Senator John McCain and President Barack Obama are meeting in the Oval Office. Let's listen in on the conversation:
McCain: "You can't be serious about pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. President."
Obama: "Oh, but I am, John. I was elected to take this country in a new direction and that's what I'm going to do. These wars have been an enormous drain on this nation with little to show for it - only more blood and money with no end in sight and no assurance of success."
McCain: "All you're going to do is encourage the extremists and provide them bases from which to attack us. Given the sacrifices we have made, how can you walk away from our commitments? It's a matter of national security, and the safety of this country must be your number one priority."
Obama: "I question that it's making us more secure. Thousands of Americans have died and many more have been wounded, some profoundly, and there is no end in sight. I also cannot overlook the thousands of innocent civilians who have died in these conflicts. The cost in blood and treasure has been, and will continue to be, enormous and to what end?"
"The Iraq war was a mistake; the country did not pose a threat to us. Our involvement became its own justification and despite our efforts, Iraq has no better than a 50-50 chance of not descending into civil war and eventually breaking up."
"Afghanistan is history's sinkhole, having swallowed all previous efforts to establish a viable nation. Is it our turn to try and at what cost?"
McCain: "Mr. President, you will put our nation at risk unless you continue this effort"
Obama: "Our nation is already at risk, in large part due to the misguided policies of the previous administration. I came into office at the edge of a depression and fortunately was able to convert that potential catastrophe into the worst recession in our history. As you know, we are trillions of dollars in debt, with a rising deficit that is an imminent danger to the welfare of our people."
"We cannot afford these wars? Where do you propose we get the money? We have two choices: Borrow it from the Chinese, thereby adding to the deficit, or a tax increase. Given Republican opposition to increasing either, what do you suggest?"
"Why is there so much Republican opposition to the economic bailout in our own country, which most economists agree has been successful, and no opposition to continue the ongoing enormous bailouts of two countries that most Americans will never see, one of which was no threat to us, and the other only a marginal threat that could have been addressed more precisely."
"The problem is Al Qaeda and Muslim extremism directed against the West, not the Iraqis or the Afghan people. Over the last eight years we have lost sight of our true enemies and how to best combat them and gotten bogged down in nation-building at a time when our own nation was experiencing serious internal problems affecting the health and welfare of all our citizens."
"Let those who criticize me for this dramatic change challenge my priorities and explain how and why a country in debt and in need of substantial resources to deal with serious problems at home can afford to spend additional billions abroad"
"In his wildest dreams, Osama Bin Laden never could have expected the 9/11 attack to have generated our involvement in two wars over the course of eight years costing hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of American casualties, and tens of thousands of civilian deaths - with no end in sight."
"From Bin Laden's point of view, 9/11 was the attack that keeps on giving. It's time to cut our losses and focus our attention on the terrorists. That can be done more precisely with better intelligence, the expanded use of airpower, satellites, and drones, and targeted special forces operations."
McCain: "I'm afraid you're making a terrible mistake, Mr. President. You will be endangering our country and dishonoring the sacrifices that have been made so far. I cannot support what amounts to a retreat in the face of the enemy."
Obama: "Fair enough, John, but I intend to respond to Republican opposition on what has been your party's sacred ground - fiscal responsibility. To borrow or to tax, that's the question. You come forward with a tax plan wherein all Americans can demonstrate their willingness to share in the sacrifices necessary to continue along this path and I'll reconsider."
McCain: "You know we can't do that."
Obama: "Yes, John, I do."
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law. E-mail: email@example.com.