Muslims For A Safe America has prepared the following comparison of John McCain’s views and Barack Obama’s views relating to the “War on Terror.” As a 501(c)(3) organization, Muslims For A Safe America does not endorse candidates. Muslims For A Safe America encourages readers to assess the policies of each candidate in terms of whether those policies would make America and the Muslim world safer.
In some ways, John McCain and Barack Obama are very similar, and they share a similar worldview, which may make some American Muslims uncomfortable. Both believe that America is threatened by some Muslim groups and that Al Qaeda is a very serious threat to America. However, they differ about the best way to fight the war against Al Qaeda.
The War on Terror is a challenging subject to discuss with Muslim audiences, because our community is divided on the issue of whether or not any Muslims were involved in 9/11 and whether Al Qaeda is real. These are significant issues, because if Muslims were not involved in 9/11, and if Al Qaeda is not real, then the “War on Terror” is misdirected. On the other hand, if Muslims were involved in 9/11, and if Al Qaeda is real, then the “War on Terror” makes more sense.
The “War On Terror” issues are presented in two main categories: foreign policy issues and civil liberties/domestic security issues. The issues are presented in alphabetical order.
FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan soon after 9/11, because Afghanistan was Al Qaeda’s base. The U.S. quickly overthrew the Taliban government, but then America turned its attention to Iraq. Now, seven years later, Afghanistan remains unstable and violent, and Al Qaeda and the Taliban are getting stronger. American military commanders say America doesn’t have enough troops to significantly increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. There are four times as many American troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan.
Considers Afghanistan to be a secondary priority in the War on Terror, after Iraq. Says more American troops are needed in Afghanistan, but will not send additional American troops to Afghanistan, as long as the troops are needed in Iraq. Believes that NATO allies should send more troops to Afghanistan. Would prefer more training for the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police, rather than sending more U.S. troops.
Believes that Afghanistan is the central front in the War on Terror, because Al Qaeda is based in Afghanistan and getting stronger. Wants to withdraw American troops from Iraq, in part so that more American troops can go to Afghanistan.
The U.S. has accused Iran of aiding anti-American forces in neighboring Iraq, and of seeking to develop nuclear weapons which could threaten America and Israel, and which could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Both McCain and Obama say Iran must stop supporting Shia forces fighting American forces in Iraq, and that Iran must not be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon. Both McCain and Obama support diplomatic and economic pressure to force Iran to stop enriching uranium which could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Both McCain and Obama say they will not take the military option off the table.
Says the only thing worse than war with Iran would be an Iran with nuclear weapons. Made a joke during the Republican primary about bombing Iran. Opposes presidential dialogue with Iranian leaders, because he thinks such a dialogue would boost the credibility of Iranian leaders.
Supports presidential dialogue with Iranian leaders to try to resolve differences and reach a comprehensive settlement on all issues. Prepared to offer Iran normal diplomatic relations as part of a comprehensive settlement. Says that if dialogue doesn’t work, America will be in a stronger position to win international support for tougher sanctions.
America invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003. The Iraqis have elected a democratic government, but there are tensions between Sunnis and Shias. Parts of Iraq remain unstable and violent.
Supported the invasion. Criticized the Bush Administration for mismanaging the war and for not initially sending enough troops to establish security in Iraq. Supported the troop surge which has contributed to increased stability in some regions, and believes the surge has encouraged Iraqi political leaders to start making political decisions that will bring the country together. Considers Iraq to be the central front in the War on Terror. Opposes a timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq, because he says withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground; thinks American troops should only withdraw after Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated, after Iraq is politically stable, and after the Iraqi military is able to protect the country. Concerned that an early American withdrawal would lead to civil war, genocide, and a failed state that could become an Al Qaeda safe haven. Concerned that an early American withdrawal from Iraq would strengthen Iran’s position in the region. Concerned that early withdrawal would lead to an increased risk of attacks in America, because the enemy would “follow us home.” Wants to maintain a long-term American military presence in Iraq, even after America wins the war, just as American troops have been in Germany and Korea for decades, because an American military presence could help America accomplish its other regional goals.
Opposed the invasion. Was not in the Senate before the war began, so he did not vote on the issue. Opposed sending more American troops to Iraq, even when Iraq became unstable. Has not tried to cut funding for the war. Believes that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has strengthened Iran, because Saddam Hussein was an enemy of Iran, and he has been replaced by a Shia-led government in Iraq. Doesn’t believe that Iraq is the central front in the War on Terror, because the 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, and because the Al Qaeda leadership is in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, not in Iraq. Supports a timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq; thinks most American troops should withdraw within one-and-a-half years after he takes office, in order (1) to pressure Iraqi leaders to take charge of security in Iraq, (2) to pressure Iraqi leaders to make political compromises necessary for future stability among Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, (3) to prevent U.S. military resources from being stretched too thin, (4) to free up military resources to use in Afghanistan, and (5) to free up billions of dollars every month to meet America’s domestic needs. Says some American troops would remain in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and to train Iraqi troops. Says America would have no permanent bases in Iraq. Says American troops might return to Iraq in the event of genocide in Iraq.
After 9/11, Pakistan supported the U.S. effort to overthrow the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan and to capture various Al Qaeda members. However, in light of the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the region, the U.S. government has raised questions about Pakistan’s commitment to defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan does not allow American troops on Pakistani soil. Both McCain and Obama have criticized Pakistan for not taking sufficient action against Al Qaeda or Taliban bases in Pakistan that are used to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
Opposes threatening to cut aid to Pakistan. Says the U.S. must convince Pakistan that the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban is in Pakistan’s best interests. Says the U.S. must provide more support to strengthen friendly tribes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border who can fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Supports more U.S. aid for development, health, and education in Pakistan to weaken the pull of radicalization. Has criticized Obama for openly saying Obama would take unilateral American military action against high-level Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan without Pakistan’s approval; McCain does not oppose such military action, but he believes that American leaders should not publicly state they will violate the sovereignty of an ally.
Will make U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional depending on Pakistan’s progress in closing down Al Qaeda and Taliban activities in northwestern Pakistan. Has said America will unilaterally attack high-level Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan if Pakistan cannot or will not deal with the targets. Supports more U.S. aid for development, health, and education in Pakistan to weaken the pull of radicalization.
The U.S. government has favored the Israelis over the Palestinians since Israel’s establishment in 1948. America’s pro-Israel stance has been cited by Al Qaeda as one reason for its attacks on American targets. Both McCain and Obama say America is committed to Israel’s security. During the July 2006 Lebanon war, both McCain and Obama insisted that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire until Israel’s objectives were accomplished. Both McCain and Obama say the Israel-Palestinian peace process is a high priority, and both say they will take an active role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Both McCain and Obama say they will not deal with Hamas.
Says the U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy to Jerusalem, but he would not object if Israelis and Palestinians agreed to make part of Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state.
First he said that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel, and that no part of Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state; then he backed down after Palestinians protested that the status of Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations. Has expressed sympathy for the suffering of ordinary Palestinians. Says a better life for Palestinian families would ultimately be good for Israelis and Palestinians. Has said that his many conversations about Palestine/Israel with former University of Chicago colleague Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor, were “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation … that is necessary … [around] … this entire world.”
CIVIL LIBERTIES/DOMESTIC SECURITY ISSUES
Detentions of “Enemy Combatants”/Guantanamo
Since 9/11, the Bush Administration has held hundreds of detainees at a detention center located at an American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Detainees have been held outside the U.S. in order to prevent them from accessing U.S. courts. Both McCain and Obama support closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Supports using a military legal process for determining whether detainees actually posed a threat to America; says that classified evidence (which is unavailable to detainees) and coerced statements should not be used against detainees in military legal proceedings. Opposes giving detainees the right to go to federal court to challenge the evidence for their detentions.
Supports giving detainees the right to go to federal court to challenge the evidence for their detentions, after initial decisions are made in the military legal process. Also supports closing secret American prisons in other countries where detainees are held without trial.
Domestic Information Gathering
After 9/11, Americans concluded that they needed better intelligence about the threat posed by Al Qaeda. The USA Patriot Act, passed by Democrats and Republicans, gave the FBI (1) the authority to secretly search Americans’ homes and offices, with no obligation to promptly notify the target after the search; (2) the authority to obtain Americans’ private records (telephone, e-mail, medical, financial, credit, employment, library, and other records) from third parties without the approval of a judge; these records could be obtained without evidence of the target’s involvement in a crime, as long as the FBI claimed the records were relevant to a terrorism investigation; these FBI orders could not be disclosed to anyone by the recipients of the order or challenged in court; and (3) the authority to wiretap any location or phone that might be used by the target of surveillance, even if those wiretaps were likely to pick up the conversations of other Americans. Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act with limited changes in 2005 and 2006. Both McCain and Obama believe that the government needs to be able to gather intelligence about Al Qaeda and threats to the U.S.
Voted in favor of the Patriot Act in 2001. Did not actively work to address civil liberties issues relating to the Patriot Act. Voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2005 and 2006.
Was not in Congress in 2001, so he did not vote on the Patriot Act, but he said the Patriot Act should be repealed and replaced with better legislation. After being elected to the Senate, he worked to increase civil liberties protections in the Patriot Act. As a result of his efforts and the efforts of other Senators, (1) Congress required the government to notify targets within 30 days after a secret search, but this time period could be extended by a judge; (2) Congress put in safeguards when the FBI sought access to private records. The order to provide private records had to be authorized by higher level FBI officials, not just field agents. Recipients of orders were allowed to inform their attorneys and to challenge the orders in court; and (3) Congress required the FBI to focus more closely on the specific target of the wiretap, and to minimize capturing the conversations of other Americans. Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act after the above-mentioned civil liberties protections were added.
Warrantless Domestic Wiretaps
From the end of 2001 until January 2007, without court approval, the Bush Administration searched for evidence of terrorist activity by monitoring international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of Americans and others inside the United States, who were thought to have some connection with terror suspects. After significant controversy, in 2008, Congress passed a new law reaffirming that the President could not spy domestically without a warrant, requiring an investigation of the domestic wiretapping that previously occurred, and giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that had previously cooperated in warrantless wiretapping. But no immunity was given to government officials.
Says he is unsure whether the Administration’s warrantless domestic wiretapping was legal or not. In 2008, voted against an amendment that would have removed immunity for telecom companies, and that amendment failed. Supported the final legislation but was not present to vote.
Says the Administration’s warrantless domestic wiretapping was illegal. In 2008, voted for an amendment that would have removed immunity for telecom companies, but that amendment failed. Voted for the final legislation, saying he would try to get the telecom immunity removed later.
The Bush Administration has acknowledged using coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. However, the Bush Administration denies that any of its techniques rise to the level of torture. Both McCain and Obama say they oppose the use of torture.
Opposes the use of any physical force by military interrogators. Voted to allow CIA interrogators to have greater flexibility than military interrogators, but said that no interrogation should be cruel, inhumane, or degrading, and no interrogation should involve “extreme” techniques. He specifies waterboarding as an impermissible “extreme” technique. Voted to narrow the definition of “war crimes” and to give immunity from prosecution to Americans who have used “lower-level” coercive interrogation techniques (other than torture, cruel or inhumane treatment, murder, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily harm, rape, sexual assault or abuse, and the taking of hostages).
Missed the vote on whether CIA interrogators should have greater flexibility than military interrogators, so it is unclear whether he believes any physical force is permissible. Voted against narrowing the definition of “war crimes” and opposed giving immunity from prosecution to Americans who have used “lower-level” coercive interrogation techniques.
Muslims For A Safe America is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Chicago. Our mission is to educate American Muslims about national security issues, so that (1) American Muslims can resolve the tensions they feel because their country is at war with some of their fellow Muslims around the world, and so that (2) American Muslims can become informed, effective participants in the national discussion about what domestic policies and what foreign policies will make America and the Muslim world safer. We educate American Muslims primarily through a mock debate format, and we have held mock debates at mosques around Chicagoland. If your mosque or organization would be interested in scheduling a mock debate, please contact us at 200 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 1240, Chicago, IL 60604, (312) 961-2354, firstname.lastname@example.org. Muslims For A Safe America does not receive funding from any government agency or any foundation; we operate solely based on small contributions from individual supporters.