Clinton turns up heat on Obama gaffe



HAT TIP :By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 28, 2007; A03

COLUMBIA, S.C., April 27 — The first Democratic presidential debate did little to change the shape of the 2008 race, but it provided a post-debate flash point Friday between the campaigns of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton over the issue of fighting terrorism.

At issue is whether Obama mishandled a question about how he would respond if two American cities were attacked by terrorists: Did he fail to demonstrate the toughness and resolve that voters want in a president or was his answer a careful and comprehensive checklist for any potential president dealing with an international crisis?

The Clinton campaign seized on what happened, claiming, without mentioning Obama, that “Hillary was the candidate who demonstrated that she would know how to respond if the country was attacked.” An Obama spokesman dismissed the Clinton camp’s press release as “a sign of nervousness.”

The debate aftermath offered another example of the Clinton campaign’s determination to keep the pressure on a rival who has proved to be more formidable than some of the New York senator’s allies had expected. But it also underscored that, because Obama has served only a little over two years in the Senate, questions of experience will continue to surround his candidacy.

The moment at issue came in the second half of Thursday’s debate at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. The moderator, NBC News anchor Brian Williams, asked how Obama would change the military posture of the United States if the terrorist network al-Qaeda hit two U.S. cities.

Obama said he first would assure there was an effective emergency response and not a repeat of what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

He then turned his attention to the issue of intelligence. “The second thing is to make sure that we’ve got good intelligence, A) to find out that we don’t have other threats and attacks potentially out there, and, B) to find out, do we have any intelligence on who might have carried it out so that we can take potentially some action to dismantle that network.”

He went on to say that what the United States must avoid at such a moment is alienating the world community “based on faulty intelligence, based on bluster and bombast,” adding that “we’re not going to defeat terrorists on our own.”

His answer appeared shaped by the reaction, at home and abroad, to President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and he was suggesting clearly that he would not follow that model in confronting a terrorist attack.

But in rapid succession, former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Clinton offered rather different responses, sounding a far more aggressive tone in their determination to retaliate and unequivocal in their willingness to use force.

“The first thing I would do is be certain I knew who was responsible, and I would act swiftly and strongly to hold them responsible for that,” Edwards said.

Clinton, citing her experience as a senator from New York during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said, “I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate.”

“If we are attacked, and we can determine who is behind that attack, and if there are nations that supported or gave material aid to those who attacked us, I believe we should quickly respond,” she said.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was not even offered the chance to respond to the question, but offered his views moments later. “I would respond militarily, aggressively,” he said. “I’ll build international support for our goals. I’d improve our intelligence, but that would be a direct threat on the United States, and I would make it clear that that would be an important, decisive, military response, surgical strike, whatever it takes.”

Those responses ultimately prompted a clarification from Obama, who, during a later exchange about global climate change, veered back to terrorism.

“We have genuine enemies out there that have to be hunted down; networks have to be dismantled,” he said. “There is no contradiction between us intelligently using our military and, in some cases, lethal force to take out terrorists and, at the same time, building the sort of alliances and trust around the world that has been so lacking over the last six years.”

Clinton campaign officials declined to speak for the record about Obama’s response, saying they wanted to focus publicly on her performance. But one aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity said of the Illinois senator, “I think he recognized that his answer was troubling because he came back and tried to fix it in the debate.”


19 thoughts on “Clinton turns up heat on Obama gaffe

  1. rikyrah

    I don’t have any problems with this. THIS is ok to me, because this is part of the process. So, they can attack him all they want on this.

  2. Actually, this another good opportunity for the Obama camapaign to bring up Hillary’s voting for the Iraq War, and her refusal to acknowledge what a disaster that vote was.

  3. rikyrah


    I hear ya. I’m all for attacking on issues and positions. It’s the nonsense that just irritates me. We get enough of that in the general campaign.

  4. Rick

    You hit us. We hit you back. Period.

    No fear mongering. No neoconservative conspiracy. Just international politics 101…the same thing we teach our kids.

    That is, the right of a state to protect itself – with force – against armed aggression. It’s a principle protected under the UN Charter giving nation states the right to respond militarily if they are attacked. The same reason the United States had the backing of the United Nations, NATO allies and even enemies (like Iran) who supported our military campaign in Afghanistan when it began the next month in October 2002. We knew who did it (Al Queda). We knew where they were (Afghanistan). We went after them. No controversy. That was the “right answer”.

    Like it or not, Democratic presidents have an image problem surrounding perceptions of military “meekness” — or as Cliff would define it — a perceived willingness to be “LONG SUFFERING” when the U.S. is attacked. That is why Obama’s timid response to the question gave me chills (perhaps in the same way some women here were annoyed by his “measured” response to the Imus situation). Since 1980, the Republicans have eaten Democratic lunches on the general question: “what is the appropriate response to terrorist acts?”

    * Carter’s ineptness in the Iran hostage situation was a major factor behind Reagan’s 1980 LANDSLIDE victory.

    * Clinton’s “meek” response to the Embassy bombings in Kenya and the Naval ship Cole bombings amplified the neoconservative battle cry for a more muscular military response to terrorist attacks. What we got was the Bush/Neoconservative Revolution.

    Hillary not only understood the question — perhaps because represents constituents still scarred by September 11, or perhaps because she saw 1st-hand the scars on her husband from political fights on similar issues — she also knew how to answer the question in front of the people treating the debates as a job interview for Commander in Chief.

    In the article above, it seems Hillary gave Obama a very light tap with the flat-side of her practice sword. Nothing serious. if he’s the nominee, the republicans will come after him a lot harder — with real swords.

  5. At this point most Americans are well aware what a scam the whole military industrial complex is by virtue of us being bogged down in another Vietnam. There really isn’t much stomach to invade Iran, and guess what, we are militarily incapable of another invasion. So that leaves nukes and cruise missiles. The Iranians lost over a million people to our chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War and kept coming back for more (launching Hezbollah right after that) so they aren’t afraid of the neocons or their threats, and will continue working towards making their own nukes.

    We have been sowing dragons teeth in that part of the world for more than 50 years now, and we are always amazed when they sprout up and bite us in the ass.

    Oh and where is Bin Laden? Pakistan? Our ally has got him? Hmmmm,…interesting. Here’s a guy who was created by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was on the Company’s payroll until at least 1992. Then he shows up again right on time to get things rolling for the Neocons…they even had the nerve to write him into the script. Do a google search on “a catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”. Yes, it’s real interesting.

  6. rikyrah

    In the article above, it seems Hillary gave Obama a very light tap with the flat-side of her practice sword. Nothing serious. if he’s the nominee, the republicans will come after him a lot harder — with real swords.

    I agree Rick.

    Which is why I’m glad this was done in April 2007, and NOT December 2007 going into the primaries, and DEFINITELY glad it didn’t happen in September 2008.

    If he didn’t have an answer, he damn sure better have one by the next debate.

  7. Denise

    Wow. Thanks for that interesting little gem, Ernesto. Those conspiracy theorists may be on to sump’n after all, huh?

    Yo, SB! If you’re not using that tin-foil hat, toss it this way. 😉

  8. Rick

    “If he didn’t have an answer, he damn sure better have one by the next debate.” – rikyrah

    Agreed…a “Jim Brown” response maybe? 😉

  9. Rick

    “We have a tendency to say he’s not a man because he hasn’t built an empire.”

    “He hasn’t destroyed one, either.”

    Except from: “Black Woman”, 1970, by Chester Higgins, Jr. (photos) and Harold McDougall.

  10. OK here is how I want to see it go down next time:

    Corporate Media Presstitute/Debate Moderator: “Senator Obama, let’s say that a city gets nuked while you’re prez and we all just KNOW it’s al-CIA-duh…err I mean al-Qeada (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). What…would you do??”

    Senator Obama: First thing I would do is ask why (expletive) Osama (expletive) Bin Laden is still runnin’ around in (expletive) Pakistan or wherever the (expletive). Then I would strap a bomb to every last neocon and airdrop them from about 32,000 feet right on top of his damn cave. Problem solved!


  11. Denise



    that- and your proposed response- was priceless!!

  12. Lynn, Sacramento, CA

    In his answer, Obama gave the steps in a logical and thought out process that would lead up to and include retalliation after first securing the destruction zones, assuring high alert steps are followed to guard the safety of the rest of the nation, verifying intelligence report accusations as to responsible parties, dismantle their networks and retalliate.

    The other two gave knee-jerk reactions that can very easily land us back in the same situation we are in now, with an invasion based on false intelligence and lies. They did not expose any thought processes, only reactions, nor were their first responses to secure the safety of our citizens and infrastructures.

    I vote for the one who shows signs of intelligent analysis and planning, rather than robotic reactions to stimulus.

    According to their responses, If Hillary or Edwards were president when the Oklahoma bombing occurred, they would have incorrectly bombed Iran for it.

  13. NMP


    I agree! I think Obama gave an intellectual response where most wanted a John Wayne ‘boot in the ass’ response. Hilllary Clilnton’s response made for a great sound bite for the evening news and follow-up press release, but it certainly wasn’t rooted in today’s reality. No one can dispute that legally and morally we have the right and obligation to defend ourselves against attack, but my follow-up question to Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson would have been “WHERE” ? Where do we retaliate against an enemy with no country? An enemy that has shown itself far more adept at hiding, resurfacing and morphing than our sophisticated intelligence and weaponry in finding and destroying them. Afghanistan was an easy target in that it had no official government and more importantly no military; furthermore, there was incontrovertible evidence (accumulated over several years) of Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan. That was a once in a lifetime set of perfect circumstances where strong military force was an appropriate response to an Al Qaeda attack. However, as we have found in Iraq and Israel recently in Lebanon, a conventional military response to this seemingly invisible and amorphous enemy is no longer a tenable option–if the aim is really to dismantle their networks and not just a show of force.

    Most middle east experts, not military experts who don’t seem to know a damn thing, say the only way to weed them out is to build alliances with our so-called enemies who can weed them out from within. I don’t know how the hell that’s going to happen if we allow Al Qaeda and other groups to bait us into attacking these countries.

    The lesson Obama has learned is that the public, despite its anti-Bush rhetoric, wants a cowboy on defense. He has to fight his instincts and give the public the performance they want.

  14. Rick aka URBAN COWBOY


    I anticipate that if we were each members of Obama’s cabinet (say NSC, Secretaries of Defense, State etc.), there would be some pretty heated (and healthy) discussions in our cabinet meetings 🙂

    For the record: no one here is suggesting that we fly off wily-nily on random bombing campaigns because we hear the voices of God. The assumption all of us are making is that we have good (reliable) intelligence to let us know who attacked us and where they are at.

    Second, there is a difference between advocating robust military force to combat terrorism (which is where I stand) and the neoconservative position stating that military force should be used to promote democracy (which is why we are in Iraq). Since I’ve seen several incorrect references to Iraq here, it needs to be stressed that no one here, that I’m aware of, supported this Iraqi war BEFORE it started (that is an important point).

    So where do we differ: What I do NOT support, are those kiss-and-peck tomahawk cruise missle strikes when Al Queda hit us continually under the prior administration. I mean why do we have to go back to Kennedy for the last time we could name a Democratic president that had any ________ (fill in the blank)

    The only thing we got wrong in Afghanistan is that we took our eyes OFF Afghanistan. The military response was appropriate. It Seems we agree on that.

    We all agree in coalition building. Yes, I would rather work with the Iranians to promote stability in the region as well as to fight Al Qeda (who are no friends to the Shiites in Iran). The enemy of my enemy is my friend. If I had it my way, we’d be making more Nancy Pelosi trips to the Middle East to talk with the Syrians (as well as have an ongoing dialogue with the Iranians). I have always felt this way. (Separately, an Iran feeling less isolated from the rest of the world is less apt to kidnap british sailors or authorize the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers triggering that Lebanese fiasco in the first place).

    So where’s the rub then? does Obama – after we’ve done all the intelligence assessments, after we build all the coalitions, after we’ve done all the “prework” — have the nerve to hit back, hard, in say in Pakistan, or Somalia, if we know terrorist forces are building there? If me wanting Obama to say yes to that question makes me a cowboy, then I’m a cowboy then…an urban one.

    But as Sheryl Crow once sang:
    “I got a feeling…
    I’m not the only one”

  15. Rick aka URBAN COWBOY

    and if the answer to that last question is yes, then Obama needs to SAY it…

    This is a job interview. I am not a damn reader.

  16. NMP

    Rick aka Urban Cowboy,

    “The assumption all of us are making is that we have good (reliable) intelligence to let us know who attacked us and where they are at.”

    Given our astonishing intelligence failures, that’s a HELL HELL of an assumption to make!

    I’m not sure I understand the reference to Kennedy? Are you referring to the —– to withstand the cuban missle crisis or initiate the Bay of Pigs. Whatever the case, Castro has outlived Kennedy and practically everyone in his administration and approaching 50 years in power, so who had the big —–? I’m sure that’s not a model that Obama wants to follow.

    “— have the nerve to hit back, hard, in say in Pakistan, or Somalia, if we know terrorist forces are building there?”

    Why didn’t you have Iraq on the list? Let’s expand the hypothetical, wouldn’t it be more interesting to speculate on what we would do if we traced the source of the attacks to Al Qaeda in Iraq. How do we retaliate against a country we’ve already invaded and losing to?

    Look, you can retaliate against Pakistan, Somalia or any other weak Near East, Middle East or African Country that we can “shock and awe” with ease, but that will do NOTHING to eradicate the problem. If you truly believe that Al Qaeda and like networks can be defeated with conventional military response, I got a war on drugs for you to win too.

  17. Rick

    NMP —

    (before I begin, let me say I think you’d make a fine Secretary of State for Obama’s administration 🙂

    you wrote: “Given our astonishing intelligence failures, that’s a HELL HELL of an assumption to make!”

    I don’t blame the war on Iraq on “intelligence failures.” The Administration already made up its mind that it was going to war REGARDLESS of what the intelligence said. the UN inspectors debunked all the WMD claims in Iraq, but we ignored it and went in any way.

    Next, I said Kennedy was the last Democratic president that had any ___ because he stared down the Soviets. We all know the story of the Cuban Missle crisis. I got no beef with Castro. And we all know the Bay of Pigs was a disater! My point is that there ain’t no nukes pointing at us from Savannah, and Kennedy was bold enough to make sure that didn’t happen. He stood FIRM…eyeball to eyeball with Khrushchev…Khrushchev blinked.
    (to clarify, that’s the model I’d like Obama to follow, when necessary).

    “How do we retaliate against a country we’ve already invaded and losing to?”

    Well, Al Queda is now in Iraq and we have a big mess. we should have never gone in there in the first, but we are stuck there I agree. In ADDITION to taking out their leadership (as today’s articles say we did), we should encourage “detente” with the Iranians to get us out of this mess — in much the same way Nixon ushered in a period of “detente” with the Chinese to help stabilize Southeast Asia when we left Vietnam. It’s a regional problem which deserves a regional solution, but that does NOT mean terrorists shouldn’t be hunted down and killed. that is all that i am saying…

Comments are closed.