Commentary Magazine


Topic: foreign policy adviser

Obama’s Real McCain Smear

Talk about missing the point. Robert Pear of the New York Times writes:

Senator John McCain takes pride in his unwavering support for members of the armed forces. So when Senator Barack Obama criticized him on Thursday on the Senate floor, his response was scathing.

True enough, but while quoting McCain’s “scathing” response, Pear does not tell readers what prompted it. He writes that it was touched off by the following statement:

I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . . But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill.

That seems innocuous. Why would it prompt a “scathing” reply? Might this perhaps be evidence of the candidate’s supposedly volatile temperament? Readers of the Times might think so because Pear conveniently left off the rest of Obama’s statement. Here is what Obama actually said:

 I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . .but I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI bill. I can’t believe he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

The truly objectionable part of Obama’s statement is the last sentence, which the Times didn’t quote — the sentence in which he accuses McCain of “partisan posturing” at the expense of veterans. That’s a pretty rich accusation for someone who has never served in uniform to make against one of our greatest military heroes. No wonder McCain was steamed. He had every right to be. And given the Times’s distortion of this dispute, McCain should be even more aggrieved today. But then he wouldn’t expect anything different from the Newspaper of Record, which seems to have morphed into an unregistered lobbyist for the Obama campaign. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

Talk about missing the point. Robert Pear of the New York Times writes:

Senator John McCain takes pride in his unwavering support for members of the armed forces. So when Senator Barack Obama criticized him on Thursday on the Senate floor, his response was scathing.

True enough, but while quoting McCain’s “scathing” response, Pear does not tell readers what prompted it. He writes that it was touched off by the following statement:

I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . . But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill.

That seems innocuous. Why would it prompt a “scathing” reply? Might this perhaps be evidence of the candidate’s supposedly volatile temperament? Readers of the Times might think so because Pear conveniently left off the rest of Obama’s statement. Here is what Obama actually said:

 I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . .but I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI bill. I can’t believe he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

The truly objectionable part of Obama’s statement is the last sentence, which the Times didn’t quote — the sentence in which he accuses McCain of “partisan posturing” at the expense of veterans. That’s a pretty rich accusation for someone who has never served in uniform to make against one of our greatest military heroes. No wonder McCain was steamed. He had every right to be. And given the Times’s distortion of this dispute, McCain should be even more aggrieved today. But then he wouldn’t expect anything different from the Newspaper of Record, which seems to have morphed into an unregistered lobbyist for the Obama campaign. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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Biden to the Rescue

Rumor has it that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state in an Obama administration. On the basis of his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, he would be good at it. He pulls off a skillful bit of rhetorical legerdemain of the kind that is a necessity for high level diplomacy. But you had to read his article pretty carefully to catch it.

The key passage:

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without “preconditions” – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

But of course the ongoing dispute isn’t over whether we should talk to Iran or other rogue states. The Bush administration has been willing to talk to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other bad actors. It just hasn’t been willing to grant their leaders one-on-one sit-downs with the president barring some major concessions that they haven’t yet delivered. That is the policy that Obama proposes to change.

As he told ABC’s Jack Tapper again this week: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”

The line about “preparation” isn’t much of a qualification: After all no presidential summit can occur without some preparation. Getting heads of state together is a massive logistical undertaking.

Biden tries to add another qualification that Obama doesn’t make himself when he writes “unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.” But if that were the case Obama’s commitment would be meaningless. After all, President Bush and Senator McCain are also willing to engage in personal diplomacy if it will advance American interests. What sets Obama apart is that he has pledged to hold personal meetings with dictators without “preconditions”-i.e., even if there is no evidence in advance that the meeting will advance our interests.

Biden knows that, and he knows it’s a foolish commitment, so he is trying to find Obama an escape out without coming out and saying so. That’s what a smart diplomat should be doing, but the American public shouldn’t be fooled. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

Rumor has it that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state in an Obama administration. On the basis of his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, he would be good at it. He pulls off a skillful bit of rhetorical legerdemain of the kind that is a necessity for high level diplomacy. But you had to read his article pretty carefully to catch it.

The key passage:

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without “preconditions” – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

But of course the ongoing dispute isn’t over whether we should talk to Iran or other rogue states. The Bush administration has been willing to talk to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other bad actors. It just hasn’t been willing to grant their leaders one-on-one sit-downs with the president barring some major concessions that they haven’t yet delivered. That is the policy that Obama proposes to change.

As he told ABC’s Jack Tapper again this week: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”

The line about “preparation” isn’t much of a qualification: After all no presidential summit can occur without some preparation. Getting heads of state together is a massive logistical undertaking.

Biden tries to add another qualification that Obama doesn’t make himself when he writes “unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.” But if that were the case Obama’s commitment would be meaningless. After all, President Bush and Senator McCain are also willing to engage in personal diplomacy if it will advance American interests. What sets Obama apart is that he has pledged to hold personal meetings with dictators without “preconditions”-i.e., even if there is no evidence in advance that the meeting will advance our interests.

Biden knows that, and he knows it’s a foolish commitment, so he is trying to find Obama an escape out without coming out and saying so. That’s what a smart diplomat should be doing, but the American public shouldn’t be fooled. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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The League of Democracies

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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Here’s Another Difference

Part of Barack Obama’s expressed amazement over his difficulty in attracting Jewish support is his claim to adhere to positions identical to John McCain’s on Israel and Hamas. His willingness to hold direct talks with Hamas’s sponsor Iran without preconditions–and without insisting it renounce its policy of obliterating Israel–is one big difference. But it is not the only one.

Others have noted that Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel and advisor to Obama, has stated that it “will be impossible to make progress on serious peace talks without putting the future of Jerusalem on the table.” In response to my asking whether this approach is “identical” to McCain’s, I received this response from McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann:

It is revealing that Senator Obama’s Middle East adviser is talking about the need for Israeli concessions on Jerusalem to be ‘on the table’ while making no reference to the need for Palestinians to meet basic roadmap obligations on countering terror and providing security. Senator McCain is not going to pressure Israel into making concessions that undermine its security.

It seems there are indeed major differences between the two. Might that have something to do with the level of support Obama is receiving from American Jews?

Part of Barack Obama’s expressed amazement over his difficulty in attracting Jewish support is his claim to adhere to positions identical to John McCain’s on Israel and Hamas. His willingness to hold direct talks with Hamas’s sponsor Iran without preconditions–and without insisting it renounce its policy of obliterating Israel–is one big difference. But it is not the only one.

Others have noted that Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel and advisor to Obama, has stated that it “will be impossible to make progress on serious peace talks without putting the future of Jerusalem on the table.” In response to my asking whether this approach is “identical” to McCain’s, I received this response from McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann:

It is revealing that Senator Obama’s Middle East adviser is talking about the need for Israeli concessions on Jerusalem to be ‘on the table’ while making no reference to the need for Palestinians to meet basic roadmap obligations on countering terror and providing security. Senator McCain is not going to pressure Israel into making concessions that undermine its security.

It seems there are indeed major differences between the two. Might that have something to do with the level of support Obama is receiving from American Jews?

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Still Waiting For A Real Answer

Barack Obama was asked about Hamas at a press availability yesterday, although the media accounts did not mention it. The transcript contains this exchange:

Q: The other night John McCain suggested Hamas was a big supporter, and he would be their biggest nightmare?

BO: Well I actually responded to it fairly explicitly the other day. What I said was that this was ridiculous, that my position with respect to Hamas was identical to John McCain’s. That I’ve said we should not meet with them until they recognize Israel, until they cease terrorist activities, until they support previous agreements that have been made between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I went on to say that this was an example of I think a distorting of my record that John McCain has been engaging in over the last couple of weeks, that again is not consistent of the image or what he said he wants this campaign to be about. I suggested he maybe lost his bearings. His team somehow took this as an ageist comment. How that was interpreted in that fashion is still not clear to me. Last I checked people lose their bearings at every age, but as I’ve said before: I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization that should be isolated until such time as they recognize that terrorism is not a strategy is not a strategy for them to obtain their political goals.

Alas, no one saw fit to ask about Robert Malley’s meetings with Hamas. (Malley is the foreign-policy adviser Obama just let go.) Nor did reporters push Obama on the issue that started this discussion and that Obama is studiously avoiding: Hamas’ endorsement.

It’s fine and well for Obama to say in a general election setting that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but John McCain’s central point is correct: Hamas endorsed Obama. It is worth considering why. Is it because he favors direct, presidential talks with Hamas’ sponsor Iran.? Or because Hamas sees him as lacking resoluteness or as excessively sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? And it’s not as if Hamas is an isolated case of fringe groups and individuals favoring Obama.

The issue did come up in the Meet The Press roundtable. To his credit, Tim Russert repeated the basic facts of the Hamas endorsement. However, because the McCain team chose to respond last week by pouncing on the “lost his bearings” comment by Obama, the MTP conversation quickly digressed into the age issue. No mention was made of Malley’s meeting with Hamas. Jerry Seib did manage to work in this observation:

We’ve seen in our Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling all year, the one area where Republicans can still claim an advantage is national security and military affairs. The McCain people are going to go at that time and time again, and that’s why John McCain jumped on the Hamas statement so quickly.

So the bottom line: if the Hamas issue and Obama’s general popularity with fringe international groups are issues which the McCain team believes are relevant and helpful it will be up to them to articulate the issues (without diverting the attention of the press to McCain’s age or other unhelpful topics) and push Obama to answer.

Barack Obama was asked about Hamas at a press availability yesterday, although the media accounts did not mention it. The transcript contains this exchange:

Q: The other night John McCain suggested Hamas was a big supporter, and he would be their biggest nightmare?

BO: Well I actually responded to it fairly explicitly the other day. What I said was that this was ridiculous, that my position with respect to Hamas was identical to John McCain’s. That I’ve said we should not meet with them until they recognize Israel, until they cease terrorist activities, until they support previous agreements that have been made between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I went on to say that this was an example of I think a distorting of my record that John McCain has been engaging in over the last couple of weeks, that again is not consistent of the image or what he said he wants this campaign to be about. I suggested he maybe lost his bearings. His team somehow took this as an ageist comment. How that was interpreted in that fashion is still not clear to me. Last I checked people lose their bearings at every age, but as I’ve said before: I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization that should be isolated until such time as they recognize that terrorism is not a strategy is not a strategy for them to obtain their political goals.

Alas, no one saw fit to ask about Robert Malley’s meetings with Hamas. (Malley is the foreign-policy adviser Obama just let go.) Nor did reporters push Obama on the issue that started this discussion and that Obama is studiously avoiding: Hamas’ endorsement.

It’s fine and well for Obama to say in a general election setting that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but John McCain’s central point is correct: Hamas endorsed Obama. It is worth considering why. Is it because he favors direct, presidential talks with Hamas’ sponsor Iran.? Or because Hamas sees him as lacking resoluteness or as excessively sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? And it’s not as if Hamas is an isolated case of fringe groups and individuals favoring Obama.

The issue did come up in the Meet The Press roundtable. To his credit, Tim Russert repeated the basic facts of the Hamas endorsement. However, because the McCain team chose to respond last week by pouncing on the “lost his bearings” comment by Obama, the MTP conversation quickly digressed into the age issue. No mention was made of Malley’s meeting with Hamas. Jerry Seib did manage to work in this observation:

We’ve seen in our Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling all year, the one area where Republicans can still claim an advantage is national security and military affairs. The McCain people are going to go at that time and time again, and that’s why John McCain jumped on the Hamas statement so quickly.

So the bottom line: if the Hamas issue and Obama’s general popularity with fringe international groups are issues which the McCain team believes are relevant and helpful it will be up to them to articulate the issues (without diverting the attention of the press to McCain’s age or other unhelpful topics) and push Obama to answer.

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More Malley Misjudgments

One of the great myths of Palestinian politics is that “national unity” is a prerequisite for forging peace with Israel. Indeed, history has shown quite the opposite: that the very pursuit of Palestinian “national unity”—which implicitly requires empowering parties that are sworn to Israel’s destruction—retards the peace process entirely. For example, consider the consequences of including Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections: rather than joining forces with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a unified pursuit of peace, the victorious Hamas leadership opted to escalate its confrontation with Israel—doing so with greater political legitimacy among Palestinians, no less.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama claims to have learned from this history. Even while declining to denounce former President Jimmy Carter for his upcoming meet-and-greet with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus, Obama declared, “Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by, or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements … I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” Yet there is a new reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity in his stance against engaging Hamas: in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley argues that Abbas should employ the same “logic behind his acceptance that Hamas participate in the 2006 elections,” such that Hamas is coaxed enter the political system and given “a stake in governance and a foot in the peace process.”

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Malley—whom I’ve previously criticized for enthusiastically supporting the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections—believes that learning from Palestinian political history means repeating it! In this vein, Malley further calls for yet another Hamas-Fatah national unity deal—one that roughly resembles the agreement that the two parties signed last year in Mecca (with Malley’s blessings), which ultimately gave Hamas ample cover for planning its coup in Gaza only four months later. But perhaps Malley’s total failure to learn from history is best illustrated in his typical homily to Yasser Arafat, whom Malley believes should be a model for future Palestinian leaders trying to sell peace with Israel to their people; he writes, “Full of bluster and bravado, Yasser Arafat could make Palestinian setbacks such as the Oslo compromises taste like victory.” Of course, this is a stunning distortion: Arafat never actually promoted Oslo as a Palestinian victory, but promised that it represented a first step towards reclaiming all of historic Palestine.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder: if Obama is so dead-set against engaging Hamas, why is Malley—a constant proponent of engaging Hamas, among other wrongheaded ideas—advising him?

One of the great myths of Palestinian politics is that “national unity” is a prerequisite for forging peace with Israel. Indeed, history has shown quite the opposite: that the very pursuit of Palestinian “national unity”—which implicitly requires empowering parties that are sworn to Israel’s destruction—retards the peace process entirely. For example, consider the consequences of including Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections: rather than joining forces with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a unified pursuit of peace, the victorious Hamas leadership opted to escalate its confrontation with Israel—doing so with greater political legitimacy among Palestinians, no less.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama claims to have learned from this history. Even while declining to denounce former President Jimmy Carter for his upcoming meet-and-greet with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus, Obama declared, “Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by, or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements … I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” Yet there is a new reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity in his stance against engaging Hamas: in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley argues that Abbas should employ the same “logic behind his acceptance that Hamas participate in the 2006 elections,” such that Hamas is coaxed enter the political system and given “a stake in governance and a foot in the peace process.”

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Malley—whom I’ve previously criticized for enthusiastically supporting the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections—believes that learning from Palestinian political history means repeating it! In this vein, Malley further calls for yet another Hamas-Fatah national unity deal—one that roughly resembles the agreement that the two parties signed last year in Mecca (with Malley’s blessings), which ultimately gave Hamas ample cover for planning its coup in Gaza only four months later. But perhaps Malley’s total failure to learn from history is best illustrated in his typical homily to Yasser Arafat, whom Malley believes should be a model for future Palestinian leaders trying to sell peace with Israel to their people; he writes, “Full of bluster and bravado, Yasser Arafat could make Palestinian setbacks such as the Oslo compromises taste like victory.” Of course, this is a stunning distortion: Arafat never actually promoted Oslo as a Palestinian victory, but promised that it represented a first step towards reclaiming all of historic Palestine.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder: if Obama is so dead-set against engaging Hamas, why is Malley—a constant proponent of engaging Hamas, among other wrongheaded ideas—advising him?

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Toobin on Gitmo

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

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Nothing to See Here

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

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The Politics of Cynicism

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

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“Paranoid” about Malley?

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

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Attack, Attack, Attack

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

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In Defense of Samantha Power

I have no idea what Barack Obama thinks about Israel and the Middle East. I’m not sure he does either. It’s not something he would have given much thought to during the course of a career focused primarily on constitutional law and Chicago city politics. As Ralph Nader noted on “Meet the Press,” he seems to have been “pro-Palestinian” before he was pro-Israeli. But to label him anti-Israeli at heart based on the views of his foreign policy adviser Samantha Power is wrong.

My fellow CONTENTIONS blogger Noah Pollak claims Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East” (i.e. Israel) while “appeasing its greatest enemy” (i.e. the Palestinians). I have read through all the evidence he has collected here, and I remain unconvinced.

Power can explain her views better than I can, but it seems to me that all Pollak has are some statements from her supporting an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a dialogue with Iran. I am skeptical about the prospects of either initiative succeeding, but to be in favor of such policies hardly involves repudiating Israel.

Pollack also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties, presumably with an outside peacekeeping force. I think is a pipe dream because no outside nation will put its troops on the line to stop Palestinian terrorism, but again it’s hardly an anti-Israeli position. In fact ,many Israelis would favor the deployment of, say, a NATO force as part of a final settlement with the Palestinians.

I’ve known Power for six years and have never heard her say anything that I would construe as anti-Israel. In fact, at a December 2006 forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School at which we were both panelists, she rather forcefully dismissed a claim by a Jewish anti-Zionist in the audience who tried to equate Israeli policy with South African apartheid—a favorite trope of the hard left.

I don’t agree with Power on everything. In particular, I am astounded that someone who has campaigned so eloquently and rightly to stop genocide would advocate a troop pullout from Iraq that could very well result in a genocide. But I’ve also found Power to be one of the more reasonable, sane, and centrist foreign policy thinkers on the Democratic side. Her award-winning book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide could have been written by a neocon.

I have no idea what Barack Obama thinks about Israel and the Middle East. I’m not sure he does either. It’s not something he would have given much thought to during the course of a career focused primarily on constitutional law and Chicago city politics. As Ralph Nader noted on “Meet the Press,” he seems to have been “pro-Palestinian” before he was pro-Israeli. But to label him anti-Israeli at heart based on the views of his foreign policy adviser Samantha Power is wrong.

My fellow CONTENTIONS blogger Noah Pollak claims Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East” (i.e. Israel) while “appeasing its greatest enemy” (i.e. the Palestinians). I have read through all the evidence he has collected here, and I remain unconvinced.

Power can explain her views better than I can, but it seems to me that all Pollak has are some statements from her supporting an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a dialogue with Iran. I am skeptical about the prospects of either initiative succeeding, but to be in favor of such policies hardly involves repudiating Israel.

Pollack also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties, presumably with an outside peacekeeping force. I think is a pipe dream because no outside nation will put its troops on the line to stop Palestinian terrorism, but again it’s hardly an anti-Israeli position. In fact ,many Israelis would favor the deployment of, say, a NATO force as part of a final settlement with the Palestinians.

I’ve known Power for six years and have never heard her say anything that I would construe as anti-Israel. In fact, at a December 2006 forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School at which we were both panelists, she rather forcefully dismissed a claim by a Jewish anti-Zionist in the audience who tried to equate Israeli policy with South African apartheid—a favorite trope of the hard left.

I don’t agree with Power on everything. In particular, I am astounded that someone who has campaigned so eloquently and rightly to stop genocide would advocate a troop pullout from Iraq that could very well result in a genocide. But I’ve also found Power to be one of the more reasonable, sane, and centrist foreign policy thinkers on the Democratic side. Her award-winning book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide could have been written by a neocon.

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Obama’s Power Ranger

Today Iraqpundit weighs in on Samantha Power’s Salon interview, and her declaration that the problems of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Arab conflict:

Ah, that “Arab-Israeli situation.” Power is demonstrably in harmony with the Arab world, especially its long line of dictators. Her words reminded me of the unceasing echo we heard growing up under Arab dictatorship. To wit, Palestine comes first; everything else is to be sacrificed for the cause. Solve the Palestinian problem and everything else (especially our own freedom) will fall into place. That’s exactly what we were told, and it’s what the Egyptians were told, and what Arabs all over the Middle East and North Africa were told. Nobody in Iraq would dare comment on the shortages of food and ordinary supplies, but we could all comment on the injustice being done to Palestinians.

His conclusion:

I have a suggestion for people who support Barack Obama: They should make their support contingent on Obama finding a new foreign-policy adviser.

Today Iraqpundit weighs in on Samantha Power’s Salon interview, and her declaration that the problems of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Arab conflict:

Ah, that “Arab-Israeli situation.” Power is demonstrably in harmony with the Arab world, especially its long line of dictators. Her words reminded me of the unceasing echo we heard growing up under Arab dictatorship. To wit, Palestine comes first; everything else is to be sacrificed for the cause. Solve the Palestinian problem and everything else (especially our own freedom) will fall into place. That’s exactly what we were told, and it’s what the Egyptians were told, and what Arabs all over the Middle East and North Africa were told. Nobody in Iraq would dare comment on the shortages of food and ordinary supplies, but we could all comment on the injustice being done to Palestinians.

His conclusion:

I have a suggestion for people who support Barack Obama: They should make their support contingent on Obama finding a new foreign-policy adviser.

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More on Malley

In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.

Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.

Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.

Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:

[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.

Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.

Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.

The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.

In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.

Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.

Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.

Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.

Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:

[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.

Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.

Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.

The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.

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Obama’s Teflon Passivity

Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of low-level flare-ups surrounding Barack Obama which he has, quite remarkably, been able to dismiss with a wave of the hand. Take, for instance, questions raised about his Farrakhan-loving preacher Jeremiah Wright. Those who made mere mention of Obama’s association with Wright were categorically condemned as smear artists little different from those who peddled stories earlier in the campaign that Obama was some sort of Manchurian Muslim candidate. The Obama campaign’s lame response to the Wright contretemps — that Obama doesn’t always agree with the preacher whose ministry he joined many years ago, whom he has praised as a mentor, whom he chose to deliver the invocation at the rally announcing his candidacy but whose invitation he withdrew at the last minute, who coined the vacuous term “Audacity of Hope” — did not nearly go far enough in explaining the Obama-Wright relationship.

Then there were the photographs that hit the blogs this week showing Obama’s Houston campaign headquarters festooned with flags of Che Guevara. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in his Sunday Boston Globe column, this was a strange thing to hang in the office of a candidate so often likened to the man who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Days after the story made headlines, the Obama campaign issued a press release stating that the display of Guevara’s visage “does not reflect Senator Obama’s views.” Good to know.

The latest incident was a story last week in the New York Sun, which revealed that Zbigniew Brzezinski, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, traveled to Damascus to meet with, according to his spokesperson, “high level people in the region.” Even though Obama himself has said he would meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, the campaign assured the Sun that, “Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq.”

It is understandable that Obama has not taken these challenges to his campaign seriously, seeing that Democratic primary voters probably care little — if at all — about a candidate’s associations with anti-Semitic preachers, campaign workers who revere Che Guevara or a foreign policy adviser who sips tea with a regime that kills Lebanese politicians. But these things will matter once the general election campaign begins, and I hope that Barack Obama drops his passivity accordingly.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of low-level flare-ups surrounding Barack Obama which he has, quite remarkably, been able to dismiss with a wave of the hand. Take, for instance, questions raised about his Farrakhan-loving preacher Jeremiah Wright. Those who made mere mention of Obama’s association with Wright were categorically condemned as smear artists little different from those who peddled stories earlier in the campaign that Obama was some sort of Manchurian Muslim candidate. The Obama campaign’s lame response to the Wright contretemps — that Obama doesn’t always agree with the preacher whose ministry he joined many years ago, whom he has praised as a mentor, whom he chose to deliver the invocation at the rally announcing his candidacy but whose invitation he withdrew at the last minute, who coined the vacuous term “Audacity of Hope” — did not nearly go far enough in explaining the Obama-Wright relationship.

Then there were the photographs that hit the blogs this week showing Obama’s Houston campaign headquarters festooned with flags of Che Guevara. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in his Sunday Boston Globe column, this was a strange thing to hang in the office of a candidate so often likened to the man who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Days after the story made headlines, the Obama campaign issued a press release stating that the display of Guevara’s visage “does not reflect Senator Obama’s views.” Good to know.

The latest incident was a story last week in the New York Sun, which revealed that Zbigniew Brzezinski, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, traveled to Damascus to meet with, according to his spokesperson, “high level people in the region.” Even though Obama himself has said he would meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, the campaign assured the Sun that, “Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq.”

It is understandable that Obama has not taken these challenges to his campaign seriously, seeing that Democratic primary voters probably care little — if at all — about a candidate’s associations with anti-Semitic preachers, campaign workers who revere Che Guevara or a foreign policy adviser who sips tea with a regime that kills Lebanese politicians. But these things will matter once the general election campaign begins, and I hope that Barack Obama drops his passivity accordingly.

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Two Great Quotes on Mughniyah

The first from David Schenker:

The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

And the second, from Tony Badran, rounding out Schenker:

Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh’s bosses took over Iran.

A shared interest in stability in the region, by giving safe haven to an all-star team of global terrorists? Buffoon might be too weak a word to describe Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser.

The first from David Schenker:

The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

And the second, from Tony Badran, rounding out Schenker:

Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh’s bosses took over Iran.

A shared interest in stability in the region, by giving safe haven to an all-star team of global terrorists? Buffoon might be too weak a word to describe Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser.

Read Less




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