1) Will the candidates (and the moderator) note the difference between "tactical" success of the surge, versus the overall strategic goal of the surge, and whether that was a success?
There has been a lot of talk about the "success" of the surge, from both John McCain and Barack Obama. For those of us who served, this talk leaves out a very key, military point. In any military operation, there is tactical success, and then there is strategic success. To the degree that the surge has been a success, it has been tactical.
Our troops have performed incredibly - taking control of any area they are ordered to take control of, and have helped tamp down violence in those areas (combined with other factors like the Sunni Awakening against al Qaeda in Iraq). However, the strategic goal of the surge, as stated by President Bush, was to bring about political reconciliation in Iraq. At this point, that goal is far from being achieved, as detailed in this report.
It is simply wrong to say that the surge has been an overall success - both tactical and strategic. Will the participants in the debate give America some "straight talk" about the surge?
2) Will the candidates be challenged on the deteriorating situation with Pakistan? Will Obama hold to his position that we must act to strike terrorists officially inside Pakistan's borders, and will McCain hold to his view that Obama is wrong to strike in the ungoverned parts of Pakistan without the expressed consent from Islamabad?
By all measures, the security situation in Afghanistan is now a crisis, with an enemy there that has gained strength and confidence, as our troops are committed to the war in Iraq. Terrorists are even committing acts of violence in Kabul, which to this point had been relatively secure.
A key problem is that terrorists have found safe haven in the ungoverned region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the United States has tried to chase down these terrorists, into what is technically Pakistan, they have faced fire from our supposed ally.
During the primaries, Senator Obama made clear that if the United States had actionable intelligence that al Qaeda leaders were in Pakistan's borders, and Islamabad was unwilling or unable to act on it, we would. Senator McCain ripped Senator Obama for this position, and said that he would not perform operations in a "sovereign country" without their permission or cooperation.
Given developments since the primary, has either candidate changed their position, and why?
3) Will the candidates speak about our inability to take care of our current military commitments, let alone new ones?
Just this week, Secretary Robert Gates admitted that we do not have the necessary forces to boost our numbers in Afghanistan until the Spring, meaning we cannot meet the request of the NATO Commander in the region.
Clearly, our military has been stretched too thin. Unfortunately, those who would do us harm will not wait to create new hot-spots until we can effectively deal with them.
Will the candidates clearly answer how they will ease the strain on the military, allowing us to wage an effective war in Afghanistan, and have the necessary forces to respond to future emergencies?
Additionally, does Senator McCain believe that we can keep forces engaged in Iraq, send necessary forces to Afghanistan, and engage in any future simultaneous conflicts without a military draft? For example, if we begin a military conflict with Iran or Russia, can we fight a three-front war without a draft?
4) Will the candidates lay out what steps short of military action they would take to prevent a nuclear Iran?
Both candidates have made clear that a military option against Iran is not "off the table," as the world community tries to keep the regime from developing nuclear weapons. However, will the candidates be challenged on what steps they would take to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, to prevent the need for a military option? War veterans, especially, are more interested in ways to avoid war than reasons to get into a new war, and the candidates must convince us that they are serious about avoiding military conflict.
Specifically, Senator Obama has been clear about his desire to open diplomatic communication with Iran (something that was recently undertaken by Secretary Rice. Talking to Iran is something also endorsed by five former Secretaries of State: Powell, Albright, Christopher, Baker, and Kissinger. Senator McCain has characterized this as direct talks with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and mocked the idea.
Even beyond diplomacy, what steps would the candidates take to deter a nuclear Iran, so that the military option does not even need to become a serious consideration?
Additionally, do the candidates agree that a strike on Iran puts our forces in Iraq at risk from a counter-attack by the Mahdi Army, and Israel at risk to counter-attacks from Hezbollah? How would they prepare for that, if military action against Iran is taken?
5) Given news that Prime Minister Maliki has hinted that he prefers a timeline that removes troops by 2010, but was pressured to accept a 2011 timeline due to U.S. political considerations, will the candidates consider moving a timeline to exit Iraq back to 2010, or do they consider that unrealistic?
Also this week, the Iraqi government let it be known that they pushed back a timeline for withdrawal of troops, due to pressure from the Bush administration, apparently due to U.S. political considerations.
War veterans would be extremely troubled if troops were stuck in Iraq for a whole extra year, due not to Iraqi requests, or the situation on the ground, but due to considerations in the Presidential Race. Another year in Iraq would mean another year of troops killed or wounded in action; another year that we could not send enough troops to Afghanistan.