In order to gauge local public opinion regarding the United States Presidential elections and to bring the nuances of the American debate to the Gulf region, CIRS hosted its own Democratic vs. Republican debate on October 12, 2008 at the Diplomatic Club in Doha. On the Republican side was James Patti, Director of Strategic Planning & Analysis for the Division of Biology & Medicine at Brown University and early supporter of Senator John McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination. On behalf of the Democrats was Gary Wasserman, Visiting Professor of Government at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. The debate, which was attended by a record audience of interested members of the local community, was moderated by David Foster, seasoned journalist and correspondent at the Al Jazeera English television network.
Click here to download an MP3 of the debate
Foster asked both representatives to deliver a five minute introductory summary of the primary issues in order to define the most pertinent concerns of the evening’s debate. Gary Wasserman argued that the United States’ Presidential debate had become side-tracked by the public focus on celebrity politics and personality examinations and this has caused a tremendous amount of confusion among the electorate. The choice between both nominees should, in fact, be a simple and straightforward decision between each party’s policies and programs over the next four years. He argued that the Republican Party treated the American people with little respect by constantly reiterating statements and slogans that were untrue, hoping “that they would swallow it.” This, he said, was in keeping with the Bush administration’s tactic of bullishly repeating a statement ad nausea in order to convince the public of its sincerity. Wasserman concluded his opening statement by saying that “if we want change, it needs to be more than a campaign slogan; we need Barack Obama.”
In his introductory remarks, James Patti argued that the public should remember that the Republican Party is not, and should not, be defined by the Bush administration. The Republican Party, he argued, is the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and it is the party of free trade and courageous public policies. He noted that whoever becomes elected as President of the United States needs the strong will to fill a number of criteria in order to reassert America’s role in the world. Senator McCain, he said, despite the negative rhetoric and opinion polls will make an excellent leader.
After both debaters had defined their political positions, David Foster asked each a series of pointed questions regarding the state of the United States economy and its foreign policy and what hope there was for the Middle East if both Republican and Democratic campaign strategies insisted on the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with Israel. Wasserman answered by saying that despite all their fundamental differences, both the pro-Israel and anti-Israel lobbies were in agreement on one issue and that is the belief in the strong influence of the Israel lobby and its ability to affect foreign policy. Wasserman noted that foreign policy decisions depend on a number of considerations and variables and do not simply follow a formula of befriending Israel at all costs.
Jim Patti argued, in relation to the question of foreign policy and Iraq, that Senator Obama was extremely irresponsible towards the American people by giving a definite timeframe for troop withdrawal regardless of the ensuing consequences. He admitted that “Brand America” was extremely damaged at the moment, but this was not irreparable, as the American system allowed for renewal and reconstruction. Patti emphasized that what is needed is greater oversight, stronger reforms and a clearer vision.
Audience members were invited to ask questions of both men, which produced a lively discussion. Some of the questions focused on initiating a conversation debating Arab views of America and what it means to be an Arab American in the current climate of home security and racial profiling.
Both speakers were asked to give concluding statements to wrap up the debate. Patti ended by saying that he had great respect for Barack Obama but because of the Senator’s inexperience, he should not be elected in 2008 but instead, should use the next four years to gather some valuable insight into the Presidency and run in the 2012 election. Wasserman warned that the Presidential candidates should not avoid concentrating on the important overarching issues by resorting to the tabloid tactics of mud-slinging and personality discredits in order to achieve their objectives.
James W. Patti is the Director of Strategic Planning & Analysis for the Division of Biology & Medicine at Brown University. Prior to joining Brown in 2006, he served as the founding Chief Financial Officer of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.A native of Massachusetts, Patti is a lifelong Republican with a keen interest in international affairs, economic development and education policy. He was an early supporter of Senator John McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination, organizing grassroots activists and helping secure a McCain primary victory in Rhode Island. In 2008, he represented the State of Rhode Island as a McCain delegate to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Dr. Wasserman is a Visiting Professor of Government at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. He has been a Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies teaching graduate students about American government, media, and political parties in Nanjing, China. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Nairobi University, and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. His book, The Basics of American Politics was published by Longman and is currently in its 13th edition. He has taught at Columbia, Medgar Evers College CUNY, and George Mason universities.As a Senior Vice President of the public affairs firm Bozell Sawyer Miller, Dr. Wasserman organized and shaped state and local campaigns, a role he had also filled while a partner in a grassroots Washington firm. His public service includes: National Issues Coordinator for a presidential campaign; legislative assistant in the House of Representatives, and Special Assistant for Evaluation to the Administrator of USAID. At present he advises the U.S. Agency for International Development, has spoken in several countries under the U.S. Speakers Program and created Banyan Advisors, a non-profit lobbying firm for the poor.
David Foster has over 34 years of experience as a journalist, covering stories in more than 50 countries. He came to Al Jazeera English from Sky News, the UK-based satellite news channel, where for almost ten years he was a studio news presenter and business correspondent.
Summary by Suzi Mirgani, CIRS Publications Coordinator.