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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy Unravels (Updated)

Yesterday, I surmised that John McCain had made an astute political maneuver in challenging Obama to take a trip together to Iraq. I've thought about it some more and in reality, it is not so much that McCain acted as a skillful politician. What's happening is that Barack Obama's multiple foreign policy statements are giving all his opponents plenty of room to define him just how they want.

First, let's all remember agains a bit of political wisdom from Dick Morris. He has stated on more than one occasion that the position that is most concise, simple, and easy to explain is the one that will win politically more times than not. Now, on nearly every issue of foreign policy, Barack Obama's position is muddled, not precise, and very difficult to understand.

It really all started in the Youtube debate.

Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

I would

Now, taking aside the validity of the policy, politically what he said passed the Dick Morris test at the You Tube debate. Whether you agree with it or not, back in July of 2007, this policy was clear, precise and easy to explain.

Since then though, this policy has been muddied so much that it is no longer recognizable. The best proof is this youtube search. Just on the first page, there are five different positions taken by Obama or one of his surrogates. At this point, it is not at all clear what Obama plans to do vis a vis Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Today, the right blogosphere is buzzing about this New York Times article. Even as he tries to explain his position here it is nothing if not confusing.

I didn’t say that I would meet unconditionally as John McCain maintained, because that would suggest whether it was useful or not, whether it was advancing our interests or not, I would just do it for the sake of doing it,” he said. “That’s not a change in position, that’s simply responding to distortions of my position.”

He added: “I think if we lay out repeatedly and clearly my position, ultimately I think I’ve got the majority of the American people on my side on this issue.”

So, another words, he won't meet unconditionally but will meet with no pre conditions. Huh...At this point, Barack Obama gets an F on the Dick Morris test of political conciseness, clarity, and terseness with regards to Iran.

On Latin America, Barack Obama has similary problems with clarity. Jake Tapper says it best.

one of the obvious high priorities in my talks with President Hugo Chavez would be the fermentation of anti-American sentiment in Latin America, his support of FARC in Colombia and other issues he would want to talk about."

OK, so a strong declaration that Chavez is supporting FARC, which Obama intends to push him on.

But then on Friday he said any government supporting FARC should be isolated.

"We will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments," he said in a speech in Miami. "This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation, and - if need be - strong sanctions. It must not stand."

So he will meet with the leader of a country he simultaneously says should be isolated? Huh?

So, Obama is simutaneously planning on isolating Venezuela and attempting to sit down one on one with Chavez. Again, huh. Here is yet another failure of the Dick Morris political test.

Ironically enough, Obama shows the least amount of clarity on his position on Iraq. He has been stating that he plans on setting timetables for withdrawal and plans on moving troops out of the theater immediately, but at yet another debate, he wouldn't commit to pulling all troops out by the end of his first term.

So, think about it. Barack Obama makes a commitment to set timetables and begin immediate withdrawals but can't make a commitment to be done withdrawing four years later. The real problem for Obama on Iraq is explained by Morris himself.

Here the Iraq issue opens a real opportunity for McCain, where otherwise his support for the war would be a real negative. Iraq is a lot like Social Security. Everyone knows there is a problem, but any solution is immediately shot down. The issue earned the label “the third rail” in our politics, a status that was underscored when Bush’s momentum from his 2004 reelection was smashed against the rocks of Democratic and elderly opposition to his Social Security reform plan.

So it is with Iraq: He who proposes an alternative is doomed. McCain’s position, that we have to stay until we win, is far from popular, but it’s a lot better than unilateral and immediate withdrawal.

And Obama’s opposition to the war begs a host of questions: Shall we retain any presence? What about al Qaeda? What happens if the government falls? Can we let Iran take over? Obama will dither and seem far from decisive as he answers each of these questions. They will make him look terrible, just as Kerry — in opposing the war after voting for it — looked like a flip-flopper.

The problem for Obama is that while he is in favor of withdrawal he hasn't really explained how it will work logistically. As Morris points out, there are all sorts of hypotheticals that would arise that Obama will need to address in explaining his withdrawal plan. He has already reserved the right to put troops back into the theater if there is a genocide, and that is an almost certainty if we pull out too early. By the time Obama is done explaining each and every hypothetical, his withdrawal plan will be so full of caveats you won't be able to recognize it. Like Morris pointed out, staying in Iraq and winning may not be popular but it is clear, concise and easy to explain.

The pundits will spend the rest of the campaign analyzing and hyperanalyzing Obama's positions, along with John McCain on all of these issues, and I usually don't want to follow the cattle call of pundits. I will make the exception here. I see Obama's clarity problem rooted in two flaws. The first flaw is that Obama is simply not very experienced on foreign policy. He started with what he thought was an idealistic and fresh approach of meeting unconditionally with our enemies. I suspect he didn't expect to be attacked so viciously. Once he was, he frankly didn't know how to counter, and soon it was an unrecognizable mess. The second problem is that he approaches all foreign policy matters, as well as almost all matters period, from the perspective that Bush is wrong. That may work with idealogues, however you don't form a clear, coherent message starting from that position.

Obama's problems with regards to these issues are numerous. All of the inconsistencies and vague answers re inforce exactly what his opponents are trying to portray him as...inexperienced and naive. Furthermore, it is impossible for Obama to assess the damage of all these statements. Most of these will be the subject of numerous campaign commercials and it remains to be seen just how effective they will be. They certainly have the potential to be effective. The best thing Obama can do is move the debate from foreign policy to domestic issues where his positions are a lot clearer.


Barack Obama's advisor, , said something simply remarkable this morning.

Here is a transcript of the relevant part.

I think we would want to go over there and talk to them and see what sort of difficulties they're facing and see how it is that we can begin to carefully remove them and carefully bring them back to their families and bring them back to the United States

This is stunning and remarkable. Barack Obama has just uneqivacably stated that we have lost in Iraq, and any trips would be made only to arrange our retreat. Keep in mind that he has NOT visited the country since the surge began. Thus, he has made his analysis entirely through third sources. Not only is this obscenely irresponsible, admitting it is politically brain dead. Painting him as a naive, intransigent, defeatist is now only a matter of putting these statements into several advertisements.

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