Update: Video compilation of Gravel clips from debate at the bottom of this post.
I got a pleasant surprise watching last night’s Presidential debate.
The usual (and often scary) drivel spewed forth from the likes of Hillary and Barack, both trying to outdo each other in a show of superiority and arrogance. Most of the candidates gave their ideas for how they should run the lives of Iraqis and for how long it should continue. Only two came out for immediate withdrawal, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
Kucinich took a fairly strong antiwar position, as always. But I do have a problem with his call for other nations to take over the occupation of Iraq. Calling for continued occupation of Iraq by any foreign nation is not only wrong, but it can be easily used to justify continued US occupation if other nations are unwilling to do so. I also feel his delivery and persona are unimpressive and getting quite stale. (I know I will get some letters from fans, but that’s my opinion.)
Gravel, on the other hand, got the issues of war and peace exactly right.
“Some of these people [the other candidates] frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say “there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran. That’s code for using nukes, nuclear devices. I’ve got to tell you, if I’m President of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. In my mind, it’s immoral, and it’s been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy.”
Moderator Brian Williams then asked Gravel who on this stage worries him so much. Gravel said the top tier candidates worried him.
Gravel first took aim at Joe Biden:
“Joe, you have a certain arrogance, you want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country. We should just play ‘get out.’ It’s their country, their asking us to leave, and we insist on staying there, why not get out. You hear the statement, ‘the soldiers will have died in vain.’ The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. You know what’s worse than a soldier dying in vain? More soldiers dying in vain.”
Gravel slammed fellow Democrats’ approach on continuing to fund the war:
Well, first off, understand that this war was lost the day that George Bush invaded Iraq on a fraudulent basis. Understand that. Now with respect to what’s going on in the Congress, I’m really embarrassed. So we passed â€“ and the media’s in a frenzy right today with what has been passed. What has been passed? George Bush communicated over a year ago that he would not get out of Iraq until he left office. Do we not believe him?
How do you get out? You pass the law, not a resolution, a law making it a felony to stay there.
Make the illegal war actually illegal. That’s the ticket!
But the best moment came after Barack Obama said that Iran having nuclear weapons will be a major threat to the US: “They are in the process of obtaining nuclear weapons. I don’t think that is disputed by any expert.” (At this point, Kucinich interrupted that it is disputed.) Barak continued: “They are the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, with Hezbollah and Hamas.” Kucinich continued to interrupt. Obama then talked of the risk of nuclear weapons reaching the hands of terrorists.
Gravel (who happily was next in line) confronted Obama:
“We’ve sanctioned them [Iran] for 26 years. We scared the bejesus out of them when the President said they’re ‘evil.’ These things don’t work. We need to recognize them.”
“You know who the biggest violator of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is? The United States of America! We signed a pledge that we would begin to disarm and we’re not doing it. We’re expanding our nukes. Who the hell are we going to nuke?”
“Tell me, Barack, who do you want to nuke?” Obama replied, “I’m not planning on nuking anybody right now (emphasis added). Gravel joked “Good, then we’re safe for awhile.”
Gravel also attacked the whole idea of a “war on terror.”:
“We are mischaracterizing terrorism. Terrorism has been with civilization from the beginning and will be there until the end. We’re going to be as successful fighting the war on terror as we have been with the war on drugs. It doesn’t work. What you have to do is to begin to change the whole foreign policy.” “This invasion brought about more terrorism. Osama bin Laden must have been rolling in his blankets, how happy he was, our invading Iraq.”
On another note, Obama totally reversed the impact of his recently quoted statement: “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people.”
He explained that he had been quoted out of context.
“What I said was ‘Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region.”
Candidates were not given equal time, and the allocation seemed to be based on their standings in the polls. Clinton and Obama got the most. Gravel got the least amount of time, but used it well.
Gravel represented Alaska in the US Senate from 1969 to 1981. He was one of the most vocal Vietnam War critics.
In 1971, Gravel embarked on a one-man filibuster against legislation renewing the military draft. Using various parliamentary maneuvers, Gravel was able to block the bill for five months before President Richard Nixon and Senate Republicans agreed to allow the draft to expire in 1973.
Also in 1971, Gravel introduced most of the Ellsberg-leaked Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record after the White House got an injunction against the publication of them in the New York Times. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Gravel did not have the right and responsibility to share official documents with his constituents.
I spent some time with Gravel 36 years ago and was very impressed. I was happy to see him on the podium after so long. Kucinich is great (and of course Ron Paul is my hero), but Gravel was a wonderful surprise. I hope they keep him in the debates through the end.
The New York Times has a pretty good article about Gravel’s performance.
CNN, along with the local media co-sponsors, have announced that Mike Gravel will not be invited to their planned debate June in New Hampshire. Fox News has also announced that Ron Paul will not be included in their upcoming Republican debate.