Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Obama Flub at the YouTube Debate?

From my "Capital Games" column at www.thenation.com....

I can see the ad now: Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, and Hugo Chavez all strolling into the White House, and a grinning Barack Obama greeting them with a friendly "Welcome, boys; what do you want to talk about?"

If Obama gets close to the Democratic presidential nomination, pro-Hillary Clinton forces could air such an ad. If he wins the nomination, the Republicans could hammer him with such a spot.

And the junior senator from Illinois will not have much of a defense.

At the newfangled YouTube/CNN debate on Monday night--during which YouTubers posed questions to the Democratic candidates via video--a fellow named Stephen Sorta of Diamond Bar, California, asked ,

In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

Obama took the question first. He replied,

I would. And the reason is this, 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. Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.

The crowd responded with applause. His answer seemed fine. It was only moments later that the problem became obvious. Sorta, who was also in the audience, put the same question to Senator Hillary Clinton. She said:

Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.

And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.

Then CNN's Anderson Cooper, the moderator, turned to former Senator John Edwards and asked, "Would you meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il?" Edwards echoed Clinton:

Yes, and I think actually Senator Clinton's right though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting's not going to be used for propaganda purposes, will not be used to just beat down the United States of America in the world community. But I think this is just a piece of a bigger question, which is, what do we actually do? What should the president of the United States do to restore America's moral leadership in the world. It's not enough just to meet with bad leaders. In addition to that, the world needs to hear from the president of the United States about who we are, what it is we represent.

Obama had suggested he would sit down with these leaders willy-nilly, no preconditions. Clinton and Edwards explained that that they would use diplomacy to try to improve relations with these nations and that such an effort could lead to a one-on-one with these heads of state.

Obama had responded from the gut, working off a correct critique of the Bush administration's skeptical approach toward diplomacy. But his answer lacked the sophistication of Clinton's and Edwards' replies. And this moment illustrated perhaps the top peril for the Obama campaign: with this post-9/11 presidential contest, to a large degree, a question of who should be the next commander in chief, any misstep related to foreign policy is a big deal for a candidate who has little experience in national security matters.

Clinton, with her years as First Lady and her stint as a member of the Senate armed services committee, and Edwards, with his tenure on the Senate intelligence committee, are steeped in the nuances, language, and minefields of foreign policy. (Among the second-tier candidates, Senator Joe Biden, Senator Chris Dodd, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson can boast extensive national security experience.) Though Obama was against the Iraq war before he was a senator, he has not developed his foreign policy chops. That's understandable; he's only been on the national scene for two years. (Prior to that, he was doing admirable work as a state legislator, a civil rights attorney, and a community organizer.) So he is more prone to commit mistakes in this area--perhaps stupid mistakes--that can be easily exploited by his opponents. And in the post-9/11 era, there's not much room in national politics for such errors.

During the 2004 Democratic presidential contest, Howard Dean had the foreign policy positions that resonated most with Democratic voters. He was opposed to the Iraq war; Senator John Kerry had voted to let George W. Bush invade Iraq. But Dean, like Obama, had not spent years talking and doing foreign policy. He made some dumb gaffes. On Meet the Press Tim Russert asked Dean this question :

Let's talk about the military budget. How many men and women would you have on active duty?

Dean flubbed his response:

I can't answer that question. And I don't know what the answer is.

Later in the race, Dean repeatedly referred to Russia as the "Soviet Union," a country that had not existed for 13 years.

Such remarks were not the downfall of Dean. But they did allow others to suggest he was not ready for prime time regarding national security matters. (Of course, neither was George W. Bush, but he had the good fortune of running in the last pre-9/11 election.) About Dean, Kerry said, "All the advisers in the world can't give Howard Dean the military and foreign policy experience, leadership skills...necessary to lead this country through dangerous times." Obama is obviously susceptible to a similar attack--from a Democrat or a Republican.

For Obama to have a chance of toppling front-running Clinton, he will have a near-perfect performance from now until the actual voting. During the YouTube debate, Obama generally did fine. But he did not differentiate himself from Clinton in a significant manner. After all, there is not much difference between their current positions. He did take a strong shot at her during a series of questions about the Iraq war:

One thing I have to say about Senator Clinton's comments a couple of moments ago. I think it's terrific that she's asking for plans from the Pentagon, and I think the Pentagon response was ridiculous. But what I also know is that the time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq was before we went in. And that is something that too many of us failed to do. We failed to do it. And I do think that that is something that both Republicans and Democrats have to take responsibility for.

The crowd cheered, but one swing at Clinton does not a campaign make. Yes, there are months to go in the preprimary maneuvering, but at some point--probably sooner than later--Obama is going to have to make a move. Meanwhile, he also has to avoid such mistakes as promising to open the doors of the White House without conditions to Kim Jong Il and others of that ilk. He cannot let Stephen Sorta of Diamond Bar, California, trip him up again.

Posted by David Corn at July 24, 2007 12:22 PM


capt said...

Mr. David Corn,

As much as I hate to sound even a little positive about a politician - Any of the candidates on the left would make a better CIC than our current misleader.

That might not be saying much. I still doubt there can be a fair and open election. Busheney are listening in on every line and email, Rove has access and the AG is in place for cover. Sadly, not the formula for a free fair and open election.



capt said...

300,000 without clean water as flood threat moves to Thames Valley

One third of a million people in the west of England will remain without clean running water for at least a week as a result of the worst floods to have struck the UK in the last 60 years.

Severn Trent Water said this morning that 350,000 customers would remain dependent on 3 million litres of bottled water delivered by the Army each day, and on a fleet of 900 mini-tankers parked in flood-stricken locations to dispense drinking water.

Gloucestershire County Council said several bowsers were being vandalised amid frustrations over the water supply.

With supermarket stocks running low as far as Bristol, hundreds of people gathered outside a Tesco supermarket at Quedgeley in Gloucester, awaiting the arrival of thousands of bottles of water. The water was set to arrive with an Army escort to ward off looters.


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

In a rich western area it is a catastrophe, in a third world nation or Iraq it would be called unfortunate. The real outrage is the lack of outrage for those countries we are liberating from such terror as ourselves.


O'Reilly said...

Corn's observation of Obama's mistaken instinct is instructive but its hardly the kind of mistake that ought to sink a candidate.

Obama is a brilliant man with superb analytical and decision making skills. To suggest that if elected President he would blunder into a meeting with the President of Iran is an example of gotcha punditry. Ok you're right Corn but seriosly so what? You think he won't surround himself with good advisors and take their advice?

Why are all the Dems bad mouthing Obama? (and yes, I mean you, Kathleen.)

Gerald said...


Dear Posters:

I am at my computer and I am looking out the window. I recall some recent posts that I have shared with you. The most disturbing post was the realization that on July 24, 2007 I came to grips with the fact that it is all over for our democracy and our republic. We are now an enslaved banana republic in the hands of a despotic dictator. I can only say to my country, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.

Bush says that we are at war. He wants to impose his will on us and he is succeeding. The wait for a police state is over because the police state is upon us.

I want to apologize to all the posters. I only wish that I could have done more to stop the Nazi takeover of my country. All I can do now as the last man leaving the room is to turn off the lights. Once again I will say to my country, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.


David B. Benson said...

capt --- You might try finding anything at all in the news regarding the drinking water situation resulting from the floods in South Asia and in China...

capt said...

Britain is protecting the biggest heroin crop of all time

This week the 64th British soldier to die in Afghanistan, Corporal Mike Gilyeat, was buried. All the right things were said about this brave soldier, just as, on current trends, they will be said about one or more of his colleagues who follow him next week.

The alarming escalation of the casualty rate among British soldiers in Afghanistan – up to ten per cent – led to discussion this week on whether it could be fairly compared to casualty rates in the Second World War.

But the key question is this: what are our servicemen dying for? There are glib answers to that: bringing democracy and development to Afghanistan, supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai in its attempt to establish order in the country, fighting the Taliban and preventing the further spread of radical Islam into Pakistan.

But do these answers stand up to close analysis?

There has been too easy an acceptance of the lazy notion that the war in Afghanistan is the 'good' war, while the war in Iraq is the 'bad' war, the blunder. The origins of this view are not irrational. There was a logic to attacking Afghanistan after 9/11.

Afghanistan was indeed the headquarters of Osama Bin Laden and his organisation, who had been installed and financed there by the CIA to fight the Soviets from 1979 until 1989. By comparison, the attack on Iraq – which was an enemy of Al Qaeda and no threat to us – was plainly irrational in terms of the official justification.

So the attack on Afghanistan has enjoyed a much greater sense of public legitimacy. But the operation to remove Bin Laden was one thing. Six years of occupation are clearly another.


David B. Benson said...

Bosnia, Macedonia, Greece:

45C (113 F)

Gerald said...

Bush is a moral termite

Gerald said...

The problem is larger than politics, it reflects the public morality that runs America: do politicians govern from the perspective of their own self-interest or with respect for the common good? We need to clean the termites out of the White House and restore integrity to our government.

David B. Benson said...

Henry Paulson staqtes that there will be a world-wide financial 'downturn'.

That is, a crash.

Gerald said...

DBB, I have been hearing about a depression or severe recession for many years. It will never happen on Bush's watch. He has been good to the Nazi American corporations and they will do what it takes to make him look good.

Yes, a financial downturn will happen but it will never happen on Bush's watch. This may be another reason why Bush will remain in office beyond 2009.

uncledad said...

I hope to read all your comments at some time. But given the headline "An Obama Flub at the YouTube Debate". I feel I must try to explain myself.

First do you know who owns YouTube? If not you might want to check that out. Second ask yourself: are you happy with the democratic field? I'm a little mushy. Third what exactly is an "Obama Flub"? It sounds like a new language. And a little prejudgemental.

capt said...

The life and times of the CIA

The American people may not know it, but they have some severe problems with one of their official governmental entities, the Central Intelligence Agency. Because of the almost total secrecy surrounding its activities and the lack of cost accounting on how it spends the money covertly appropriated for it within the defense budget, it is impossible for citizens to know what the CIA's approximately 17,000 employees do with, or for, their share of the

yearly US$44 billion to $48 billion or more spent on "intelligence". This inability to account for anything at the CIA is, however, only one problem with the agency, and hardly the most serious one, either.

There are currently at least two criminal trials under way, in Italy and Germany, against several dozen CIA officials for felonies committed in those countries, including kidnapping people with a legal right to be in Germany and Italy, illegally transporting them to countries such as Egypt and Jordan for torture, and causing them to "disappear" into secret foreign or CIA-run prisons outside the United States without any form of due process of law.

The possibility that CIA funds are simply being ripped off by insiders is also acute. The CIA's former No 3 official, its executive director and chief procurement officer, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, is under federal indictment in San Diego for corruptly funneling contracts for water, air services, and armored vehicles to a lifelong friend and defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, who was unqualified to perform the services being sought. In return, Wilkes allegedly treated Foggo to thousands of dollars' worth of vacation trips and dinners, and promised him a top job at his company when he retired from the CIA.

Thirty years ago, in a futile attempt to provide some check on endemic misbehavior by the CIA, the administration of Gerald Ford created the President's Intelligence Oversight Board. It was to be a civilian watchdog over the agency. A 1981 executive order by president Ronald Reagan made the board permanent and gave it the mission of identifying CIA violations of the law (while keeping them secret so as not to endanger national security). Through five subsequent administrations, members of the board - all civilians not employed by the government - actively reported on and investigated some of the CIA's most secret operations that seemed to breach legal limits.

However, on July 15, 2007, John Solomon of the Washington Post reported that, for the first five and a half years of the administration of President George W Bush, the Intelligence Oversight Board did nothing - no investigations, no reports, no questioning of CIA officials. It evidently found no reason to inquire into the interrogation methods agency operatives employed at secret prisons or the transfer of captives to countries that use torture, or domestic wiretapping not warranted by a federal court.

Who were the members of this non-oversight board of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys? The board now in place is led by former Bush economic adviser Stephen Friedman. It includes Don Evans, a former commerce secretary and friend of the president, former Admiral David Jeremiah, and lawyer Arthur B Culvahouse. The only thing they accomplished was to express their contempt for a legal order by a president of the United States.

Corrupt and undemocratic practices by the CIA have prevailed since it was created in 1947. However, US citizens have now, for the first time, been given a striking range of critical information necessary to understand how this situation came about and why it has been impossible to remedy. We have a long, richly documented history of the CIA from its post-World War II origins to its failure to supply even the most elementary information about Iraq before the 2003 invasion of that country.


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

The CIA has nothing to hide so don't look.


capt said...

Watch Matthews desperately try to defend America's for profit system until he realizes he's beaten, and then turns aggressive on an innocent (if incredibly wrong) audience member who's on the spot.

capt said...

New Thread