most run of the mill exercises as some kind of Russian military comeback."
Maria Lipman, analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Putin wants to exorcise Russia's "past humiliations," but that the country's main strategic goal is to build an economic powerhouse based on energy exports.
"Russia, under today's leadership at any rate, is not seeking a Cold War confrontation, a real arms race," Lipman said.
"The rhetoric may get very unpleasant and tough, even aggressive, but I don't think this overshadows the main trend that Russia is interested in commercial profit, in economic success."
On Pakistan I can't blame Tim Russert. Both candidates to their credit emphasized the need for stronger support for democratization and less reliance on Musharraf. Their disagreement consisted of a contest between a misrepresentation and a misconception. Clinton claimed that Obama "basically threatened to bomb Pakistan" (a misrepresentation of his advocacy of targeted strikes against al-Qaida), and Obama answered by defending the need for such strikes, as if missile strikes would be a very useful tool against a transnational insurgency.
So it goes.