Tonight – the gloves are off!!!
In the first of a series of debates between now and the election, Blogcritics will host the kickoff debate tonight, Tuesday, September 28th between our very own Blogcritic and A-list blogger, Michele Catalano, and writer/satirist Neal Pollack (to be posted shortly after debate concludes this evening)
The 2004 presidential election is less than six weeks away. The issues and challenges that face the next president and the American people are stark and daunting. According to most pundits, the number one issue of the 2004 election is the war in Iraq. This debate will focus heavily on that, the overall war on terror and a few broader issues that are of concern to Americans on either side of the aisle.
The following is a brief bio on tonight’s featured debaters:
Representing the right is self-described “security mom” Michele Catalano, the brainchild behind asmallvictory.net and command-post.org. As an A-list blogger, Michele is in the advantageous position of expressing not just her personal opinion, but also influencing a rather healthy number of other’s opinions. She wields her power with laser-like precision, putting heat on media figures whom she feels represent a viewpoint that undermines the values and morals of the average American, or at the very least her own.
Michele has no reservation promoting her pet causes, while simultaneously skewering those for which she has contempt. Depending upon where you sit, Michele is either your staunchest ally or your most reviled enemy. As a Long Island mother of two, she is not easy to pigeonhole. Standing up for gay rights and pro-choice, Michele is also firmly and unwaveringly behind Bush and his strategy to fight the war on terror.
Representing a country somewhere to the left is writer Neal Pollack. Neal is an accomplished writer/satirist whose sharp and biting wit sears the soft underbelly of political and cultural figures who dare to raise his ire. With a bombastic tone and a mordant bravado, Neal charges into any and all territory shaking up the foundation of what you think you know, but clearly don’t (as he is so kind to point out).
Satire this concise can leave the reader confused as to where Neal stands, but be sure of this: Neal has a stance and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Like most creative types, Neal has branched out from the book bindings and does his “show” both on the web and on the road. We caught him just in time, as he heads out next week on a book tour to promote his latest book, Never Mind The Pollacks.
In spite of extreme technical difficulties and battling with mother nature a brief, but interesting and insightful discussion.
Moderator: Why did we go to war with Iraq?
Michele Catalano: Saddam had WMDs. Short answer. Longer answer… WMDs were just part of the reason. In order to fight a war on terrorism, you need to obviously go to where the terrorism has its roots. To bring the dream of democracy to the middle east, and hence a sense of peace to the world, you have to start somewhere. Bringing freedom to the Iraqis would be a stepping stone to peace in the middle east. Taking Saddam out of power was a necessity.
Neal Pollack: Let me address your points one at a time. 1 Saddam did NOT have WMDs, nor did he have any substantial capacity to make them. A decade plus of sanctions had taken their toll. If you’re looking at terrorism as defined by Al-Queda and related groups, then it’s absurd to say Iraq was where terrorism was rooted. How many times does this have to be repeated? The hijackers were mostly Saudi. Osama bin Laden was based in Afghanistan. He and Al Queda had no substantial ties to Saddam Hussein. I will let the “dream of democracy” line stand, because I believe people sincerely believe in that dream of democracy.
Michele Catalano: I never said Saddam was connected to 9/11. Terrorism didn’t begin and end on that date.
Neal Pollack: Agreed.
Michele Catalano: Also, the head of Saddam’s nuclear centrifuge program would beg to differ on point 1.
Neal Pollack: But the administration has repeatedly justified its invasion of Iraq by implying and occasionally outright saying that there were ties to Al Queda.
Michele Catalano: There were ties to al Queda, which you can see verified in the 9/11 report. The ties were NOT to 9/11, but they were there.
Neal Pollack: The fact of the matter is that we went to war in Iraq because we needed a permanent military stronghold in the Middle East so we didn’t have to be totally dependent on Saudi oil.
Neal Pollack: If they had just said that, it would have been hard to get the war pushed through, but I’d have a lot more respect for them.
Michele Catalano: If they said it was all about the oil?
Neal Pollack: If they’d been a little more honest about geopolitics and the way they work.
Michele Catalano: Even John Kerry thought Saddam had WMDs.
Neal Pollack: They treat us like we’re stupid children who need to be protected from evil.
Michele Catalano: Define evil. Because I do think we need to be protected from evil. That’s what the war on terror is all about.
Neal Pollack: No. We need to be protected from terrorist attacks. Evil is a much broader concept.
Moderator: Has the war in Iraq fostered a deeper sense of hatred of America therefore increasing the likelyhood of further attacks or has it in a broader sense made us safer?
Neal Pollack: ….about hatred of America, I think that international opinion is by and large against us. Time will tell whether or not Iraq leads to greater terrorism, but I think the odds are high. Again, the terms. “Safer” from what?
Michele Catalano: I’d say that having Saddam in a jail cell makes the world a bit safer. We’ve captured dozens of al Qaeda leaders… We’ve captured Saddam.
Neal Pollack: All we’ve done is invade a foreign country, albeit one ruled by a tyrant, with flimsy justification at best and then proceeded to utterly botch the occupation. Saddam Hussein killed a lot of his own people and a lot of Iranians. But he wasn’t mass murdering Americans. I don’t see how making US the bad guy, or one of the bad guys, in Iraq instead of him makes us “safer.”
Neal Pollack: I will agree with you on the capture of dozens of Al Queda leaders. That goes beyond party or ideology.
Michele Catalano: THe U.S. is the bad guy to the insurgents. Is that a bad thing? We’ve always been the bad guy to terrorists. We’re the enemy because they don’t want freedom in Iraq.
Neal Pollack: No. But there WEREN’T insurgents before the U.S. was there. And the insurgency is more complicated than just “terrorists” versus “good guys.” There are a variety of groups shooting at Americans. Some of them are terrorists. Others don’t like the fact that we bomb their neighborhoods.
Neal Pollack: I would strongly argue that we don’t want freedom in Iraq either. Time magazine reported this week that the Bush Administration had a plan to use the CIA to funnel American tax money to fund hand-picked candidates in Iraq. In what sense is that freedom? It is not.
Michele Catalano: It’s not rule by torture chambers and execution. There’s a big difference. Eventually Iraq will govern itself. They’ll need our help to get there. Democracy isn’t installed overnight.
Moderator: Who has the best policy for the U.S. to gracefully and quickly reduce its number of troops in Iraq, Bush or Kerry?
Neal Pollack: We’re screwed in Iraq. There is no graceful exit. I think that John Kerry would probably try to do the right thing but fail because there is no right thing. I think that George Bush would do whatever was politically expedient for him, and that will not be graceful. It hasn’t been so far.
Michele Catalano: I’ll agree that it hasn’t been graceful at all. I can’t sit here and say everything is going great, because it’s not. But I don’t think that Kerry’s idea to bring in France and other countries is going to work either,because they don’t want do it.
Neal Pollack: I just don’t believe the Bush Administration’s talk about democracy. I think it’s a convenient word for them. There is no way in hell these elections are happening in January.
Michele Catalano: It’s certainly a matter of belief in your candidate. I do believe the talk about democracy and I can still see it happening. Mistakes were definitely made, but progress is also being made.
Neal Pollack: And as for no rule by torture chambers, I strongly disagree. Abu Ghraib was a torture prison. Because we have a free press, it got nipped in the bud, but that stuff would still be going on if it hadn’t been reporter. That’s a substantial difference between Hussein and us, but I don’t think that should even be a question.
Michele Catalano: I just can’t compare Abu Ghraib to the years and years of what Saddam did to his people. I’m not justifying what happened there, it was horrible.
Neal Pollack: Again. We shouldn’t even be having the comparison discussion. Do you honestly think that a Democratic administration, or even a sane Republican one, would have concocted a legal justification for torture?
Michele Catalano: It’s not like people are not being held responsible for their actions there.
Neal Pollack: That’s what gets me. The complicity at high levels. The people who really need to be held accountable are the people who got us into the mess in the first place. Yes, Lynndie England should be punished. But not INSTEAD of Donald Rumsfeld.
Neal Pollack: Look, I have no idea if Kerry’s “four point” plan for fixing Iraq will work. But at least he has a plan. Bush is saying that everything’s all right. And it’s not.
Neal Pollack: Sorry. I’m excitable. You have the floor.
Michele Catalano: But Bush has the same thing in mind: reconstruction, train Iraqis, achieve a viable government. He doesn’t want to leave there without doing those things. And those things are happening right now. For every insurgent attack you hear about, there is news you don’t hear about.
Michele Catalano: I’m being distracted by a small flood outside the office, you have the floor for a moment Neal.
Neal Pollack: I don’t doubt that there are well-meaning people on the ground in Iraq, and that some people are trying to make progress.
Neal Pollack: But that’s not what’s going on. Bush says he’s trained 100,000 soldiers. He hasn’t. He says he’s in favor of free elections, but then he tries to backhandedly fund stooge candidates. And what, precisely, will be left to reconstruct when the bombing stops?
Moderator: What is the best strategy for fighting the war on terror.
Neal Pollack: For what it’s worth, I believe that the best strategy for fighting the war on terror is to put the financial squeeze on Al Queda and arrest its major leaders. A massive ground war in the Middle East serves no one’s interests but the terrorists’ and a few large American companies. The Afghanistan war was necessary. But that was the only major assault I feel that this required.
Michele Catalano: I think part of the strategy is to recognize that the culture in the middle east breeds terrorism. It’s not just al Qaeda.
Neal Pollack: Plans to go into Iraq were in place long before 9-11. OK. Fine. Fundamentalist Islam is anti-modern and needs to be stamped out. But killing lots of Muslims indiscriminately, which we have, isn’t going to help matters.
Michele Catalano: Indiscriminately? You make it sound as if we just go off killing anyone carrying the Koran.
Neal Pollack: You don’t win a war of ideas with guns. Arrest or assassinate the actual terrorists. Lean heavily on governments that harbor them. But don’t attack countries without provocation. It’s just not right.
Neal Pollack: We’re not killing people because they’re Muslims. We’re killing people and they happen to be Muslims. But why should their grieving families understand that?
Michele Catalano: Ok, I can’t do this. I’ve got water coming under the office floorboards.
Moderator: oh shit
Neal Pollack: Likely story. You just fear my wrath.
Michele Catalano: You know it.
Neal Pollack: Dawn, I really can’t do this any time for the next month.
Michele Catalano: But I’ll take some pictures for you anyhow.
Neal Pollack: I know some good mold inspectors here in Texas.
Moderator: okay – how about this?
Michele Catalano: I’ve really got to shut down the computer and move this stuff out of here.
Michele Catalano: Hurry
Moderator: Michele I will send you some questions
Michele Catalano: I just bought this freaking house.
Michele Catalano: Ok
Michele Catalano: We can do this in email if that works for you, Neal. Just go back and forth if you want.
Michele Catalano: Dawn, email me. Whatever you want to do is fine, I’ve got to move the computer out of here NOW.
Michele Catalano: Neal, sorry about this.
Moderator: OKAY – good luck
Michele Catalano: I’d like to continue it, though.
Michele Catalano has left the conference.
Neal Pollack: Normally, I’d say yes. But I’m too busy to do a big email exchange. Don’t worry about it. Take care of your troubles.
I wonder if tomorrow night’s presidential debate will have torrential rain, possible electrocution and this much brevity?
Thank you Michele and Neal, you were both good sports and while cut short it’s a good opener for discussing important topics.
Please see our second debate between Libertarian Mike Kole and Green-supporter Natalie Davis here.