Obama, McCain Trade Jabs on Terrorism

There's a lot of talk about change this election season, but one thing that hasn't changed: talk of terrorism and 9/11. This week John McCain has stepped up his attacks on Barack Obama over the issue, and Obama has forcefully fired back.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Form NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Barack Obama wants to talk national security. He met today here in Washington with a newly created team of national security advisers. The session is the latest effort by the presumptive Democratic nominee to prove he's ready to be commander in chief and prepared to fight terrorism. In the last three election cycles, Republicans went after Democrats on the issue, and now presumptive GOP nominee John McCain seems ready to do the same. NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE: When Barack Obama came out of the meeting with his national security team today, he said the nation is fighting two wars and confronting terrorists who are determined to kill Americans.

BARACK OBAMA: And that's why the single greatest priority of my presidency will be doing anything and everything that is needed to keep the American people safe.

GREENE: But for now Obama said one priority is to fend off the attacks coming from John McCain on the issue of terrorism.

OBAMA: They come from the same tired political playbook that George Bush and Karl Rove have used for eight years.

GREENE: The Republican playbook Obama is talking about is famous for casting Democrats like him as weak on national security. Here's a reminder of what that playbook has sounded like.

GEORGE BUSH: That's kind of a pre-September 10th mentality.

DICK CHENEY: We'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset, if you will.

KARL ROVE: Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world.

GREENE: You just heard President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both in 2004, and then former White House aide Karl Rove in 2006. And now here's a soundbite from the 2008 campaign trail.

RANDY SHANAMAN: Senator Obama is a perfect manifestation of the September 10th mindset.

GREENE: That's Randy Shunaman, one of John McCain's foreign policy advisers talking to reporters on a call yesterday. So the McCain camp is using old language. But its language that's worked in past campaigns and McCain has reason to give it a shot. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week, Obama lead overall, but 53 percent of respondents said when it comes to fighting terrorism, they have more trust in McCain. Today the two campaigns were going at it with dueling conference calls. The McCain camp put former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the phone with reporters. Just a few hours later, the Obama campaign put foreign policy adviser Susan Rice on their line. Yes, they were on different calls but Giuliani and Rice may as well have been talking at each other.

RUDY GIULIANI: Senator Obama has a defensive approach to terrorism.

SUSAN RICE: John McCain has only an Iraq-focused mantra.

GIULIANI: I describe the differences as, one, wanting to be on offense, and the other wanting to be on defense.

RICE: The Bush-McCain approach to terrorism is weak and has left us less safe.

GREENE: One thing that's intensified this debate was the Supreme Court's ruling last week that suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to a hearing in a U.S. civilian court. Obama supported the Court's decision and McCain's campaign said that showed Obama is weak. On his campaign plane yesterday, Obama insisted Guantanamo detainees deserve a day in court.

OBAMA: The question is whether or not that the Supreme Court said people who are being held have a chance to at least suggest that, hey, you've got the wrong guy or I shouldn't be here. It's not a question of whether they or not they're freed.

GREENE: A reporter reminded Obama that Republicans seemed to win the debate on issues like this in 2004. His answer...

OBAMA: Well, it's 2008.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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