31.05.2008  
     
 
The Candidates' Cluster Bomb Divide
 
  Over in Dublin this week, the world was uniting behind a treaty to ban cluster bombs -- well, most of the world, anyway, since there were some significant hold-outs: the U.S., Russia and China, for instance. As it happens, two of the three presidential candidates almost certainly would maintain the United States' current position on cluster munitions.

Democrat Barack Obama has voted in the Senate to support a ban on cluster bombs in civilian areas. The vote came in 2006, and Republican John McCain voted against the ban, as did Hillary Clinton -- one rare vote where Obama and Clinton voted differently. Ultimately, the vote fell short, 30-70.

A search of newspapers and the candidates' Senate websites from that year turns up no explanation for why each candidate voted the way they did. It is therefore unclear whether Obama opposes cluster munitions in all cases or just in civilian areas. For a pretty good breakdown of the pros and cons of cluster bombs -- morally, tactically -- the Associated Press did a run-down here.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 31.05.2008, 05:14 # 1 Comment
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  30.05.2008  
     
 
Foreign Policy Blunders By McCain Help Obama
 
  My colleague Michael wrote recently about the foreign policy gaffes of Barack Obama and how they feed into John McCain's strategy of emphasizing his foreign policy credentials and Obama's inexperience. But as it happens, McCain has had his share of international affairs blunders this year. They've happened farther away from the spotlight, often at moments when the protracted Democratic primary battle was particularly heated, overshadowing anything McCain did or said.

The first was a series of misstatements where McCain had to correct himself for claiming multiple times that Iran was training al Qaeda operatives. That organization is Sunni, while Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite, and rarely have the two played nice with one another. McCain got hit by the Washington Post's Fact-Checker for making the claim.

More recently, McCain asserted that because "the average American" thinks Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the leader of that country, he is. In fact, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the one with authority over foreign policy. This is a little akin to Hillary Clinton's statement that she's not going to "put my lot with economists" when every economist alive criticized her plan to suspend the gas tax.

Another McCain embarrassment on the foreign policy front is that a number of people working for his campaign had lobbied for repressive foreign governments, including Burma and Saudi Arabia. This one was a double hit, because not only were the actual affiliations of those campaign officials dubious, but McCain has spoken many times before about the evils of lobbyists. Several have departed, but not all of them.

And the newest mistake was McCain's claim, in ridiculing Obama: "Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades." As this writer and others were quick to point out, the U.S. policy on Iran has, for decades now, been not to talk to Tehran. (Three of the four here, notably, are about Iran.)

In each of these cases, liberal groups, blogs or political organizations quickly jumped on McCain. Democrats clearly have learned from a strategy popularized by Bush's former political guru, Karl Rove: Focus the attacks on an opponent's strength, not just his weakness. Republicans attacked John Kerry in 2004 over his Vietnam War record, when Kerry's resume as a veteran was one of the things that Democrats thought would make him electable and hard to attack on defense issues. McCain has the edge in overseas-related experience, sure, but going after mistakes he makes on that front gives Democrats a chance to try and neutralize that apparent advantage. In a campaign where sensitivities about race and gender have been in the forefront, that line of attack also gives Democrats a chance to play to concerns about McCain's age by questioning whether the ravages of old age have left him confused. Republicans have implied that's Democrats' intent, anyway; so far, none of the attacks have been that explicit.

The thing to watch will be whether Democrats can combine McCain's support of the Iraq War and some of the aforementioned blunders into a potent enough antidote to the problem Michael wrote about.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 30.05.2008, 03:49 # 0 Comments
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  28.05.2008  
     
 
McCain And Nukes: Three Key Points
 
  Everyone has had a different take on the big foreign policy speech by John McCain Tuesday, which was about how he would pursue nuclear non-proliferation as president. With all that the Republican presidential candidate said about nukes today -- and, more discretely, a couple days ago -- it's worthwhile to boil down the most meaningful policy and political ramifications of it all into three key areas:

1. McCain did indeed take a more moderate tack than President Bush has in several areas, although not in any dramatic way. The Los Angeles Times' take on this is particularly sharp. For instance, while Bush has supported the development of "bunker buster" bombs, McCain said he would not do the same. But because Congress has not provided funding for bunker busters, Bush has largely backed away from making a push for them. As with several aspects of McCain's speech, there is a substantial difference in the positions between McCain and Bush on non-proliferation, but the actual, practical difference is tiny to non-existent.

2. However, while Bush has moved toward the middle on North Korea, McCain has veered back toward the more hard line, neoconservative point of view. That's what the Washington Post took out of an op-ed Monday in the Asian Wall Street Journal. The Post's take is correct, which is assuredly why the McCain campaign sought to avoid answering how it feels about the current status of the Bush administration's negotiations with North Korea. McCain wanted to play up his differences with Bush because Bush is unpopular, but in an area where McCain is to the right of Bush, that appeals only to a narrower slice of the electorate.

3. One particularly crucial aspect of McCain's plan -- seeking greater coordination with Russia -- has got to be sending mixed messages to the United States' old Cold War rival. McCain notably said last year that when he looked in Vladimir Putin's eyes, "I saw three letters: K.G.B." McCain has said he would seek to kick Russia out of the G-8. These are both confrontational postures. But Tuesday, McCain toned down his rhetoric about Russia. Per the LA Times: "On Tuesday, McCain argued that the U.S. and Russia still had 'serious differences' but said they were 'no longer mortal enemies' in the post-Cold War era." That said, Democrats are correct to point out that McCain's call to eject Russia from the G-8 is hard to square with his call for greater cooperation with Russia on other matters.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 28.05.2008, 05:20 # 0 Comments
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  27.05.2008  
     
 
"It's No Longer Going To Be That We Are In The Lead And Everyone Follows Us"
 
  The news out of the U.K. this evening is rather fascinating. The Guardian reported that Barack Obama, in a telephone address to a group of American expatriates in London who were gathered at a fundraiser, called for a fairer relationship between the U.K. and U.S. But what was most compelling was what an unnamed foreign policy adviser to the campaign told the Guardian, a statement that would reflect a rather dramatic shift from the George Bush years.

"We have a chance to recalibrate the relationship and for the United Kingdom to work with America as a full partner," Obama reportedly said. Even more interesting, the Guardian reported that an Obama foreign policy adviser told the paper: "It's no longer going to be that we are in the lead and everyone follows us. Full partners not only listen to each other, they also occasionally follow each other."

On one level, Obama's position placates anxiety in Great Britain toward years of playing loyal second fiddle to the U.S. Tony Blair, regularly derided as "Bush's poodle," suffered politically for supporting the president on the Iraq War. Current prime minister Gordon Brown has indicated he will not be so unconditional in his support of the U.S.

But what of the unnamed Obama adviser? Obama has made plain that he would emphasize diplomacy in his foreign policy as president, so the remark could just be an extension of that. But it comes at a time when there is a discussion in foreign policy circles about whether the U.S. is about to enter into "The Post-American World," the title of a book by noted international affairs writer Fareed Zakaria; the case being that the U.S. will still be a world leader, but other states will rise in influence. Is the Obama adviser tilting in that direction?
 
 
 
Tim Starks 27.05.2008, 04:16 # 2 Comments
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  26.05.2008  
     
 
Congressional Elections And Their Influence On Foreign Affairs
 
  There are a handful of areas where Congress' influence on public policy is particularly weak, and foremost among them is foreign affairs. The upcoming congressional elections aren't likely to have much sway over the United States' international posture.

Congress has little authority to alter the day-to-day diplomatic efforts of the executive branch. Within the sphere of foreign relations, Congress' greatest power, as with most matters, is that it assigns funding. For example: Democrats have attempted to alter funding for the Iraq War in a way that would have the effect of ending the engagement in Iraq. In the House, where Democrats have a strong majority, they have routinely succeeded in adding such language to funding bills, since even unanimous Republican opposition cannot overcome Democrats when they are mostly unified. In the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-vote margin of control and procedural differences make it harder for one party to ram its agenda through, unified Republicans can be far more effective. Rather than vote against an unpopular war, they have stood with President Bush.

That dynamic could change somewhat with the next Congress, where Democrats are likely to widen their margin of control in both the House and Senate. Election forecasters believe they are unlikely to pick up enough seats in the Senate to be able to foil a Republican filibuster -- 60 are needed to avoid such a procedural blockade. Should Barack Obama take control of the White House, this point becomes largely moot. To return to the Iraq example, Obama has made clear his plan to withdraw troops. But if John McCain wins the White House, and several Republicans lose their reelection bids and it turns out that Iraq was one of the reasons, McCain will have a bigger problem on his hands than Bush did on the Iraq front. Say Democrats have 57 members in the Senate in 2009. Now only three votes are needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Some Republicans may be more inclined to break their party unity after watching other Republican senators lose their job over their Iraq votes, and join the Democrats' anti-war efforts.

But because McCain would likely veto any bill that is geared toward ending the Iraq War, Democrats would need to win 70 votes to overturn that veto. There is little chance they would get that many unless Republicans suddenly make a sudden and dramatic shift in their voting patterns.

As American political scientist Larry Sabato told McClatchy: "If it's McCain, he would find his domestic policies dead on arrival. His only real influence with Congress would be in the foreign sphere." In other words, McCain likely wouldn't be able to convince a strong Democratic majority to adopt much of his domestic agenda. But he'd be able to defend his foreign agenda from attack by Democrats. To be accurate, McCain would be better defending against the Democratic agenda on both domestic and foreign policy. But because he has more leeway on foreign policy, he would be more free to do there as he pleased than he would on domestic issues.

Foreign policy issues, like the war in Iraq, may end up having some effect on congressional races. But the outcome of those congressional races are almost certain not to return the favor.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 26.05.2008, 04:44 # 1 Comment
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  23.05.2008  
     
 
A Little-Noticed Item On Each Campaign's Views On Israel-Syria Peace Talks
 
  The Jerusalem Post managed to get the U.S. presidential campaigns to weigh in on the Israel-Syria peace talks. The results mirror the divide between the candidates themselves on a central foreign policy argument they've been having over the value of diplomacy and what form it should take.

Barack Obama: "'I am encouraged that Israel and Syria have renewed peace talks and fully support Israel's efforts to advance peace with all its neighbors,' he said in statement e-mailed to the Post. 'I have consistently said that the United States must stand ready to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors and should not block Israel from the negotiating table, nor force it to negotiate.'"

John McCain: "'Senator McCain's view is that the sovereign government of Israel should be free to make its own decisions on how best to defend Israel and whether to engage in negotiations,' said Randy Scheunemann, the campaign's director of foreign policy and national security, who wouldn't comment on the potential for an American role in the talks."

But in some ways what their anonymous surrogates said in the story was more interesting.

The announcement of the Israel-Syria talks came after President Bush made a remark in Israel that implied meeting with controversial leaders like those in Iran constituted "appeasement." The Post writes: "Some political analysts have viewed Israel's announcement of indirect talks with Syria just days after the political controversy of Bush's Knesset remarks as a vindication for Obama's position. 'He has said many times that he thinks diplomacy is a very useful tool for achieving our national interests and goals. It's a tool that has been underutilized by this administration,' said an Obama campaign adviser. 'But he's not citing these developments to prove a point.'"

McCain's team, which backed up Bush's "appeasement" remark, dismissed the usefulness of talks with Syria. Per the Post: "The McCain camp pointed out that talks can be more than difficult - they can be pointless. 'It's clear that it takes more than just talking and meeting up with countries like Syria to achieve a resolution of differences,' someone close to the campaign told the Post, saying that former US secretary of state Warren Christopher 'practically had a second home in Damascus' but came up empty-handed."
 
 
 
Tim Starks 23.05.2008, 03:07 # 0 Comments
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  22.05.2008  
     
 
Cool Tool III: Fact-Checking Foreign Policy Claims
 
  I'll do my best in this space to point out factual inaccuracies and false claims by candidates and their surrogates on foreign policy. But there are a variety of organizations that regularly fact-check the candidates on a variety of issues, including foreign policy, that I can recommend.

For starters, my own non-DW World employer, CQ, has a relatively new fact-checking wing: Politifact. (Recent fact check on: John McCain saying "Senator Obama has declared, and repeatedly reaffirmed his intention to meet the president of Iran without any preconditions.")

The most established of the fact-checking operations is the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org. (Recent fact check on: "Two Democratic Party TV ads hit McCain on Iraq and the economy. We supply context and corrections.")

And The Washington Post has their own fact-checkers monitoring the campaign. (Recent fact check on: "McCain, Obama and kissing dictators.")
 
 
 
Tim Starks 22.05.2008, 02:44 # 0 Comments
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  21.05.2008  
     
 
McCain Wants To Imitate U.K., India; More On Obama And Islam
 
  --John McCain just made a great number of fans out of the kind of nerds who watch C-SPAN at odd hours. C-SPAN broadcasts the floor action of the U.S. House and Senate, but has, on occasion, broadcast the British tradition alternately called "Question Time," "Prime Minister's Questions" or something else, where the prime minister engages in a rapid fire exchange with the legislative body. The tradition is also found in India, Israel and a number of other countries, and has a cult following here in the States. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, said last week he would like to subject himself to the same treatment, which is often marked by hollering and quick-witted insults.

Because the proposal was buried in a more far-ranging policy speech, it only recently started getting any attention of note. An unscientific sampling of responses suggests it could help McCain win over some of his skeptics. When I mentioned it to one friend, he replied, half-joking: "I almost want to vote for him for that alone." Christopher Hitchens, a British-American writer who sometimes defends the Iraq War but whose politics have moved to the left, wrote some gushing praise of McCain's idea. CQ, linked above, found a mixed reaction from members of Congress themselves.

--A follow-up on yesterday's post about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and whether he would be shunned in the Muslim world:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has weighed in on this as of today. Where the group has received criticism, it has been from groups or individuals who argue CAIR has promoted extremist views. So that would seem to lend added weight to its interpretation, since the most extreme strain of Islam would seem to be the one most likely to consider Obama an apostate.

CAIR concludes that the New York Times op-ed is inaccurate. The group's own op-ed states: "Obama is neither a convert nor an apostate for the simple fact that he never declared himself a Muslim to begin with. The fact that his father and grandfather were Muslims does not itself determine his own faith status."

Reasonable people differ on this. But much of the evidence seems to favor the view that, at least for the majority of the Muslim world, including some extreme elements, Obama would not be considered an apostate.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 21.05.2008, 01:38 # 3 Comments
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  20.05.2008  
     
 
Contradictory Claims On Obama And Islam
 
  I'd seen this article not long ago, alleging that Barack Obama would be unpopular in the Muslim world because of his background, and thought it was interesting, especially since it was in The New York Times. But something about it wasn't quite right.

First, its author, Edward Luttwak, is not some detached observer. He is widely referred to as a neoconservative. Second, I am no expert in Islamic law. So I wasn't sure whether it was accurate, and since it was an op-ed instead of a news article, there was no counter point of view. I certainly had to wonder: If the leader of Hamas said Obama was his preferred candidate, surely Obama's conversion to Christianity wasn't that big a deal, right?

As it happens, there is a great deal wrong with the op-ed. This author -- writing for the liberal Huffington Post, so take that into account -- makes a persuasive case nonetheless that the op-ed is factually incorrect.

So, just to summarize, here are all the things that are wrong with Obama on this front according to his opponents, accurate or no:
1. He is secretly a Muslim.
2. He is affiliated with his crazy Christian ex-minister.
3. Even though he was born a Muslim, that won't make him popular with Muslims because his conversion to Christianity will make him a heretic to them, undermining one of his foreign policy claims.
4. He is the favorite candidate of Hamas, an organization rooted in Islam.

It can't be all of them, right? It all adds up, as this writer states, to "dangerous nonsense."
 
 
 
Tim Starks 20.05.2008, 01:12 # 3 Comments
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  18.05.2008  
     
 
Democrats Growing Confident On National Security
 
  Earlier this year, I wrote part of a cover story for CQ Weekly about Democrats challenging President Bush on national security. In particular, what struck me was how Democrats who had just months earlier gave Bush every bit of warrantless wiretapping authority he wanted suddenly turned around when it was time to make that authority permanent and said, "No more."

What, I wondered, had gotten into them? What I found was this: Democrats looked at the polls and found that they were closer than they had been in a long time to Republicans on national security, who have a historical advantage with voters on that topic. Democrats also found that by offering a compelling defense of themselves instead of just trying to change the topic to the economy or some other area where they had an advantage, they were able to, in this case, have some success winning the argument with the public.

It is now exceedingly clear that the model Democrats used there will be their formula in the presidential campaign, too. The dispute over Barack Obama's willingness to meet with controversial foreign leaders shows it. Democrats quickly jumped to Obama's defense and stood firm. On Sunday, they also tried to win the argument. In a televised interview, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden explained how Republicans have done the very same thing Obama would do: "Let’s talk about talking. President Bush, the White House, called me, several years ago, told me Air Force Two was waiting for me at Andrews Air Force Base; would I get on the plane and go meet with (Libyan President Muammar al-) Gadhafi, a real known terrorist, personally, a terrorist — personally responsible for killing kids at the school I went to, Syracuse University, blowing up that Pan Am flight,” Sen. Joe Biden said on ABC’s “This Week." “The president of the United States asked me to go. He cut a deal with Gadhafi, directly. It was a smart thing to do. He gave up his nuclear weapons, Gadhafi.”

There's something strange about Democrats simultaneously saying that 1. the Bush and John McCain attacks on Obama for meeting with controversial foreign leaders shows the need for change, since Bush's approach hasn't worked; and 2. Republicans do meet with controversial foreign leaders, too. There are other counter-arguments as well. And maybe it all plays into Republicans' hands in the end, since the amount of time spent on national security arguments could favor them by keeping the focus where they want it. What's interesting is that Democrats are even making the argument at all.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 18.05.2008, 21:41 # 0 Comments
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  18.05.2008  
     
 
How They'd Meet With Controversial Foreign Leaders: Trivial No More
 
  Not long ago, I wrote about how the manner in which the two Democratic presidential candidates would meet with controversial foreign leaders had become a major campaign issue. It had become a major campaign issue despite the fact that Barack Obama and his team had fuzzed up their position (would meet with controversial leaders "without preconditions," but with "preparation") to the point that it was hard to distinguish from Hillary Clinton's (would only meet with controversial leaders with preconditions). Many had originally dismissed the divide as trivial.

After President Bush's veiled attack on Obama, comparing his position without mentioning his name to the appeasement of Hitler -- an attack Republican John McCain seconded -- it's now the story that's dominating the campaign headlines in the U.S.

CNN has it right: This is a preview of the general election campaign. McCain thinks the issue plays to his image as strong and firm on national security. Obama thinks it will help him link McCain to Bush's foreign policy.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 18.05.2008, 02:44 # 3 Comments
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  14.05.2008  
     
 
Obama As Foreign Policy Revolutionary
 
  Quite by accident, I find myself following closely on the point of my colleague Michael's latest post.

John McCain has drawn plenty of attention in the 2008 presidential campaign as the candidate bucking traditional foreign policy wisdom in key areas... some of it positive, as Michael finds, although certainly not all of it. But is it the Republican's expected Democratic rival, Barack Obama, the real foreign policy revolutionary?

That's the view of liberal writer Matthew Yglesias, who argues the lengthy primary battle against Hillary Clinton has sharpened Obama's foreign policy views. I quote Yglesias extensively: "As the campaign stretched on and Clinton sharpened her attacks on Obama’s commander-in-chief credentials, he began to counter by questioning her whole approach to foreign policy—the establishment approach. Today, Obama calls not only for direct negotiations with leaders of rogue states, but also for an American commitment to eventual global nuclear disarmament (in part to reinvigorate nonproliferation efforts); a substantial rebalancing of American military priorities toward Afghanistan (and away from Iraq); a softening of the embargo on Cuba; and a widening of the current, single-minded focus on democracy promotion to include other development goals that might more effectively prevent terrorist recruitment. Many think that there’s little difference between the Democrats on policy grounds. That may once have been true, but over time—and largely in response to Clinton’s barbs—Obama’s foreign-policy approach has evolved into something substantially different from either Clinton’s or McCain’s."

The Guardian's Jonathan Steele is less hopeful. He sees potential in some of Obama's unconventional views listed above, and his approach toward viewing the United States as the rest of the world does. But he finds retreat in Obama's positions on Iran and Israel of late: "So the big questions remain: does Obama really want to change US foreign policy and can he, if he does? Having a black person in the Oval Office, and especially one with an understanding of US imperialism, would have a colossal international impact in itself. But would this merely result in even greater disappointment once the months go by and US policy stays the same? In my kishkas I feel Obama is our best hope. In my mind I prepare for business as usual."
 
 
 
Tim Starks 14.05.2008, 22:48 # 0 Comments
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  13.05.2008  
     
 
Obama's Israel Views -- Better With The Left, Bad With The Right
 
  Barack Obama's tour to win the hearts of Jewish voters has had the intended effect with some -- approval. It has had the opposite effect with people he never had a chance of winning over -- condemnation. The rest? That may yet take time to sort out.

Obama won over the editor of The New Republic, a hawkish but predominantly moderate Democratic publication. That editor, Marty Peretz, is among the "more vocal U.S. backers of Israel" I talked about yesterday. He won over Jeffrey Goldberg, the interviewer.

Those on the right? They pounced on what they could, which many dubbed dishonest. At the very minimum, conservatives didn't give Obama the benefit of the doubt. In one sense, what those on the right say about Obama and Israel doesn't matter much, because they aren't the people he hoped to convince. But if their interpretation makes it into the broader debate, it might be able to poison the well for the larger audience Obama does want to reach.

It is those voters we haven't heard from much -- most of the response thus far has been from opinion-makers on one side or the other. Again, Obama's potential problems with Jews may be overstated and based more, as I said yesterday, on the fact that the Democratic race remains unsettled. One key Jewish supporter of Obama told the New York Times that his poll numbers, already climbing with Jews, would assuredly continue to inch up after Obama's nomination is locked up.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 13.05.2008, 23:02 # 2 Comments
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  12.05.2008  
     
 
Obama, Israel
 
  Barack Obama has been having a devil of a time with some of the United States' more vocal backers of Israel, who have been critical of him for, among other things, his willingness to have talks with the president of Iran, who has been very threatening toward the Jewish state. "Some of the United States' more vocal backers of Israel" is not necessarily the same as "Jewish voters," as this writer points out. But there's sufficient overlap to make one wonder about this poll, which shows that Jews back Obama over Republican John McCain but not as overwhelmingly as they did the 2004 Democratic candidate, John Kerry. Whether that is because of the problem Obama is having with his Israel position or something else -- like the still-unsettled Democratic primary, where voters are divided between Obama and Hillary Clinton -- is unclear.

Still, Obama tried to spotlight his commitment to Israel and affinity with Jews in this interview with The Atlantic. (The interviewer wrote a very interesting piece, which he linked to in the interview with Obama, about the "existential dread" in Israel these days.) Obama's general commitment is fairly standard for American politicians. To put it another way, as this writer did, being "pro-Israel" is not much different than being "pro-food" among U.S. pols. If his goal was to put questions about his views to rest, the interview probably didn't do the trick by itself; this writer, admittedly not Obama's target audience because he writes for a conservative publication, still has plenty. But Politico's Ben Smith, who writes for a non-partisan publication, also noticed Obama was trying to walk a bit of a tightrope. It's difficult political terrain Obama is traversing here.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 12.05.2008, 22:58 # 1 Comment
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  12.05.2008  
     
 
No Matter Who Wins: No More Guantanamo Bay
 
  The Boston Globe penned this thoughtful piece about each of the remaining candidates' stance on Guantanamo Bay. All three have said they want to close it.

There are subtle differences between all three candidates on the issue, and Republican John McCain has left the door open to some Guantanamo Bay-like replacement. But his position is at odds with President Bush -- even though administration officials have talked of closing the facility eventually -- something that could help McCain make the case that his administration will not "a third term for Bush," as Democrats have been trying to convince voters.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 12.05.2008, 05:45 # 0 Comments
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  10.05.2008  
     
 
A Costly Mistake On Hamas
 
  Pretend that you're an adviser to the Barack Obama campaign. A Hamas leader speaks complimentary words about your candidate. The Republican candidate, John McCain, however faulty the logic, makes a point of associating your candidate with Hamas because of the leader's remarks. Other Republicans, meanwhile, try to tie Obama to former president Jimmy Carter's meetings with Hamas. Obama's position has always been that those meetings were a bad idea. Do you, as an adviser to the Obama campaign, then proceed to meet with Hamas yourself?

One such adviser, Robert Malley, did. He either left or was fired from the campaign because of it. Now, it may be that he is but one of "hundreds" of informal advisers, as the Obama campaign stated. It may be, in the end, a tempest in a teapot. But this has been a sensitive issue in the campaign, and every little bit of tempest adds ammo to the attack.

Malley said the Obama camp knew generally about his meetings with "all kinds of people" in his job at a conflict-resolution think tank, but may not have known about the meetings with Hamas specifically. But shouldn't Malley have mentioned it to them? Or, is the fault of Obama's "inexperience," as a McCain spokesperson said?
 
 
 
Tim Starks 10.05.2008, 18:19 # 0 Comments
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  10.05.2008  
     
 
An International Affairs VP?
 
  Mining a theme from a previous post, we're starting to get in the ballpark in this presidential race where talk turns to who will serve in the next administration. Noteworthy in this talk? The question of whether the Democratic nominee will pick someone as his or her running mate who has a foreign policy or national security background.

Speculation is speculation, of course, and McClatchy clearly subscribes to "truth in labeling" with the headline on this story, about who Barack Obama might choose as his vice president. But it's informed speculation -- it quotes both party officials and outside experts. Four of the eight people on McClatchy's have resumes that feature national security or foreign policy experience. They are Senator Joe Biden, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman (whose potential I already discussed here); retired Army General and former NATO commander Wesley Clark; former Governor Bill Richardson; and Senator Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary. Each have pluses and minuses separate from their international or security credentials, and other factors may play into the selection; the list also includes four minorities.

Foreign policy doesn't figure as heavily into the speculation on the Republican side about who might run alongside John McCain. Of the 32 hypothetical candidates picked by CQ, fewer than 10 can be said to offer international credentials as one of their main selling points.

Some Democrats, such as these, may be feeling confident that they can win the argument over national security in the general election. But it's clear to others that they might want a little insurance.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 10.05.2008, 06:21 # 1 Comment
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  08.05.2008  
     
 
The Pivot To The General Election
 
  Usually by now in the United States, the presidential campaign would have spawned a great number of articles like this one: "An in-tray full of foreign policy problems," reads the headline, and the author lays out any number of challenges ahead for the candidate who wins the race. That is: articles that spell out, issue by issue, the topics that the next president will have to address, what each candidate might do with those issues and who might help them do it.

The prolonged Democratic primary has prevented a good number of them -- it has been the focus of almost all of the reportorial energy out there. But I think they're about to start flowing after yesterday's setbacks for Hillary Clinton. Today came this one, about who might serve in a Barack Obama cabinet, as well as a John McCain cabinet, and, oh, by the way, just in case, a Clinton cabinet.

I expect to contribute my share of those kind of pieces at Congressional Quarterly, which I will link here when appropriate. This week, I wrote the cover story for CQ Weekly, about the dramatic reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community. I found that many experts, whether they were in favor of it or not, found it to be a disappointment. What progress has been made, they said, has not been so much because of the reorganization but because of the personalities in all of the top jobs now. Unfortunately, few experts are hopeful that the cooperation in place now would last into the next administration, when Obama, McCain, or, remotely, Clinton take office. It's going to take a concentrated effort -- or as one former Sept. 11 commissioner noted, leadership to go back to Congress and change the flaws in the 2004 law that created the reorganization -- to make more progress. U.S. intelligence obviously plays a major role in its foreign policy, from the Iraq War to the Syria/North Korea situation to all the rest.

(In a rare bit of convergence, it turns out that an entry that I did for a boxing blog has an dual U.S. presidential/international affairs angle -- former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is trying to help former heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko become mayor of Kiev, Ukraine. You can read it here. It's not related to the topic of this blog entry, but if I'm going to cross-promote, I might as well REALLY cross-promote.)
 
 
 
Tim Starks 08.05.2008, 03:22 # 0 Comments
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  07.05.2008  
     
 
U.S. Presidential Campaign "News Of The Weird," African Edition
 
  As of this writing, the votes in North Carolina and Indiana are still rolling in, so we won't find out for a day or two whether the aforementioned foreign policy differences between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were influential to the outcome. The networks are calling North Carolina for Obama and Indiana for Clinton, and early exit polls, while notoriously unreliable, suggest the economy was central.

But worlds away in recent weeks, the race itself was having a huge impact.

In Nigeria, rebels were considering a ceasefire because of an appeal from Obama. The best part about this? Until after the news broke, Obama hadn't urged a ceasefire anytime recently.

Nigeria is not the only African country that seems to be paying very close attention to the Democratic primary. A couple weeks ago, this news surfaced: In Kenya, "Hillary" and "Barack" are now two of the most popular baby names. (Hat tip to Foreign Policy.)

What this all means, I won't even try to guess. But it's awfully interesting.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 07.05.2008, 01:33 # 0 Comments
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  06.05.2008  
     
 
Foreign Policy Once Again Front And Center At A Crucial Moment In The Democratic Primary
 
  Whether the general election this year turns on foreign policy issues, as it did in 2004, we cannot know now.

But in the Democratic primary, at least for now, foreign policy is once again taking on a prominent role at a key moment, in the waning days before Tuesday's votes in North Carolina and Indiana. It is an issue where voters can decide on policy differences, as opposed to more trivial matters. Consider this writer's viewpoint, rendered after watching separate television appearances by the candidates: "In a primary race where the differences between the two candidates are sometimes hard to discern, there were two vivid ones on display Sunday morning as Barack Obama did Meet the Press and Hillary Clinton did This Week in a town hall setting in Indiana. The first is temperamental... Second, their foreign policy perspectives are markedly different. From his point of view, threatening Iran is 'George Bush foreign policy.' From hers, it's making clear to our most menacing adversary that we mean business. Yes, they have merged views on Iraq (if you take them at their word), but the similarity ends there." [Commentary magazine, because it is thought of as a neoconservative publication, has a tint of ideology to its other characterizations of the candidates in the same blog entry.]

Those foreign policy differences have been prominently on display, with most headlines in the last couple days reading something like this one: "Clinton and Obama spar on gas tax and Iran policy." Iran is, by definition, a foreign policy story. The gas tax feud, because of the questions it raises about U.S. energy policy and its relation to overseas oil -- and because of less-covered components of Clinton's plan -- is also heavily a foreign policy story.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 06.05.2008, 02:42 # 0 Comments
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  04.05.2008  
     
 
McCain Foreign Policy Concepts That Europe May Undo
 
  Republican presidential nominee has proposed two foreign policy ideas that are certainly bold, and, in the words of some, "radical." One of them is his League of Democracies, which I touched on here. Another is his plan to ejected Russia from the G-8.

Whatever the value of these two proposals -- both have more detractors than fans, it seems -- they are both marked by one thing: They appear to be impossible. They both rely on foreign cooperation that, in the current environment, at least, doesn't appear to be in abundance.

McClatchy's Washington bureau has examined the proposal to eject Russia from the G-8. The main problem, they found, is that the G-7 won't let him. "'In Europe, there's very little support . . . for a policy like that,' said Stephen Larrabee, an expert on Europe and Russia at the RAND think tank. 'It's too late in the game to try and oust Russia.'"

The lack of interest in Europe so far for a League of Democracies, too, makes the idea for that less feasible.

To their credit, the McCain foreign policy team recognizes the difficulty of the G-8 idea. "Randy Scheunemann, the foreign-policy director for McCain's campaign, acknowledged that 'there would be very vigorous discussion' within the G-8 of a proposal to exclude Russia. He said Russia was 'on a different political and economic trajectory' when it joined the group a decade ago, and he said it's unlikely that the same invitation would be extended today."

In some ways, the value of the Russia proposal may be separate from whether it's feasible. The goal may have more to do with putting pressure on Russia. But that's a separate question that will require more examination as the campaign goes on.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 04.05.2008, 17:41 # 0 Comments
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  03.05.2008  
     
 
Whether Obama And Clinton Want European-Style Health Care
 
  New York Times fact check of John McCain claims says, "No."

(And, according to FactCheck.org, McCain's complaint about Democrat groups saying he's in favor of a 100-year war in Iraq -- mentioned in the Times piece -- is valid.)

 
 
 
Tim Starks 03.05.2008, 04:33 # 0 Comments
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  02.05.2008  
     
 
McCain As Neocon, Realist, Multilateralist, Unilateralist
 
  If there is any use in political labels at all, one is in their predictive power. A self-declared foreign policy "realist" -- or someone who has consistently behaved as one -- is going to be pretty cautious about invading Iraq to begin with, as Colin Powell was. A foreign policy "neoconservative" is going to think more about the ideals of the movement and achieving them by invading Iraq, as Paul Wolfowitz did.

John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, is playing havoc with a variety of labels that might be applied to his foreign policy. I've already addressed one: whether McCain is a "true" foreign policy conservative. But the last several weeks have brought scrutiny of what labels best fit his foreign policy views. I won't try to solve it, like I did last time. I'll just put the scrutiny on display, as food for thought, for now. (If you're not hungry, pretend it's a fun multiple choice game.)

Is McCain a realist, a neocon or would he try to be both?

Is he a multilateralist or unilateralist?

Does his proposal for a League of Democracies reflect the viewpoint of a liberal internationalist or neoconservative, or both? (If it still matters.)
 
 
 
Tim Starks 02.05.2008, 05:01 # 1 Comment
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  01.05.2008  
     
 
Two Quick Addenda: Gas Prices, Iran
 
  --Yesterday, I dipped into one less-covered portion of Hillary Clinton’s gas price plan that had an international component. With gas prices still heavily in the news, why not discuss another?

This part of the plan would allow OPEC members to be sued under U.S. antitrust law. Like her proposal to file a complaint to the WTO about OPEC, this one has also been around before. Unlike the complaint proposal, the antitrust proposal has not been greeted so skeptically. At first, in 2000, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), it had little support. It had a catchy name, "NOPEC," but little else. But by last year, the proposal from Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, had generated some momentum. The White House had threatened to veto it, but the House voted to approve it by a wide, veto-proof margin, and the Senate added it to a larger energy bill by a similarly wide margin. Clinton and Barack Obama both voted for it. However, it was left out of the final energy bill sent to President Bush, presumably because of the White House veto threat, but the reason, whatever it is, has gone unreported.

The problem with suing OPEC had been thus, per the Journal: "Under existing U.S. court opinions, the dozen members of the oil cartel act as sovereign governments when they limit oil supplies and are thus immune from U.S. antitrust laws. Under U.S. law, a sovereign can't be sued without its consent. NOPEC would fix that by allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for price fixing in U.S. courts under the Sherman Act, and to seize foreign-owned property in the U.S. to pay for any resulting damages."

The White House opposed the bill on the grounds that foreign governments might retaliate by cutting back on oil shipments, something that an OPEC official appeared to suggest would happen. Antitrust experts quoted by the Journal differed on whether that would happen, with one suggesting it would give the administration leverage to put pressure on OPEC.

--A couple days ago, I mentioned that, substantively, both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s positions on Iran appeared to be the same, only the rhetoric was different. It must be said that in the world of foreign affairs, different rhetoric IS different policy.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 01.05.2008, 01:50 # 0 Comments
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