The key debate

.kerry { color: blue; }
.bush { color: red; }

So in the end we didn’t watch the first Presidential “debate” on Thursday night. If Martyn Joseph hadn’t been playing at Schulers there might have been some chance, but ongoing campaign fatigue would probably still have prevented us from breaking our TV fast.

So it was a pleasant surprise on Friday morning to start reading the reports and begin gaining the impression that the next one might be worth watching. Word on the street seems to be that Kerry may have (for the first time) won a verbal victory over his smirking opponent. Let’s hope it’s a sign of eloquence to come.

Much press attention has been granted to the squaring off of the two candidates on issues relating to North Korea and, of course, Iraq. But some attention was paid to Iran. According to this transcript Bush was the first to invoke that name:

A free Iraq will enforce the hopes and aspirations of the reformers in places like Iran.

Kerry didn’t respond immediately but later commented (echoing as he so often does Bush’s assumptions):

Thirty-five to forty countries in the world had a greater capability of making weapons at the moment the president invaded than Saddam Hussein. And while he’s been diverted, with 9 out of 10 active duty divisions of our Army, either going to Iraq, coming back from Iraq, or getting ready to go, North Korea’s gotten nuclear weapons and the world is more dangerous. Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons and the world is more dangerous. 


And Iran and Iraq are now more dangerous — Iran and North Korea are now more dangerous.

Pressed on strategy, Bush stated that:

On Iran, I hope we can do the same thing, continue to work with the world to convince the Iranian mullahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. 

while Kerry immediately rejoined with:

With respect to Iran, the British, French, and Germans were the ones who initiated an effort without the United States, regrettably, to begin to try to move to curb the nuclear possibilities in Iran. I believe we could have done better.

I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for it for peaceful purposes. If they weren’t willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together. The president did nothing.

Both made reference to sanctions against Iran, with Kerry complaining about the hitherto unilateral policy of the United States and repeating his familiar call for internationalising any efforts.

As far as Bush’s strategy goes, noted Iranian blogger Hoder would seem to have it right. Bush talks of working with moderate groups in Iran, of strengthening reformers and entering into dialogue, but recent months have seen renewed repression of reformers given license by the invasion of Iraq and hardline western rhetoric.

As so often in this campaign it is disappointing that Kerry so quickly assents to Bush’s presuppositions; it is sad that he has not done more to deconstruct the empty rhetoric of the “war on terror”. But he does seem to genuinely want to move the boundaries of dialogue. We can perhaps be praying for that small mercy.


  1. It was quite satisfying to see John Kerry has made George Bush squirm a little, here’s hoping the next two will be as difficult for him…