Questions for the Candidates at Tonight's Debate

Tonight we will witness the final debate between Senators McCain and Obama that may include questions on foreign policy and military matters. To date, the mainstream media has neglected to directly ask some questions of literally vital importance, and time is running out to get candid answers.

The organization I chair, Vets for Freedom, has joined with the American Legion, Military Families United, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to ask these tough questions. Together these organizations represent 3.5 million Americans who share many common concerns about the next commander in chief.

Will he comprehend America's current strategic position, and know how we got here? Will he have the judgment to recognize what must be done, and the courage to lead us to face these challenges?

Vets for Freedom, in particular, has been challenging the candidates to address the facts about the surge in Iraq. Back in July, John Dickerson at Slate wrote that, since the surge was a key part of our recent strategy, "Obama's take on the surge also tells us how he processes information about Iraq. This has direct bearing on how he shapes his policy for the country today." The same is no doubt true for McCain.

We must know what the candidates think about the surge. We know McCain led support for the surge, and that Obama opposed it. We know that Obama predicted an increase in violence as a result of the surge, and that he predicted the Iraqi government would not make hard choices if the U.S. stayed in Iraq. It turns out he was wrong on both counts. But what do the candidates believe now?

The candidates have been able to say as much or as little about the surge as they care to. When they have used carefully-worded talking points to say one thing but imply another, most of the mainstream media has neglected to follow up. In the first presidential debate, when many Americans were sincerely paying attention to this election for the first time, Jim Lehrer asked one question about Iraq: "What do you see as the lessons of Iraq?"

Now, I understand that there were many topics to cover, including homeland security, Iranian nukes, Pakistan's place in the War on Terror, and Russian aggression ... but this is all we get on Iraq, a conflict which has dominated foreign policy discussion for most of the decade? This is supposed to reveal to the American people what the candidates really think about how we got here and where we need to go?

A healthy democracy demands more pointed inquiry. So, for the respected moderator of tonight's debate, Tom Brokaw, we submit a question of substance:

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times recently reported on the overwhelming reduction in violence and local reconciliation among Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad. Do you agree that the "Surge" achieved its stated goals -- militarily and politically -- and is the reason for stabilization in Iraq? And, knowing what you know now, would you again support or oppose General Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy?

If Tom Brokaw is unwilling to ask these questions, we hope that a town-hall participant has the presence of mind to do so. If neither the moderator nor the audience asks, we implore the candidates to challenge each other.

And if someone does ask but either John McCain or Barack Obama are unwilling to directly address these questions, someone should insist on candor.

Now is not the time for obfuscation. These issues are serious, and the American people deserve straight answers.