Would another Republican in the White House make the world a safer place?
Richard Holbrooke says absolutely not. Niall Ferguson says absolutely yes. It's a brawl of the brains, and it's coming to Canada on Monday, when they square off in Toronto at the inaugural Munk Debate, on global security and the U.S. election.
Mr. Holbrooke, who has been called America's toughest diplomatic tactician, was the architect of the peace agreements that ended the war in Bosnia. He cajoled the warring parties into a deal few thought possible. The former ambassador to the United Nations is also widely thought to have been Hillary Clinton's first choice for secretary of state.
"Iraq is the defining difference between the candidates," he told me this week. Republican John McCain "would continue to fight toward a victory in Iraq which will elude him." Mr. Holbrooke argues that only a Democrat - whether Barack Obama or Ms. Clinton - can restore America's credibility in the world.
Mr. Ferguson is known as the most talented British historian of his generation. A brilliant and iconoclastic thinker, he has argued that, like it or not, the United States is our best and only hope of keeping order in a perilous world.
He is also an unabashed McCain fan. He insists that Mr. McCain is no neo-conservative: He is a realist who would restore tough-minded pragmatism to U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Ferguson thinks a Democratic president could make things far worse in Iraq, where further strategic blunders could trigger a chain of catastrophic events more severe than anything we've seen so far.
He scoffs at the notion that Mr. Obama's election would help to restore American prestige by sending a welcome signal to the world. "Skin colour matters less than age and experience," he told me.
Monday's debate also features two other bright minds: Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer teams up with Mr. Ferguson and former Obama adviser Samantha Power takes Mr. Holbrooke's side. But don't wait till then: Let's start the war of words right now.
Click the image for Margaret Wente's questions to Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Ferguson