Himes, Obsitnik Discuss Foreign Policy in First Debate

The first of four scheduled debates during the race for the U.S. Representative seat took place Wednesday night.


In the first of four scheduled public debates, U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (D-4th) squared off against challenger Steve Obsitnik (R) at the  Hyatt Regency Greenwich during the World Affairs Forum on Wednesday night.

The primary topics centered on foreign policy, as the World Affairs Forum is a "non-profit, non-partisan community organization dedicated to expanding understanding of global affairs and America's role in the world," according to the organization's literature.

"We host one of these events every two years, generally sticking to the 4th Congressional District, and we ask the candidates to focus on foreign policy," said World Affairs representative Michele Kamenetzky. "Our hope is it gives the candidates something to focus on they don't usually get to talk about—and show off expertise they're not usually asked about—while at the same time raising awareness."

Questions were submitted by the organization and audience members, which were vetted to ensure sure they were relevant to the general theme of the evening. Topics ranged from the United States' economic versus military relationship with China to appropriate withdrawal timelines for Afghanistan to the potential fall of the Euro.

On some topics, the candidates were able to agree. The United States' relationship with China, for example, provides the incentive of economic growth and prosperity, but the potential for militaristic violence and political oppression the United States could never endorse.

"China provides us with a spectacular opportunity to trade with them, to get rich, as they buy our products," said Himes. "Unfortunately, we will never agree with the way Chinese leadership feels about how to run a political system. They jail dissidents. They don't allow for the kind of debate we are having. They don't allow all of you to vote for who their representatives would be. They are committing crimes in Tibet that would turn your stomach... it's a 'Frenemy.'"

Obsitnik agreed on the idea behind Himes' statement, but not his choice of words. Obsitnik felt as the U.S. continued to evolve and innovate as a nation, it would need to keep an eye on China. Obsitnik went so far as to say a submarine battle in the South China Sea is a serious concern for the country.

"China is our greatest national threat and our greatest opportunity," he said. "China, we have to look at them commercially—and their billion-plus people we want to sell stuff to. We've got to tightwalk our trade with them and use the [World Trade Organization] as an instrument towards that. And then finally, we need to be very careful militarily about our steps over there and we've seen a lot the U.S. Navy actually redeploy many of our assets in the Pacific to that region alone."

However, as the length of the evening eroded pleasantries, several topics came up where the candidates started butting heads. Afghanistan was one of these issues, with Obsitnik and Himes each firing at statements from the other on what should be the appropriate approach to drawing down troops in the region.

"Jim Himes said he disagreed with the president here and I just haven't seen the fortitude behind it," Obsitnik said. "We have asked the president what the mission is in Afghanistan. If there is no mission, we get out tomorrow. If there is a mission, explain it. In January of 2010, Congressman Himes went to Afghanistan, spent a lot of time there. Thoughtful visit. He, in his own words said, 'Don't know the mission, don't know who the enemy is, don't know what success is.' Then, in April 29, 2011, he finally said, rightfully so, 'I'm done. I'm done...' Then when the vote came up to withdrawal, he didn't vote to withdraw. If you don't know who the enemy is and you don't know what success is, why don't you stand up to your president?"

Himes fired back that Obsitnik's own answer and lack of a declarative stance was ambiguous, as was Obsitnik's claim that he should "show some fortitude," which Himes said didn't actually mean anything.

"What I can tell you, very concretely, is that I have cast probably 30 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives based on one principal, which is that I disagree with this President's nation-building strategy, and I've been very clear about that from the start, and I think instead of fighting a counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan, which involves nation building, it involves a mathematically determined... number of troops on the ground. I don't, and have never, agreed with that counter-insurgency mission and I've always urged, as Vice President Joe Biden did, a counter-terrorism mission. That means you go after the terrorists."

Afterwards, both said while they might disagree on certain points, the conversation was open and engaging, and each looked forward to further debates.

"It was a great dialogue of ideas and they gave us the time to talk about some key issues on where we agree and where we differ," Obsitnik said following the debate. "I think we need more civility in government and I think we had our moments back-and-forth, but we have three more—I'm sure we'll get more into it at the second debate."

Himes agreed that civility is integral to the democratic process, but took the opportunity to call out Obsitnik on what he believed to be areas Obsitnik was lacking in during the debate.

"I was very happy. I felt I was specific and I think he was vague. Look, he's a nice guy, but his answers were vague, things like 'work with our allies,' where as I tried to be as specific as possible," Himes said. "I think that's what the room felt today. We should have an aggressive clash of ideas, but we should always stay civil. There's no excuse for anybody in either party for getting personal."

The next three debates will take place at the following times and locations:

  • Oct. 18, noon, Norwalk Inn, 99 East Ave., Norwalk.
  • Oct. 28, 4 p.m., Wilton High School, 395 Danbury Road, Wilton. 
  • Nov. 2, 10 a.m., Bridgeport Holiday Inn, 1070 Main St., Bridgeport.
Ed Smith October 11, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Himes: I'm not done listing the ways I can sell out the American people. Take our diplomacy. I have proven my reliability to the most extreme rightwing Israeli politicians that I will always support anything Israel's govt or settlers do to continue stealing land from the Palestinan people and prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state, since the debate is not yet over in Israel itself re: where their expansionism will stop. I think the "blank check" policy we have had in practice is much better than the more even-handed positions we used to take in formal statements. What do I care it is not in the national interest to be so one-sided and unconditional in supporting one other country in the world? Obsitnik: If I man the customer service desk at State, I'd do like Romney and say to Israel's PM "what can we do for you today?" After all, it not only makes good domestic politics but also ratchets up the multiple permanent wars so my friends at all the armaments companies and foreign base suppliers can make great money on more American debt. Only under such constant global warfare can our Republic forget our Constitution and Bill of Rights for the sake of militarism.
Ed Smith October 11, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Himes: Let's get back to those FTAs I'm so proud help my friends the CEOs and predatory Wall Street houses make so many billions exporting the American industrial ecosystem. Everyone knows nobody knows much about the biggest free-trade treaty yet, being secretly negotiated by 600 corporate agents without any Congressional oversight, by the leader of my party, Barack Obama. My track record on FTAs speaks for itself, let the Wall Street donations and bonuses roll on please. Obsitnik: I have repeatedly said absolutely nothing on the real effects of "free trade" and intend to continue saying nothing about it until people understand that it has exported 1/3 of our mfg jobs in a decade, 16,000 more in Sept, after 22,000 in August. The only thing I will say is what has been said ever since the launching of the Open Door Policy over a hundred years ago: "If only we could put a shirt on every Chinaman's back, we'd be rich!" However, I will cast China's sovereign right to conduct their trade and economic policies as they choose into excuse for those wars I will promote globally.
Ed Smith October 11, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Himes: You are so absolutely right about China, as you are on everything else, if not in exactly how you say it, certainly in how either of us would actually rule. You know I will always accuse China of everything bad like torture and lack of due process because at least I had the decency to do the same thing by voting "yes" on the NDAA 2012 that supposedly suspends the Bill of Rights in cases where the President asserts secret evidence someone is a terrorist. In those cases everyone knows it is Constitutional to do the unConstitutional, namely let the President make and execute kill lists and indefinite detentions without any due process of law. Obsitnik: You can have the last word, since your President didn't say much in the Debate beyond agreeing we should dismantle Social Security (and by implication Medicare) as quickly as the American people will allow. I really appreciate the bipartisan spirit of your party leaders like Erskine Bowles on these kinds of things that are very important to the 1% who don't want to save Social Security by eliminating the income cap on SS taxes and by creating a small financial transaction tax on short-term asset purchases, which would "save" SS beyond the 75 year projections of the SSA. Himes: You have to admit my party is full of leaders! http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/10/erskine-bowles-wall-street-influence-washington
Ed Smith October 11, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Obsitnik: Thanks for letting me have the last word, Jim. About that terrorism war for which we have been tearing up not only the dollar but the Constitution, wasn't that the domestic terrorism office in the White House coordinating harsh police repression in multiple cities of the OWS protesters, those book-readers who have openly asserted their non-violent political doctrines? Himes: Thanks for bringing that up Steve, as you know Wall Street always has the last word in American politics so I'll take what we have coming to us. My wealthy constituents are perfectly content with my President and my performance as well as that of my party colleagues, though they know they will be perfectly safe under your party too. They don't actually care which of us get elected, do they?
God Bless New Canaan October 13, 2012 at 09:40 PM
As the song title says..."iS'NT LIFE STRANGE?" Every Republican no matter what state, what position, whatever issue says the same thing. It's as if someone at Fox news wrote a six line script for the campaign and every Republican follows along as if there's a ring in their noses. Four years ago the Republicans held a national meeting, and Karl Rove convinced them to do whatever it took, no matter the cost or damage to America, to destroy Obama personally and politically. Since then Congress has block virtually every stimulus bill for fear that it might help the country and by extension, Obama.


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