Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Obama Blunder or Not?

My boss didn't like what I wrote about Barack Obama's YouTube debate performance--that is, his promise to meet with the thuggish leaders of North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela in his first year as president (should he be elected). But what's fortunate is that at The Nation website I get to have my say, and then editor Katrina vanden Heuvel can have hers. She writes,

David may well be right that Obama's opponents will try to exploit his response. But from a foreign policy point of view was Obama's response so wrong and Clinton's so right? Her husband's administration generally followed Hillary's approach; during his two terms President Clinton did not meet with Fidel Castro or with Hugo Chavez or with the leaders of Iran, Syria, and North Korea -- while generally pursuing a policy of trying to isolate these countries. But what did the Clinton approach actually accomplish? The respective regimes of Castro in Cuba and Chavez in Venezuela have only grown stronger, and more influential in Latin America. Although Syria was forced to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon last year, the regime of Bashar Assad is as firmly entrenched in power as was his father's. And in spite of the odious politics and qualities of Ahmadinejad, Iran carries more weight in the Middle East than it did doing the early 1990s while American power and standing has declined considerably....

In signaling that he was willing to meet with the leaders of these countries, Obama was signaling that the United States has the confidence in its values to meet with anyone. But he also signaled a certain humility that reflects the understanding that the next president must reach out to the rest of the world and not merely issue conditions from the White House and threaten military force if it does not get its way.

Well, my point was that this was indeed a blunder because it could be used against Obama. Moreover, one need not promise to meet with these heads of state without any conditions in order to eschew Bush unilateralism and to reach out to the rest of the world. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards got the question right. They vowed to mount diplomatic initiatives that could lead to top-level talks. The choice is not a presidential meeting with Kim Jong Il or an invasion of North Korea. And let's make the question a simple one: if there was nothing wrong with Obama's answer (as he gave it), should he continue to say the same thing? Does anyone believe that promising to meet with Ahmadinejad right away will win Obama more votes than it will cost him? I doubt we will hear Obama reiterate this promise. Why? Because he knows the answer to that simple question.

By the way, after the debate, Obama's campaign disseminated a memo saying, "On issues of national security, Obama made clear that making America safer would require using tough diplomacy with countries like Iran and North Korea that have seen dramatic expansions of their nuclear programs during the seven years of the Bush presidency." During the debate, though, that's not how Obama put it. He did not call for "tough" diplomacy and did not raise the issue of Iranian and North Korea nukes. Certainly, "tough" diplomacy does not entail offering presidential meetings before the negotiating begins.

I write the above and the original piece as someone who is not rooting for Obama to fail. But it's clear to me he's going to have to be both bolder in his overall campaign strategy and more careful in his responses to questions about foreign policy, an area in which he has good instincts but not a lot of working experience.

THOSE WHO CAN'T DO.... The back of the front section of Tuesday's Washington Post contained a full-page ad for a Get Motivated seminar scheduled to be held in Washington in September. For $49, you will be able to hear Steve Forbes, Dr. Robert Schuller, Sugar Ray Leonard and Zig Ziglar share their secrets of success. (Steve Forbes: First, be born to a millionaire.) Also on the list of speakers is Colin Powell. The ad says, "Drawing from his experience on the world stage, Gen. Powell shows you precisely what it takes to be a leader, providing strategies for 'taking charge' during times of great change." Moreover, the ad promises that Powell will teach you "How to Improve Processes, Organizations and People," How to Forge Winning Alliances," and "Keys to Creating Diplomatic Solutions."

Hmmm, forging winning alliances and creating diplomatic solutions? Making organizations work better? Seems to me that Powell should have taken courses in all this before becoming Secretary of State and enabling George W. Bush's war in Iraq, which Powell now says he tried to talk Bush out of. (Which means he failed when it came to perhaps the most important task of his career.) Powell, I'm assuming, will receive tens of thousands of dollars for relating pearls of wisdom to the I-wanna-get-motivated crowd. Perhaps he ought to donate his fee to the families of those American soldiers wounded and killed in Iraq.

Posted by David Corn at July 25, 2007 11:04 AM


carey said...


Do a little dance!

O'Reilly said...

Contempt citations, approved in committee, go to the floor of the house fora vote first, yes?

Anyway, it'll pass. Since Bush has ordered the DC US Attorney to not enforce the contempt citation, Pelosi will have to order the sergent-at-arms to arrest Miers and Bolten and lock them up if the hooscow. I wonder if Judy Miller will visit them?

I feel so bad for Josh Bolten. His obstruction of justice is after the fact. When will Cheney criminal behavior catch up to him? I think we'll see impeachment by Christmas.

O'Reilly said...

Stick to your guns Corn. Obama's answer was a HUGE mistake ;)

I still can figure out why you spend so much time reporting on the blow-by-blow gossip of presidential campaigns 16 months before the election rather than contempt citations for Miers and Bolten or the fact Gonzalez authorized OVP access to ongoing investigations at the DOJ.

Gerald said...

Willingness to Talk

Dear Posters:

I agree with Barak Obama that we must be willing to talk with all the world leaders. Bush does not talk to anyone and we have nearly 4,000 soldiers killed and 27,000+ soldiers maimed fighting in two wars. We have 650,000+ Iraqis and Afghans slaughtered in these two wars. The bill for the two wars is now approaching $1 trillion. But, what do I know?

Personally, I know that I have made the greatest FACTUAL prediction in the history of the American republic. I have been predicting that there will be NO 2008 Presidential Elections since 2004.

Willingness to talk with all the world leaders is a sign of leadership and courage. I give Barak Obama a two thumbs up for his comment at the Citadel debate in South Carolina.

I do not know that I would vote for Barak Obama at this time. I believe the hype for Obama is fueled by behind-the-scenes, Nazis.


P.S. I have mentioned in my posts from time to time the word, imprinting. Bush in one of his speeches has mentioned al Qaeda 95 times. He is trying to imprint the term al Qaeda on our brains to make us fearful and for Bush to grab more power. Be careful with the imprinting of terms and words on our brains. Imprinting is a way of controlling the people.

capt said...

Clinton, Kissinger and the Corruptions of Empire

Of all the corruptions of empire, few are darker than the claim that diplomacy must be kept secret from the citizenry.

This hide-it-from-the people faith that only a cloistered group of unelected and often unaccountable elites – embodied by the nefarious and eminently indictable Henry Kissinger – is capable of steering the affairs of state pushes Americans out of the processes that determine whether their sons and daughters will die in distant wars, whether the factories where they worked will be shuttered, whether their country will respond to or neglect genocide, whether their tax dollars will go to pay for the unspeakable.

It allows for the dirty game where foreign countries are included or excluded from contact with the U.S. based on unspoken whims and self-serving schemes, where trade deals are negotiated without congressional oversight and then presented in take-it-or-leave-it form and where war is made easy by secretive cliques that are as willing to lie to presidents as they do to the people.

Unlike the excluded and neglected people, however, presidents have the authority to break this vicious cycle by making personal contact with foreign leaders, by publicly meeting with and debating allies and rivals, by taking global policymaking out of the shadows and into the light of day. When the president is personally and publicly in contact with the world, diplomacy is democratized.

As the most scrutinized figure on the planet, an American president who meets and maintains contact with leaders who may or may not follow the U.S. line on any particular issue involves not just him- or herself in the discussion but also the American people. The president lifts the veil of secrecy behind which horrible things can be done in our name but without our informed consent.

So it matters, it matters a great deal, whether those who seek the presidency promote transparent and democratic foreign policies or a continuation of a corrupt status quo that has rendered the United States dysfunctional, misguided and hated by most of the world – and that has caused more than 80 percent of Americans to say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

In the race for the Democratic nomination for president, the two frontrunners are lining up on opposite sides of the question of whether foreign policy should be conducted in public or behind the tattered curtain of corruption that has given us unnecessary wars in Vietnam and Iraq, U.S.-sponsored coups from Iran to Chile, trade policies designed to serve multinational corporations and a seeming inability to respond to the crisis that is Darfur.

Hillary Clinton, the candidate of all that is and will be, wants there to be no doubt that she is in the Kissinger camp.

The New York senator's campaign is attacking her chief rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, for daring to suggest that, he would personally meet with foreign leaders who do not always march in lockstep with the U.S. government.

In Monday's night's YouTube debate, candidates were asked it they would be willing to meet "with leaders of Syria, Iran, Venezuela during their first term," Obama immediately responded that, yes, he would be willing to do so. He explained that "the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous."

Clinton disagreed in the debate and now her camp is declaring that, "There is a clear difference between the two approaches these candidates are taking: Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world's worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office."

Leaving aside the fact that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a popularly elected leader, is not one of the "world's worst dictators," it is particularly galling that Clinton -- in her rush to trash Obama -- is contradicting her own declaration in an April debate that, "I think it is a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people."

Unfortunately, Clinton's vote to give Bush a blank check for war in Iraq and her defense of that war, her support for neo-liberal economics and a Wall Street-defined free trade agenda and her general disregard for popular involvement in foreign-policy debates suggests that the senator is showing true self when she dismisses the value of presidential engagement with the leaders of foreign lands.

Clinton is playing politics this week. But in a broader sense she is aligning herself with a secretive and anti-democratic approach to global affairs that steers the United States out of the global community while telling the American people that foreign policy is the domain only of shadowy Kissingers.

She is not just wrong in this, she is Bush/Cheney wrong.


*****end of clip*****

A compelling point of view that is in contrast to many.


capt said...

Special Prosecutor Weighed for Gonzales

Angry senators suggested a special prosecutor should investigate misconduct at the Justice Department, accusing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday of deceit on the prosecutor firings and President Bush's eavesdropping program.

Democrats and Republicans alike hammered Gonzales in four hours of testimony as he denied trying, as White House counsel in 2004, to push a hospitalized attorney general into approving a counterterror program that the Justice Department then viewed as illegal.

Gonzales, alternately appearing wearied and seething, vowed anew to remain in his job even as senators told him outright they believe he is unqualified to stay.

He would not answer numerous questions, including whether the Bush administration would bar its U.S. attorneys from pursuing contempt charges against current and former White House officials who have defied congressional subpoenas for their testimony.

"It's hard to see anything but a pattern of intentionally misleading Congress again and again," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., told Gonzales during the often-bitter Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Shouldn't the attorney general of the United States meet a higher standard?"


David B. Benson said...

The Guardian today points out that with the weak dollar, America is an inexpensive visit for tourists.

And then goes on to ask: why are we all staying away?

Tongue-in-cheek, surely...

capt said...

Spark-free, Fuel-efficient Engines On The Way

In an advance that could help curb global demand for oil, MIT researchers have demonstrated how ordinary spark-ignition automobile engines can, under certain driving conditions, move into a spark-free operating mode that is more fuel-efficient and just as clean.

The mode-switching capability could appear in production models within a few years, improving fuel economy by several miles per gallon in millions of new cars each year. Over time, that change could cut oil demand in the United States alone by a million barrels a day. Currently, the U.S. consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day.

The MIT team presented their latest results on July 23 at the Japan Society of Automotive Engineers (JSAE)/Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) 2007 International Fuel and Lubricants Meeting.

Many researchers are studying a new way of operating an internal combustion engine known as "homogeneous charge compression ignition" (HCCI). Switching a spark-ignition (SI) engine to HCCI mode pushes up its fuel efficiency.

In an HCCI engine, fuel and air are mixed together and injected into the cylinder. The piston compresses the mixture until spontaneous combustion occurs. The engine thus combines fuel-and-air premixing (as in an SI engine) with spontaneous ignition (as in a diesel engine). The result is the HCCI's distinctive feature: combustion occurs simultaneously at many locations throughout the combustion chamber.

That behavior has advantages. In both SI and diesel engines, the fuel must burn hot to ensure that the flame spreads rapidly through the combustion chamber before a new "charge" enters. In an HCCI engine, there is no need for a quickly spreading flame because combustion occurs throughout the combustion chamber. As a result, combustion temperatures can be lower, so emissions of nitrogen pollutants are negligible. The fuel is spread in low concentrations throughout the cylinder, so the soot emissions from fuel-rich regions in diesels are not present.

Perhaps most important, the HCCI engine is not locked into having just enough air to burn the available fuel, as is the SI engine. When the fuel coming into an SI engine is reduced to cut power, the incoming air must also be constrained--a major source of wasted energy.

However, it is difficult to control exactly when ignition occurs in an HCCI engine. And if it does not begin when the piston is positioned for the power stroke, the engine will not run right.

"It's like when you push a kid on a swing," said Professor William H. Green, Jr., of the Department of Chemical Engineering. "You have to push when the swing is all the way back and about to go. If you push at the wrong time, the kid will twist around and not go anywhere. The same thing happens to your engine."


micki said...

But what's fortunate is that at The Nation website I get to have my say, and then editor Katrina vanden Heuvel can have hers.

Hmmmmm. I think KVH comes off in this dust-up as a woman looking for a fight with a man with whom she disagrees because she doesn't like the woman who's being discussed.

If I were David Corn, I'd be looking for a new job.

capt said...

"They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. That is too much, even for a joke. ... Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder... And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles." : Eugene Victor Debs

The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own: Aldous Huxley - English novelist and critic, 1894-1963

"Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that The State has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied." : Arthur Miller playwright

"....if by a liberal they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties.. if that is what they mean by a "liberal" then I am proud to be a liberal. ": John F. Kennedy


Thanks ICH Newsletter!

capt said...

Intelligent Intelligence

President John F. Kennedy once said he got "far more out of the New York Times than the CIA." Those were the days when major U.S. newspapers and the three networks maintained foreign bureaus staffed by prize-winning foreign correspondents all over the world. In those halcyon days, Open Source Intelligence, or OSINT in the espionage vernacular, could be culled from highly knowledgeable foreign correspondents, many of them scholars who had written books about the history and culture of their wide-ranging beats.
No more. At the end of World War II there were 2,500 U.S. foreign correspondents; today there are fewer than 250.

Newspapers, magazines and networks -- victims of both a weak dollar and corporate bottom-line bean counters -- have cut back foreign news coverage to the point where it no longer qualifies as OSINT. ABC slashed its staff foreign correspondents from 37 in the 1970s to four, according to veteran newsman Ted Koppel. Once over lightly foreign reporting -- with the exception of major events like wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 20-minute TV magazine pieces -- is not what the Intelligence Community sees as OSINT.

Reporters are now increasingly "parachuted" into hot stories abroad for a few days and then home to avoid exorbitant hotels bills.

A recent two-day Washington conference on OSINT organized by Eliot Jardines, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for open source, brought 1,200 people together from 40 countries. It was a mix of media, academia, business and IC.

All facets of OSINT were discussed, notably the constant drama of constant trivia that has afflicted U.S. media since the end of the Cold War (e.g., almost two years of O.J. Simpson that kept America's collective eye off the international ball; infamous skater Tonya Harding, who got more airtime in a comparable news period than the fall of the Berlin Wall that collapsed the Soviet empire; Congressman Gary Condit, whose affair with a murdered staffer was dislodged by Osama Bin Laden and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks; Paris Hilton, whose mind-numbing, one-hour interview on "Larry King Live" reminded the millions who watched that addle-brained celebrity has now displaced merit-based fame).


capt said...


Following the precedent of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, who refuses to be in attendance when Barry Bonds becomes the new Home Run King, former President Richard M. Nixon announced that he wouldn’t be there to “celebrate” when George W. Bush passes him on the all-time list for Constitutional violations.

Nixon claimed that Bush’s feat, which is expected to occur any day now, will be tainted by his use of “steer-oids” — since Bush was clearly “steered” into trashing the Constitution by Cheney and his gang of Neo-Cons.

Nixon asserted that “it’s obvious that Bush injected so much of the Veep into his backside that the President’s head began to swell as large as a watermelon.”

“And don’t forget,” Nixon added, “how bulked up Bush’s back looked during the 2004 debates.”

The 37th President acknowledged that “records are meant to be broken, but cheating at cheating with help from others violates the ancient code of honor among thieves.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” the only President to resign from office added, “I had help from the likes of Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, but it was my idea to engage in wholesale violations of civil rights and liberties. In the case of Bush, he’s obviously too stupid to even know the laws he was breaking.”

Nixon also emphasized that it was “my scheme to secretly invade sovereign countries like Laos and Cambodia, not that Jew Kissinger’s, as many have falsely assumed. Do you really believe for a moment that Bush could have so thoroughly screwed Iraq without Cheney and Rumsfeld?”

Nixon, displaying a hint of his trademark bitterness, rhapsodized that “if I had had the advantage of a world-class bastard like Cheney, instead of a two-bit crook like Agnew, there’s no telling what we could have accomplished together — perhaps even abolishing Congress and The Supreme Court.”

“Then there would’ve been no Court decision on the ‘Nixon Tapes,’ no pressure to resign from a non-existent Congress, and I would have still been President,” Nixon explained. “Just think, even though I’d now be dead, I still would’ve been a huge improvement over George W. Bush.”


*****end of clip*****

Funny stuff.


capt said...

How to Get Out of Iraq


It is absurd for the Americans to insist that there be no Iranian influence in Iraq: it is as if Vladimir Putin insisted on ending American influence in, say, Mexico or Canada. Geography, economics, and culture militate against it. Aside from these objective factors, the elected government in Baghdad is very close to Tehran, as the leaders of the Shi'ite resistance to Saddam were headquartered in Iran and given support by the Iranians prior to the U.S. invasion. Iraq's Shi'ite spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Sistani, was born in Iran, and there is no way Tehran's gravitational pull will be neutralized by U.S. actions.

However, we can use Iranian influence to eradicate our real enemies in Iraq, by encouraging the Iranians and their Iraqi supporters to take on al-Qaeda. Bin Laden's Iraqi franchise recently issued a warning to the Iranians to stay out of Iraq: might we not use what amounts to a veritable declaration of war on Tehran by Osama's Iraqi minions to our advantage – or is that too subtle for our Washington policymakers?

The Shi'ites, unleashed, would make short work of al-Qaeda. And once that occurs, our problems are essentially over. After all, Bush keeps telling us that our enemy in Iraq is the very same enemy that took down the World Trade Center and bombed the Pentagon. With those snakes crushed underfoot, the way is cleared to getting out.

Sure, there will be a bloody interregnum, innocents will die, and it could well be that the regime emerging from the chaos will hardly resemble a Jeffersonian republic. Yet these results will be better than the alternative – the present chaos made possible by a weak Iraqi central government, with U.S. troops caught in the middle of the Mad Max movie that is the Iraqi civil war.


capt said...

The United States Finds Few Non-Iraqis Among Insurgents

As President Bush continues to stress al Qaeda as the chief threat to Iraq's stability--a reprised effort to establish a link between al Qaeda in Iraq and the 9/11 attackers--U.S. military forces on the ground in Iraq are fighting a complex war in regions with vast networks of overlapping loyalties--and few foreign fighters. Most members of al Qaeda in Iraq, say commanders on the ground, are local Iraqi outcasts.

"I can count them [foreign fighters] as a total I have engaged, dead or alive, in the 10 months I've been here on one hand," says Col. David Sutherland, the U.S. commander of coalition forces in the hotly contested area of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold region some 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. There, Sutherland says, those involved in al Qaeda are largely dispossessed locals, not jihadists who have come from elsewhere. "The recruiting program is [that] al Qaeda may send five or eight individuals into a village. They recruit from those who have no power base, no place in society," including, he adds, former male prostitutes and the mentally ill.

Sutherland has launched roughly 200 operations--both large and small--and says there has been some progress. This, he says, is due in large part to the local reaction to the brutal methods of al Qaeda-linked forces. Sutherland says he has seen growing resentment of al Qaeda among Diyala's residents. "People here are so disgusted and disillusioned by al Qaeda--no one here wants an Islamic state in Iraq," he says

Earlier this month, for example, in a small village outside the provincial capital of Baquba, between 20 and 30 gunmen went house to house in pickup trucks, shooting young men. They killed 29, wounded four, burned down several houses and cars, and left. They did not shoot women or children, and the hands of victims were not tied behind their backs, a common practice in militia death squad killings. "We checked with the people and they said [the gunmen] were al Qaeda members that had moved into the area recently," he says.

But the incident highlights the complexity of the situation in Iraq today--and the myriad interconnections among the country's citizens and tribes that, while rendering political solutions increasingly pivotal, at the same time can make them tougher to come by.


*****end of clip*****

Why does the WH “press corps” let Commander Kantspeak lie over and over without ever being challenged?


capt said...

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