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In a November 16 article on the Democratic presidential debate the previous night, Los Angeles Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak and Scott Martelle reported that while discussing "the upheaval in Pakistan," Gov. Bill Richardson (NM) "stated that human rights sometimes must take precedence over national security in formulating the nation's foreign policy." The article then asserted that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "was less than definitive" about his stance on the relationship between national security and human rights, quoting him as saying, "The concepts are not contradictory. ... They are complementary." The Times did not offer any further explanation as to why Obama "was less than definitive" on the issue. In reality, during the debate, Obama elaborated on his answer, saying that "Pakistan's democracy would strengthen our battle against extremists" and that "we've got to understand that, if we simply prop up anti-democratic practices, that that feeds the sense that America is only concerned about us and that our fates are not tied to these other folks. And that's going to make us less safe. That's something I intend to change as president."
From the November 16 Los Angeles Times article:
The candidates were not all asked the same questions, so direct comparisons were not always possible.
Still, differences emerged. Discussing the upheaval in Pakistan, Richardson stated that human rights sometimes must take precedence over national security in formulating the nation's foreign policy. [Sen. Hillary Rodham] Clinton [NY] disagreed, along with [Sens. Joseph R.] Biden [DE] and [Chris] Dodd [CT]. "Obviously, national security, keeping the country safe," is the higher priority, Dodd said.
Obama again was less than definitive. "The concepts are not contradictory," he said. " ... They are complementary."
In contrast with earlier debates, the discussion was not dominated by the war in Iraq. The first question on the subject came about 45 minutes into the session, when the candidates were asked whether the Bush administration's "surge" policy was working. Richardson and Kucinich said it was not.
From the November 15 Democratic presidential debate hosted by CNN:
BLITZER: Senator Obama, is human rights more important than American national security?
OBAMA: The concepts are not contradictory, Wolf.
BLITZER: Because occasionally, they could clash.
OBAMA: They are complementary. And I think Pakistan is a great example.
Look, we paid $10 billion over the last seven years, and we had two goals: deal with terrorism and restore democracy. And we've gotten neither. And Joe and Bill are exactly right on this. Pakistan's democracy would strengthen our battle against extremists. The more we see repression, the more there are no outlets for how people can express themselves and their aspirations, the worse off we're going to be, and the more anti-American sentiment there's going to be in the Middle East.
We keep on making this mistake. As president, I will do everything that is required to make sure that nuclear weapons don't fall into the hands of extremists, especially going after Al Qaeda in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But we've got to understand that, if we simply prop up anti-democratic practices, that that feeds the sense that America is only concerned about us and that our fates are not tied to these other folks. And that's going to make us less safe. That's something I intend to change as president.