Press Conference Audio

Both Eric Massa and Tom Reed had press conferences this morning. I'm going to try something new: side-by-side audio of three topics. Six clips are embedded after the break:

Afghanistan: I asked both candidates about our mission in Afghanistan and whether we should be sending new troops.

Reed's answer: 

Massa's answer:  

Healthcare: Both candidates made a few comments about healthcare.



Iran: Bob Recotta of the Corning Leader had extensive questions about Iran, especially for Massa. I've spliced together Massa's statement about Iran with two sets of questions from Bob.




It is amazing how these guys can talk and talk and not say thing.

Reed's answer on Afghanistan is pretty obvious with enough understanding of the news. "When McChrystal comes out in favor of more troops I'll back him", in essence. One can also read into it "I don't know better than the generals so I won't commit to an answer before they do". Which, from the mayor of Corning, is fair to say. If Reed can't deliver more than that after the strategy and Obama/military positions are out there, then it's a real problem.

Massa, being in congress and on the House Armed Services Committee, gives a much more veteran answer. And it's an interesting answer... it's a pre-surge Iraq answer. "There is no military solution" is something that was said a lot by people who felt that a civilian surge would do more than a military one. Plenty on the right were calling for more support from the state dept. Being on the hawkish right, my reaction to hearing that is to say that Massa hasn't learned the lessons from Iraq. You need security before you can deploy a safety net. And to have security you need to have enough troops to control enough territory for long enough that the populace starts offering real support. The Afghans don't think we're "all in" and so they won't committ fully to opposing the Taliban. But that's just my opinion policy-wise. From a political perspective, Reed seems to be staking out the more hawkish position and Massa the more dovish one. Both are hedging enough so that they have room to maneuver once the headlines start flowing.

Iran: Reed's answers... wow. That's just not good. Yeah it sure would be nice if we could bring China on board! And just how do we do that, preytell? No substance at all, and there's no excuse for that weak stuff.

Massa is much more forceful, waaaaaaaay more informed, and he even does a better job of presenting a reasonable position than pretty much anyone I've heard. Tough, effective sanctions will be ready to deploy immediately unless Iran reacts accordingly to talks. So he's balancing "let's talk" with "get tough". The "I won't discuss a trigger" answer is GREAT, because he's saying "loose lips sink ships", "I'm not trigger-happy" and "I'm willing to pull the trigger" all at the same time. To whatever extent I disagree with how he answered on Afghanistan, I agree more strongly with how he answered on Iran. I mean dang that is some good stuff.

Healthcare: I love Reed's answer. Much clearer and more solid than his foreign policy answers, but then what wouldn't be? Reed is less focused on the partisan end of things than most on the right, and instead looks at policy. "I want this, I don't want this, I think we can agree on this".

Massa's answer is short, but again it's clear. If you like the public option, go Massa. If you don't, go Reed. Interesting that Massa is putting himself forcefully behind a policy point that's one of the most debated and most likely to be left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps it's his way of satisfying the left while letting him vote "no", which would be the defensive move to counter Reed.

I have a feeling this will be a more interesting race than Massa vs Kuhl.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

I'll pick one bone with you on Reed's answer on Afghanistan. I think letting the general who's in command of the theater dictate the size of troop deployments in that theater is just wrong. Theater commanders are in charge of tactics. Our elected officials are in charge of strategy, which includes how much of our resources are going to be devoted to a given war. Saying that you defer to the general on the ground might sound good, but it's really an abdication of a fundamental responsibility by the politician who says it. (Imagine, for example, FDR saying that he'd defer to MacArthur on how many troops should be deployed in the Pacific theater.)

Speaking of strategy, I don't think our strategy in Afghanistan is clear. I think we can agree that our interests there are clear: we want to keep Afghanistan from becoming a Al Quaeda base used to destabilize Pakistan and/or launch attacks at us or our allies. But is occupation and nation-building (being "all in") the best strategy to preserve our interests there? Maybe the best strategy is to maintain a presence in Afghanistan that's sufficient to deter a full-scale rebound of the Taliban. Perhaps that could be accomplished with a few bases from which we conduct targeted special ops missions. The latest election shows just how far Afghanistan has to go to become anything like a functioning democracy, and I don't know if we want to spend the blood and treasure necessary to accomplish that goal.

That was the strategy in Iraq, and it failed. Need intel for targeted strikes and intel is a lot harder to come by with no troops in an area, or not enough to win the populace's support. Ceding chunks of territory to the Taliban allows them to field a bigger, more dangerous force while we've got fewer troops to fight them. Either fight to win or don't fight at all. Half-measures mean more deaths, not less. If the Taliban can be routed and the bulk of Afghan territory pacified, then troop levels can be lowered and focused on the border. But we're getting into the weeds of strategy.

In regards to "just do what the generals say", you've got a good point. There are plenty of times where a civilian leader was right and not a military one. There's a sense on the right, correct or not, that the debate is over whether or not there's a will to win, as opposed to being light vs heavy footprint for the strategy. The Iraq surge is policy gospel in the GOP, and given that the GOP base is strongly in favor of an Afghan surge, Reed favoring a pro-surge general over an uncertain administration is red meat for said base. Where Reed runs into problems is in being able to out-talk Massa among the skeptical independents who turned on Kuhl. And he's not there yet.

A major part of the surge was bribing local tribal leaders - I think we can accomplish that without committing huge numbers of troops, assuming the same dynamic holds in Afghanistan (i.e., the tribal leaders are more interested in keeping tribal authority than they are acceding to the demands of Islamic radical groups). There may be a smart, low-impact strategy here that doesn't involve a direct attack on the Taliban, and better leverages locals for needed intel.

I agree that Reed needs to up his game to deal with Massa. In a couple of months, the administration's Afghanistan strategy will gel and we'll see if it's something skeptical independents will accept. In defense of the administration, I think everyone was stunned at the level of vote fraud perpetrated by Karzai, so it's right to pause and regroup.