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Obama Should Challenge McCain to a "National Security Match-Up"

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John McCain has recently issued a challenge to Barack Obama: to join him in a series of Town Hall debates. That creates an opening for Obama to issue a challenge of his own to McCain.

I recommend the one, below, which can neutralize McCain's supposed long suit as the "experienced" one who is ready, on "Day One," to be "commander-in-chief" and take that crisis-announcing telephone call at three o'clock in the morning.

Obama might feel that he now enjoys the dominant position in the race for the White House, and that therefore it would be imprudent to introduce any additional risks into the process that might alter the dynamics of election. And he might be right.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that, to help McCain win, the Bushites might furnish some sort of "October surprise" --an attack on Iran, for example-- that would suddenly make Americans more fearful and more inclined to entrust the White House to a man supposedly "seasoned" in national security matters.

So it's possible that true prudence would dictate not avoiding such a "national security match" of the kind I am proposing, but rather seeking a direct comparison by issuing this challenge. By this means, Obama could show America that he is more, not less, competent than McCain to deal with potential national security challenges.

There could be political benefits to Obama in issuing such a challenge whether McCain accepts it or not.

If McCain does accept, Obama would have a chance demonstrate superior skills in forming a good picture of a complex reality and superior judgment in navigating a wise course through that reality. But if McCain declines to put himself to this test, Obama then gets --risk-free-- the advantage of showing himself to be bold and ready while McCain --who also has never been commander-in-chief-- shrinks from the confrontation.

Here's how Obama might frame this challenge.


"Forty-six years ago --when I was a year old, and Senator McCain was already a Navy pilot-- a young president John F. Kennedy had to make the most vital decisions about a matter of grave importance to U.S. national security. This was the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the film "Thirteen Days" shows, the decisions that JFK made --with the help of his advisors-- helped prevent that crisis from becoming a nuclear catastrophe for America and the entire world. They stayed cool, they were deliberate, and they were flexible and creative: indeed, their creativity was what saved the day.

"Now Americans are about to choose a new commander-in-chief-- either Senator McCain or me. Maybe there will be a crisis on the next president's watch, and maybe there won't. Wouldn't it be good if the American people could audition us, in some meaningful way, for the part? Wouldn't we be in a whole lot better shape than we are now if we'd seen, before electing him, how the current president made decisions, how well he worked to understand the situation and his options before making fateful decisions to commit American forces?

"Well, there IS a way to check us out. And I challenge Senator McCain to participate with me in just such an audition, so that the American people can better understand what each of us does and does not bring to the job for which we are applying.


"An idea was presented some months ago in a major American newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. It proposed that candidates for president participate in a crisis-simulation. It proposed that the candidates would deal with this simulated crisis over the course of two or three days, and that they would work with their own chosen group of national security advisors. And it proposed that the process be televised --in their entirety on C-Span, and in whatever edited form the news organizations wish to create.

"There have been such televised simulations before, back in the 1980s. They involved major figures in American national security circles. But never have they involved people --like John McCain and me-- who are asking the American people to entrust them with the power of the presidency in this dangerous world.

"So I challenge Senator McCain to join me in engaging in such a simulation --a kind of audition for the role of commander-in-chief, captain of the American ship of state-- each of us separately ensconced with our teams, fully visible to the American people.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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