May 16, 2008

Senator Obama's naive, ahistorical, and unrealistic foreign policy viewpoints: His Achilles Heel for the November election

Donald B. Hawthorne

In Israel for the 60th anniversary celebration of its founding, President George W. Bush gave a speech in the Knesset, saying these words:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along . . . We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes about what happened next:

Immediately, the Democratic party responded in outrage, insisting it was an unprecedented political attack on their presumptive nominee from foreign soil. Barack Obama himself said: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack.”

Senator Joseph Biden called the president's remarks “bulls**t.”

The White House denied the remark was about Obama. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded, “I would think that all of you who cover these issues and for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that the president, President Bush, thinks that we should not talk to. I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case.”

The White House’s denial is believable, and the Democrats’ accusation is a distortion and a distraction. The commander-in-chief, believe it or not, might have been concerned with something besides The Situation Room running a clip of him hitting Obama. The presidency, you see, is about more than the spin-cycle, the next election, and even the next president.

The president could have been speaking of any number of Democrats. Say, Jimmy Carter, who in April, 2008 said: “Through more official consultations with these outlawed leaders [Hamas and Syria], it may yet be possible to revive and expedite the stalemated peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation.”

Or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, freelance diplomat, who in December 2007 said: “the road to Damascus is a road to peace.”

Or, perhaps he meant Speaker Pelosi in April 2007: “I believe in dialogue. As my colleagues have said over and over again, unless you communicate, you cannot understand each other. You cannot reach agreement.”

Or maybe he meant recent Obama endorser and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who, according to his own press release in February of last year, believes “the U.S. should step up our diplomatic efforts by engaging in direct talks with all the nations in the region, including Iran and Syria.”

Or Bill Richardson, who has said, about meeting with Iran and Syria: “They’re bad folks … But you don’t have peace talks with your friends.”

It could have been about Congressman Henry Waxman, who in April said: “A Democratic administration would go back and try to open that possibility up for discussions [with Iran] of a grand bargain of one sort or another ... Democrats would certainly have seen that as a missed opportunity.”

Or Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “I can go to Syria. I can go to Iran and work to craft a path towards peace. And I will … How can you change peoples minds if you don’t meet with them?”

Or former Democratic presidential candidates and senators Chris Dodd and John Kerry, who met with Syria’s al-Assad and said: “As senior Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, we felt it was important to make clear that while we believe in resuming dialogue, our message is no different: Syria can and should play a more constructive role in the region … We concluded that our conversation was worthwhile, and that … resuming direct dialogue with Syria should be pursued.”

Or the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, from April 10: “[Diplomats] can deliver some pretty tough messages … You don’t begin with a president of the country, but you do need to talk to your enemy.”

You get the idea. The world does not actually revolve around Barackstar. It doesn’t even revolve around contemporary Democrats. There are two very different ways of looking at the world, represented by the two parties here in the U.S. President Bush, obviously, believes the other party’s approach is wrong. To say so, in his mind, was of historic importance, for obvious reasons. Obvious, at least, to any statesman who can see before and beyond this current election season. Thank you, Senator Obama, for helping make clear where you stand on that front.

Two different world views, for sure. John Podhoretz and Peter Wehner have more.

Ed Morrisey reports on what Obama has said on his own website and in political debates here. (And now Obama says this? Would that be change you can believe in?)

Power Line points out another significant and contradictory foreign policy position of Obama's here. Check out the photo at the bottom of the post and reflect on these words:

Commenting on the distinction that Obama vehemently observes between Iran and Hamas, Geraghty is unconstrained by the norms that Newsweek seeks to impose: "Obama contends a face-to-face summit with the guy on the left is long overdue; a face-to-face summit with the guy on the right is crazy talk."

Taking a further step back, recall Obama's NC victory speech when he said:

I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.

To which, Tom Maguire writes:

Obama's supporters are too young to know any of this, but Roosevelt led the United States in the war against Hitler; the Allied policy was unconditional surrender, so there was very little for Roosevelt and Hitler to discuss, and in fact, the two did not meet at all (but they did exchange correspondence before the war).

So my guess is that Obama is thinking of the Yalta Conference with Churchill and Stalin as talking to "our enemies," although of course we were still allied with the Soviet Union against Germany and Japan at that point. Beyond that, is the Yalta Conference something Obama and his advisers view as a success worthy of emulation? Puzzling.

Power Line adds these additional words:

And the United States has been talking with Iran right along in any event. It's not for lack of communication that Iran has been conducting its war on the United States.

Michael Novak discusses the implications of Obama's world view.

Glenn Reynolds summed it up with this pithy statement:

MEMO TO THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN: When somebody condemns appeasement, it doesn't help things to jump up and yell "Hey, he's talking about me!"

I think Obama's views on this related set of foreign policy issues are his single greatest vulnerability in the general election. They are a vulnerability because they provide the clearest and deepest insights into his view of the world and human nature, at a time of an unrelenting global war against our country. And it is in the context of those insights about Obama's world view that it is possible to attach a related and unfavorable interpretation to his parallel relationships with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.

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I thought he was referring to lame-brain Jimmy Carter

Posted by: John at May 16, 2008 6:37 AM

I think Bush probablt had Obama in mind as well as Jimmy Carter and maybe Pelosi &Co.My take is that Obama wouldn't have reacted so strongly if he thought the remark wouldn't be taken as a criticism of his stated intentions.If the shoe fits,wear it.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 16, 2008 8:27 AM

The Obama campaign demonstrated on this one that it needs another season in triple-A before playing in the majors.

Look, the right way to respond would have been to agree that appeasing terrorists is never an option.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for Sen. Obama to go on record distinguishing himself from Neville Chamberlain . . .

Instead his campaign took the bait and went on record "defending appeasement."

Smart Democrat [work with me here!] consultants have to be pulling their hair out as they watch this.

Posted by: brassband at May 16, 2008 8:57 AM

Imagine the mileage that Obama could have gotten if he simply said, "I agree with President Bush on his statement about appeasement."

Just imagine. Instead, he alerts the world that it is he who is the appeaser.

Not quite ready for prime time, I would say.

Posted by: Jim at May 16, 2008 9:42 AM

Bush launching a political attack while sitting in another country's legislature?
The anti-Obama cmapaign has entered desperation mode early. May's a little early to be chucking Hail Marys downfield.

Posted by: rhody at May 16, 2008 11:17 AM

“The debate we’re going to be having with John McCain is how do we understand the blend of military action to diplomatic action that we are going to undertake,” he (Obama)said. “I constantly reject this notion that any hint of strategies involving diplomacy are somehow soft or indicate surrender or means that you are not going to crack down on terrorism. Those are the terms of debate that have led to blunder after blunder.”

-David Brooks, NYTimes 5/16/08

Don, your analysis is tripe-well written tripe to be sure-but tripe nonetheless. This was a clumsy and I believe unprecedented attempt by a sitting president to travel to a foreign capital and inject domestic partisan concerns into the foreign policy arena, completely trampling the principle that partisanship ends at the water's edge. When liberals (not presidents) such as Sean Penn or Ramsey Clark have violated that principle, they have been appropriately chastized. This was a desperate attempt by the RNC to discomfit the Miami Jewish community and put Florida in play in November by continuing the scurrilous chain of Barack HUSSEIN Obama and Obama is a muslim nonsense. Deny it if you like, everyone with a rudimentary knowledge of electoral politics knows it to be true. I will leave you with a quote from that famous appeaser, Winston Churchill who said "Jaw, jaw, jaw is better that war, war, war."

Posted by: observer at May 16, 2008 12:24 PM

While you piss into the wind, Travis Childers, Democrat, handily won a key Mississippi congressional seat Tuesday, which has been a longtime Republican a district that went for Bush by more than 60% in 2004. This is the 3rd such loss for Republicans.

Bush has, to use one of his own terms, "no political capital". You and he are voices crying in the wilderness. The comeuppance is scheduled for November.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at May 16, 2008 1:32 PM

Don, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment and that of all the those you reference in your very interesting post.

My concern is that the widely disenfranchised Republican base may prove to be an even weaker heal for McCain. While there may be more people in the country who are like-minded on dealing with enemies of the U.S. than not; it won't help if they don't vote.

Isn't it great, though, that we're not even talking about Clinton any more?

Posted by: George at May 16, 2008 1:49 PM

The other thing about the Miss. election was the amount of negative ads featuring Obama. The republican candidate hardly mentioned his opponent except to brand him as a Obama supporter. The attacks (Rev. Wrong and Bill Ayers associations) were clearly being tried out by national types to use in the fall if Obama is the Democratic candidate. So here we see another line of attack that will be used by the old , tired, establishment white guys. Obama is not tested , not experienced , not trusted, not white.
He's different... thinks differently, looks differently. I don't have time to revisit all the acomplishments of Bush's foreign policy but I'll bet that the writer of this drivel was a big fan.

Posted by: Phil at May 17, 2008 8:02 AM

Phil-Obama doesn't think differently from the tired old white liberals like Jimmy Carter and Phil Donohue.His policies-gun control,abortion rights,higher taxes on anyone making a middle class income(the parameters he set takes in a lot of middle class households),amnesty for illegal aliens and insecure borders(lots of blame to Republicans here also),and a foreign policy that would include "sitting down"with a maniac like Ahmedinajad-maybe he'd consider Charley Bakst as Secretary of State.
Obama really offers change to the past and failed policies.
What I hear a lot of and really despise is the allegation frequently made by "progressives" that if you're against Obama,then you're racist.Guess what-it's the progressives who keep harping on the "Black"issue.And the former stars of the liberal left,the Clinton mafia who made it a campaign issue.
For my part I won't vote for a liberal or progressive ever,even if it were a relative.
The USA could've had an Afro-American president if Colin Powell had run instead of Dole.Dole was a nice guy,but couldn't get a room to its feet.Powell had the credentials and demeanor to be a great president and instead we got a serial liar and sexual predator.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 17, 2008 8:49 AM

You are swimming against the tide. Phil points out that the old Republican hate machine won't work this time. It failed miserably in the Mississippi election cited by Phil and me. It used to work. It now doesn't work and it certainly looks as though it won't work in the future.

You might try explaining the loss and why you think that Obama's positions fail to resonante with the majority of voters while a low down attack on him as a proxy for the eventual Democrat winner in Mississippi was a miserable failure.

Have you forgotten that Bush and his Republican cronies have been running the country for the past seven and a half years? They bear the major responsibility for our declining economy and the abysmal failure of our recent foreign adventures. It could be that most U.S. voters recognize who is responsible for our slide and vote accordingly.

You may certainly vote as you please, but citing your own personal preferences says more about how out of touch you are than it does about your political acumen. In short, it shows that you may be sincere and that you surely are misguided on this issue.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at May 17, 2008 2:31 PM

OTL_- A very good reply,but I was never a Bush supporter.If Obama wins,I believe it will be a reaction to the last 71/2 years,when instead people should be looking at his stand on issues and deciding if tht is what they want going forward.I may be swimming against the tide ,but I don't mind it-I've always been suspicious of easily won victories.I don't like political attack machines from the right or the left.I want the people to have a clear cut choice of policy direction without a lot of extraneous BS thrown in.
Obama was foolish to say who he'd meet with.It's never a good move to give authoritarian regimes a heads up as to your intentions.remember the"Godfather" film,where Brando tells Caan to never let them know what you're thinking?okay,I used a movie as an example,but it was a hell of a good movie and made some valid points.McCain knows enough of military discipline to hold back somewhat,to keep the other side off balance.
The gun control issue costs the liberals more votes than anything else.I've carried a gun since I was literally a kid and I'm not having anybody tell me I have to surrender this or that weapon unless I'm convicted of a felony-end of story.
I can't depend on the ACLU to protect that right-they're very selective.I have studied Obama's history on this issue and it's abominable in my opinion.
My wife's sister and her husband were the victims of an attempted armed robbery yesterday as they were buyng gas after working their nightshift job.they own two handguns,but being law abiding citizens,they didn't have them because they haven't gotten carry permits(they live in Florida)-they fought the robber who used pepper spray on them-her husband sprayed the robber with gasoline in the face,but my sister in law wound up with two broken vertebrae-the robber left empty handed.Obama is against the right to carry firearms with a permit.Maybe you can see why I'm feeling a little intolerant about his position today.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 17, 2008 4:53 PM

I am waiting for you to post the multiple reports of anonymous White House staff saying that this was directed at Obama.

Also, we haven't been talking to Iran directly, only though other nations. I do find it funny that Condi Rice has been talking about opening more diplomatic channels to talk to Iran though. Does that make Bush an appeaser? Please clarify for me!

Posted by: george at May 17, 2008 9:46 PM
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