Obama Keeping Robert Gates As Defense Secretary Has Plenty Going For It
  With the idea of Barack Obama keeping on Robert Gates as Defense secretary floating around for weeks, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Instead, the objections from liberal thinkers continue to be rather tepid.

Backers of the notion of keeping Gates aboard observe that he may work in a Republican administration, but he and Obama have a great deal in common. They have considerable overlap in their view of Iraq, and around the same time President Bush was hinting that Obama was an "appeaser" for being willing to talk with Iran, Gates was advocating talks with Iran. Although Gates was also a critic of the Iraq War and as a member of the Iraq Study Group called for the eventual removal of troops in a fashion similar to the one Obama has supported, he is thought by most to being about as good a job managing a difficult war as one can. A top Obama foreign policy adviser has openly suggested Gates would be a good fit in a Democratic administration. Gates has long been as popular as Republicans get with Democrats, and in his biography, he had tons of praise for the foreign policy of President Jimmy Carter. If Obama wants to pick a Republican to serve in his administration and have a bipartisan cabinet, Gates is as suitable a candidate as remains with the Bush team.

A number of moderate Democrats like Time's Joe Klein or this writer for the New Republic are warm to keeping Gates for all those reasons. They don't, though, often reflect the views of the broader party. So where are the critics of keeping Gates? Matthew Yglesias writes that the major problem with keeping Gates is that, well, he's a Republican: "It's desperately important for the Democratic Party's leaders to avoid re-enforcing the idea that Democrats can't run national security." The explanation of his objection is not exactly vociferous. Likewise, you'd think an article in the liberal magazine The Nation entitled "Gates to Join Obama? Uh-Oh" would have more negative to say. Instead, the author practically makes the case for Obama keeping Gates.

Really, with some party moderates high on keeping Gates, with a key Obama adviser speaking well of him and only mild objections from the left, there's much to making the idea a reality. The biggest problem may be Gates himself. Per the L.A. Times: "When asked at a recent news conference if he would stay on after the end of the Bush administration, he replied: 'The circumstances under which I would do that are inconceivable to me.' Gates frequently mentions a clock he carries to count down the minutes until he can return home to his manse on a lake outside Seattle."
Tim Starks 30.06.2008, 23:50 # 2 Comments
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McCain's Dilemma: Whether To Talk About National Security Or The Economy
  In my last post, I wrote about whether John McCain or Barack Obama has the advantage on foreign policy in the 2008 presidential campaign, with McCain being thought of as having the upper hand by most but with some challenging that; as it happens, a lot of influential Republicans would prefer that McCain not emphasize his national security experience so much in a year when the economy is foremost on voters' minds.

The L.A. Times writes: "Even more puzzling to observers is McCain's emphasis on national security and foreign affairs -- Saturday he met with the leaders of Iraq and the Philippines -- at a time when domestic matters have surged to the fore of voter concerns." Some of those observers, in fact, include two of the top campaign officials for President Bush and John Kerry in 2004. "You can't shoehorn in an issue the American people aren't focused on every day at their kitchen table," Matthew Dowd, who ran Bush's campaign, told the Times.

The problem, of course, is that national security is one area where the polls, at least, suggest McCain might have an edge. On the economy, Obama holds an edge.

What McCain has done in a few recent instances may be the blueprint for merging the two, with his foreign policy experience rubbing off on some domestic issues. Energy, immigration and trade all have foreign policy elements, and he's focused his attention on all three of late. What's problematic for McCain, though, is that in all three of those cases, he holds positions that divide either his Republican base or moderates who will be key to his chances or both.

When the economy's gone south, the president's party always suffers in an election year. Maybe McCain could benefit from focusing on the economy a little more than he has, but McCain's between a rock and a hard place here. He may just have to pick the national security hard place and stick to it. As pollster Floyd Ciruli tells the times: "If people are voting on economics, they're going to vote Democratic... To win, Republicans have to focus this election on national security."
Tim Starks 29.06.2008, 14:42 # 0 Comments
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The Foreign Policy Advantage: McCain Or Obama?
  Two pieces Friday -- here and here -- conclude that Barack Obama, not John McCain, might have the advantage on foreign policy. It's an interesting idea. I wonder if the Obama campaign has the same confidence?

The arguments for Obama have floated around all campaign long, but sometimes good journalism is about putting the case all in one place. The case is as follows: The public is unhappy with the Iraq War. Advantage, Obama. The idea of war with Iran is unpalatable. Advantage, Obama. In other areas, it's something of a wash. The public is tired of all things Bush administration, so any continuation of his policies comes with a taint; and yet, the public trusts McCain more on terrorism than it does Obama. Obama may criticize hawkish policies, but he has enough of his own to make it hard to paint him as one dimensional; his position on Afghanistan, for instance, is more hawkish than McCain's. And making matters more difficult for McCain is an apparent philosophical divide within his camp. In the Reuters piece, an anonymous campaign aide even says that McCain no longer stands behind his controversial position that Russia should be kicked out of the G-8, one of the most hawkish positions he holds. It no longer "reflects where he is right now," the aide said.

Then there's the advantage of this being 2008. Per the final paragraph of the Free Press piece: "'The reason Obama has a decent chance of winning the foreign policy debate is Americans are not nearly as scared today as they have been at other moments,' said Peter Beinart, a foreign policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'That had a lot of resonance in 2002 and 2004. It has less resonance today.'"

That's what makes Obama's moves to the center on foreign policy of late all the more fascinating. There's been a huge divide of late among big-name liberal thinkers in particular about Obama's reversal on an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Obama has said he supports the new bill, also backed by the Bush administration. MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann praised Obama for supporting the bill, saying it proves he will stand up to his party's liberal wing" "Seriously, there is little in the polls to suggest McCain has anything to run with other than terror . . . . So why hand them a brick to hit him with -- Obama Voted Against FISA -- if voting Aye enhances his chances of getting himself his own Attorney General to prosecute FISA." Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald counter-argues: "That's the behavior which Obama has repeatedly vowed to reject, and it's that precise mentality that has to be extinguished, not perpetuated."

It's impossible to say whether Obama's shift on FISA comes from a sincere change of heart or a political one. But his trend of moving to the center on foreign policy once the primary ended does hint at the possibility that the Obama campaign may have doubts that his positions are the politically stronger ones.
Tim Starks 28.06.2008, 02:35 # 1 Comment
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While McCain And Obama Fight Over Nuclear Power, France Relaxes And Enjoys It
  France is usually a dirty word on the U.S. campaign trail, but does America's frenemy offer any lessons for the two presidential candidates on a subject over which the two have been feuding this week? John McCain sees nuclear power plants as a path to energy independence and clean air. Barack Obama sees potential in it, but worries about safety and how to dispose of nuclear waste. France, meanwhile, as the country most reliant on nuclear power, likes where it gets its electricity for all the reasons McCain is touting the atom, and doesn't fret about the things Obama does.

America gets something like 20 percent of its energy from nuclear plants, compared to nearly all of it in France. This excellent series extensively documents the effort in the U.S. to steer U.S. energy policy toward nuclear power. It's got a little momentum, and would get some more under McCain, who wants to construct 45 more reactors by 2030; Obama has aptly been described as "lukewarm" about it. But the problems with popularizing nuclear energy here have been many-fold. Some of them are fairly unique to the U.S., like the political winds against storage of nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain taking a strong turn in 2007, when Harry Reid, D-Nev., became the Senate Majority Leader, a position from which he can exert considerable influence. The U.S. experience with Three Mile Island has no comparison in France, and while anti-nuclear activists exist in both countries, they appear to have been more successful pleading their case in America.

This PBS piece explains that France has its own unique cultural reasons for embracing nuclear power, including a stronger-than-usual desire to be independent of the Middle East (or anyone else) and an affinity for large technology projects. In some ways, America has both, too. But perhaps the biggest difference is that the federal government has relentlessly sold the French public on the value of nuclear power. Wrote the PBS producer of his tour through Civaux, cite of a nuclear plant under construction: "The nuclear plant has brought jobs and prosperity to the area. Nobody I spoke to, nobody, expressed any fear."

The most remarkable aspect of this is that France overcame resistance to storage of nuclear waste. How did the government do this? By convincing the populace that waste wouldn't be permanently buried and stored -- it would be "stocked," the major difference being that the latter emphasizes the waste would be detoxified later down the road. Tied into the plan was a commitment for scientists to work on that problem.

Could something like that work in the U.S.? Perhaps, but it would take a monumental public relations campaign like France's, or bigger. The policy approach would be a difficult sell. France's policy is, in essence, "Let's keep enjoying the fruits of nuclear power, and worry about this whole nuclear waste thing another day." You could argue that's America's energy policy, too, but with oil. The difference is that nuclear power is not as ingrained to the American lifestyle as it is in France, so the momentum in the U.S. has been to keep exploiting the thing that is and fear the new problems that might come with adapting to something else.
Tim Starks 27.06.2008, 02:36 # 4 Comments
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A Good Read On Obama Foreign Policy Shifts To The Center
  Referring people to the Wall Street Journal is a little like suggesting they check out this little movie called The Wizard of Oz -- odds are good they've already seen it. But this piece does a great job of tracking a variety of positions on which Democrat Barack Obama has shifted to the middle, including a number of key foreign policy stances, so I recommend everyone to it anyway. Besides, it ran on A8. Maybe fewer people saw it because of that.

The piece starts with Obama's change of heart about whether he would support any bill rewriting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that contains retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies. I examined the subject in-depth here, and it remains the biggest issue on which Obama's position changed dramatically since becoming the presumptive nominee.

But the Journal collected some other good examples of Obama shifts, too, among them his positions on Iraq, Iran and Israel. There's a little domestic policy stuff in there, too -- if that's your kind of thing.
Tim Starks 24.06.2008, 23:20 # 1 Comment
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Fewer Nukes In Europe Likely Under Both Obama And McCain
  A new U.S. report on lax safety standards for nuclear weapons stored in Europe has Germany's parties on the left calling for their removal, but it may be a moot point. The next president of the United States was likely to answer their call before it even was made.

As the International Herald Tribune points out, just last month, Republican John McCain said that "in close consultation with our allies, I would like to explore ways we and Russia can reduce - and hopefully eliminate - deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe."

Democrat Barack Obama's position on the precise issue of nuclear weapons in Europe was harder to discern, but one can infer that since 1. he wants to reduce the overall U.S. stockpile and 2. eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons entirely, he would favor the removal of nukes from the continent.

So that's that. Maybe there's some value in it politically to the Social Democrats and other opposition parties in Germany to make the call they did, as the IHT suggests; maybe, that same group is aware of the difference between campaign goals and presidential policy and this puts pressure on Obama and McCain some how to stand firm in their position. But everyone's on the same page with this one, post-Bush administration.
Tim Starks 24.06.2008, 00:55 # 0 Comments
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A Pivot To The Middle For Obama On Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
  Barack Obama made a move to the middle in the first major foreign policy-related test of how he will pivot from primary to general election mode comes next week, expressing support for an overhaul of electronic surveillance rules that the administration favors but that the left despises. In doing so, he reversed a position he held just months ago, and angered many on the left of his party.

Obama was silent for a couple days on the new legislation. Politically, it's easy to see why: No matter which way he votes on the bill, he is going to catch hell. So sensitive is the matter that he even caught hell for not speaking up. Liberal bloggers had been pounding him, casting him as perhaps their only hope for stopping the bill.

During the primary, Obama voted against an earlier version of the bill, with his campaign saying that he was particularly concerned about granting retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies who are being sued for their alleged role in the president's warrantless surveillance program. The new version of the bill would almost certainly result in the same thing, but in a more roundabout fashion. Obama says he opposes that part of the bill, but it's hard to read his support of the overall legislation as anything other than a stark reversal, since he once said he would support a filibuster of any legislation that provides retroactive legal immunity.

Obama could have angered some moderates by voting against the bill, and given John McCain a target for more national security-related attacks. It is not clear how the electronic surveillance issue will play out in the general election; Republican attacks against Democrats who voted against the Bush administration's position in 2006 did not prove effective. It also may not register with voters who are more preoccupied with the Iraq War and gas prices. But Democrats remain wary, after decades of being cast by Republicans as weak on national security, of stepping into any traps. If that trap is going to ensnare Obama, it would be here, in the general election, instead of during primary season.

One of the things, however, that has marked the Obama campaign is a certain willingness to stand firm on a national security-related position even if Republicans are likely to attack because of that position. It may be that other factors were at play here in Obama reversing that practice -- like the fact that as president, he might benefit from the enhanced spying authority in the bill, or the fact that congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had backed the new bill, forcing him to think about party unity or being labeled as more extreme than the San Francisco Democrat. No matter the motive, the pivot is extremely noteworthy.
Tim Starks 21.06.2008, 18:19 # 8 Comments
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Giuliani Levels, Then Draws, National Security Fire For McCain
  Rudy Giuliani stepped back into presidential politics Wednesday to boost John McCain's national security-based attacks on Barack Obama, but got an earful from the media, Democrats and bloggers when he made negative remarks about Obama's views that were similar his own views at one time -- and about stances that put him at odds with McCain.

What's fair is fair. If, when Hillary Clinton sticks up for Obama, the Republicans jump all over both of them, they should expect the same back. The most compelling material dredged up on Giuliani is that he criticized Obama for his laudatory remarks about the 1993 World Trade Center case, but Giuliani himself had praised the same convictions for the same reasons back in 1994.

Then, of course, there's the matter of previous Republican primary sniping between McCain and Giuliani. McCain criticized Giuliani for having negligible national security experience -- the very attack he's leveled at Obama. And Giuliani and McCain likewise fought over the legality of interrogation techniques back then, a noteworthy point because it mixes up the message Giuliani was trying to send on behalf of McCain Wednesday about legal issues in the "war on terror."

As I wrote about with Clinton vs. Obama, the issue of Guiliani vs. himself and Giuliani vs. McCain probably won't get the same attention upon subsequent Giuliani forays back into a political campaign, since memories fade. But Wednesday? They were still pretty fresh.
Tim Starks 19.06.2008, 03:20 # 3 Comments
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Meet Obama's Foreign Policy Team... Kind Of
  These two pieces in the Tuesday editions of the Wall Street Journal and Hartford Courant took a look at the Middle East foreign policy team of Barack Obama, but the details are disappointingly short. We're given names, but little information on where they've stood in the past on issues, how they're hashing out any differences they have behind the scenes of a campaign that has bucked some conventional foreign policy wisdom, etc. So far, the reporting on the behind-the-scenes struggle in the John McCain campaign has been both more interesting and contained more information, in particular on the tug-of-war between foreign policy pragmatists and neocons.

The Journal uses its profile to delve into some of the well-worn arguments and counter-arguments about meeting with enemy leaders, with its most telling details being about the group's influence on Obama's speech to AIPAC... but there's little examination of what some saw as a shift back toward more mainstream foreign policy concepts. The Courant piece -- actually a column, unlike the Journal's news piece -- at least asks a question about whether his group of advisers is sufficiently seasoned. But it doesn't come up with an answer, and may be missing the point. Wouldn't Obama boast that his advisers' lack of experience is a good thing, since he argues that what is needed is a fresh start and new approaches? An examination of the pros and cons of an experienced foreign policy team vs. a fresh-faced one with historical specifics would make for enriching reading, especially since that goes to the crux of one of the major Obama-McCain arguments over which of them to trust on foreign policy.

At least we know this: One of Obama's foreign policy advisers says everything we need to know about national security, we can learn from Winnie the Pooh. This strikes me as exactly the kind of thing that Republicans might jump on, regardless of whether the adviser's point is sound or harmlessly anecdotal. If they don't, I'll be surprised. It seems Democrats often forget how eager Republicans are to portray them as soft on terrorism, weak on national defense and the rest.
Tim Starks 17.06.2008, 22:16 # 0 Comments
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Free Trade As A Mechanism For Lowering International Standards To The United States' Level
  It wasn't so long ago -- 2004, actually -- that Democratic presidential candidates like Howard Dean only supported free trade agreements if the country on the other end of the deal raised its environmental and labor standards to match ours. But from the way Barack Obama has been talking lately, he will only support expanding trade with South Korea if it LOWERS its safety and environmental standards.

Set aside the question of whether South Korea's beef with our beef safety standards is a product of legitimate concern or nationalism or both. There are experts who think their concerns are rational, and experts who think their concerns are paranoid. Although Obama claims our standards are higher than South Korea's, the New York Times fact check linked above concludes that the truth remains that if South Korea adjusts to American standards in this case, it will be lowering those standards.

Likewise for South Korea's automobile size-related tax. On Monday, Obama complained about the imbalance in car imports and exports between the U.S. and South Korea. But the reason for their tax is at least in part because of environmental standards.
Tim Starks 17.06.2008, 03:27 # 0 Comments
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Obama's Coming To A Country Near You
  How's this for a fascinating notion: Barack Obama is considering going on an overseas tour during his presidential campaign.

Presidents have sometimes left the country during presidential campaigns. McCain is scheduled to go to Canada next week. But not since I've been following presidential campaigns have I heard of anyone doing a full-on tour. McClatchy, linked above, has a good take on on the pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it could offer a boost to his foreign policy credentials, perhaps, and a rebuff of John McCain's criticism about Obama not having visited Iraq since 2006. On the minus side, he'd have to make some tough decisions about where to visit and how.

One note left out of the McClatchy story: It might be hard for Obama to get an unvarnished view of Iraq should he go there. There'd have to be a heavy security presence, and lawmakers on previous trips -- including McCain -- have sometimes confused life inside that particular bubble with what the rest of Iraq is like. That's assuming the Secret Service would even allow it; one presidential candidate visiting instead of both -- as McCain once offered -- might be more feasible.

This overseas tour is an ambitious, risky concept. The trip may not happen; an Obama adviser would only go so far as to say "it's on the table," in effect. But it fits in with an Obama campaign theme that he could restore American esteem around the world, a notion that may not have mattered much in previous elections, but could be something voters take into account this go-round, with the United States increasingly disliked around so much of the world and with some Americans sensing the country has lost its leadership role. A positive reception abroad would stand to bolster his case.
Tim Starks 14.06.2008, 20:21 # 1 Comment
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And A Third Note On Detention Policy: What Would The Candidates Do?
  The Washington Post Friday morning raises one more interesting point -- besides those previously raised by Michael and myself -- about the Supreme Court ruling on the Bush administration's detention policies and how it affects the presidential candidates.

Buried deep in the Post's analysis is this:
"[President] Bush has long expressed a desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and his administration has moved in recent years to return large numbers of detainees to their home countries. But of the 270 still detained there, about half are considered too dangerous to release, even though the government does not have enough evidence to charge them -- presenting a serious dilemma to presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, both of whom have promised to shut down the facility if elected. In commenting on the Supreme Court case yesterday, neither candidate offered a detailed prescription for how he would fulfill his pledge."

McCain did, on Friday, suggest Congress should adopt legislation to address the court decision. That would, if successful and constructed properly, mean McCain would avoid having to deal with "a detailed prescription" for dealing with that segment of potentially dangerous detainees. But given that the court has now repeatedly struck down restrictive policies on this front, it may only be successful until that legislation was scrutinized by the Supreme Court again. And getting the legislation through what is expected to be a Democratic-controlled Congress doesn't sound easy. McCain also left the door open to eventually supporting a constitutional amendment narrowing habeas corpus rights. Such an amendment would have a difficult time getting enacted, to say the least, but it would at least avoid the courts.

Because of the unlikelihood of any of McCain's proposals coming to fruition, in the end, McCain is headed in the same direction as Obama -- in need of a "detailed prescription for how he would fulfill his pledge."
Tim Starks 14.06.2008, 03:55 # 0 Comments
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Detention Ruling Poses Opportunities, Risks For McCain, Obama
  Today's Supreme Court ruling on the detention of terror suspects prompted reaction from both the candidates. The reaction of each points to how they'll discuss the issue in the general election, as Ben Smith suggests. Let's delve into that.

Voters overall have been fairly split on the issue of Guantanamo Bay, although none of the polls here, from last year, get into the nitty gritty of what the actual Supreme Court ruling was about.

John McCain, who was the leading voice on the law that the Court overturned in part, has to cater to a couple different constituencies. First, Republican voters have, since Sept. 11, largely endorsed the idea that the president should have flexibility to do most anything to pursue terrorists. McCain's "concern" today that the Court's ruling gives "unlawful combatants" status they don't deserve is red meat for those voters. But independent voters who are attracted to McCain because of his own independent streak are uncertain about Guantanamo. McCain's restatement of his desire to see Guantanamo closed -- which he has indeed expressed in the past -- is for those independents. On that point, McCain is also emphasizing distance between himself officials in the Bush administration who talk about closing Guantanamo eventually but not, like McCain has advocated, "immediately."

Smith gets the politics of the Obama rhetoric right. Emphasizing civil liberties is big for many hardcore liberal voters. It's also big with a smaller swath of independents with a libertarian bent. By emphasizing "bring[ing] terrorists to justice" too, though, Obama is appealing to moderate Democrats and independents who are willing to sacrifice some of their civil liberties (and/or, in this case, those of foreign terror suspects) for an increase in security. And it gives Obama another chance to tie McCain to President Bush, since, on the question of habeas corpus, the two have been in harmony.

With the economy taking center stage, and Iraq and Iran dominating many of the headlines that have a foreign policy twist, the Court's ruling doesn't have the look of an issue that will come up very much in the campaign. But for those crucial independent voters, it could factor into the overall equation, and the wrong answer for each candidate's base could deepen intra-party doubts about both men.
Tim Starks 13.06.2008, 03:33 # 0 Comments
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Clinton Promises Support, But Buttressing Obama On Foreign Policy Will Prove Difficult
  Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech today that she will support Barack Obama on the campaign trail, but tops among the issues where she will find praise for Obama challenging is foreign policy, the area in which the divisions between the two Democrats have been the most stark. Republicans have already begun an effort to haunt Obama with Clinton's remarks during the primary race, and, notably, many of her criticisms they highlighted were on foreign policy -- both because of those divisions and because that's the area where Republicans want to attack Obama, too.

Of course, remarks during heated primary fights have not proven decisive or even particularly influential in subsequent general election battles. It was George H.W. Bush who saddled Ronald Reagan's economic policies with the label "voodoo economics." Scathing though it was, Reagan opponents could not use the term to stop him in 1980. And Bush ended up as Reagan's vice president, the same place Clinton reportedly is angling for with Obama. But at least for the near-term, any time Clinton talks about Obama's foreign policy, reporters are likely to highlight areas where she has criticized Obama in the past and praised John McCain over him. Republicans will try to keep those Clinton criticisms at the forefront.

While the two often staked similar policy stances, they also often fought sharply over each others' records. Although they feuded over their respective past positions on Iraq, their policies going forward were quite alike. On Iran, the two candidates used strikingly different rhetoric despite positions that were very similar at their most basic -- with the exception of whether and how they would meet with leaders of that country and other enemies, but where Obama's position is harder to read these days. On free trade, the two candidates had heated exchanges over who had previously offered the most support for NAFTA. Clinton's criticisms of Obama on those points will be used by GOP opponents to cast him as a flip-flopper on Iraq and free trade, and squishy on Iran and other dictators, for starters.

Clinton and Obama will be able to finesse those feuds to a certain degree, given their basic agreement. The remark that will surely be thrown into their faces the most, though, are comments along these lines from Clinton during the primary campaign: "In this election we need a nominee who can pass the commander-in-chief test. Someone ready on day it defend our country and keep our families safe. We need a president who passes that test. The first and most solemn duty of the president of the United States is to protect and defend our nation. And when there is a crisis and when the phone rings whether it’s 3:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m. In the White House, there is no time for speeches and on the job training. Senator McCain will bring a time of experience to the campaign. I will bring a lifetime of experience and Senator Obama will bring a speech he gave in 2002. I think that is a significant difference. I think since we now know Senator McCain will be the nominee for the party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander in chief threshold. I believe that I have done that and certainly Senator McCain has done that. You will have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy.”

Clinton's remarks today did not touch on Obama's foreign policy in any meaningful way, briefly mentioning the need to get troops out of Iraq, the urgency of conquering global warming, how the world would be different on foreign policy if Democrats had been in charge of late, and a general declaration that Obama has proven he is capable of being president. Carl Bernstein, a Clinton biographer, said on CNN today that Clinton will have to get around to explaining why Obama is suddenly qualified. That will take not just finesse, but an almost total reversal.
Tim Starks 07.06.2008, 18:07 # 0 Comments
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"Uncle Barack's Cabin"
  Let's get meta! This may be the only opportunity of my life to write for a German news website on American politics, from America, about the U.S. reception for a German newspaper's coverage of politics in the United States -- as originally covered by yet another German newspaper. So here goes:

Die Tageszeitung's headline following Barack Obama's clinching primary win reads, "Uncle Barack's Cabin." Spiegel Online poses a question about the headline: "Offensive or satirical?"

This is exactly the kind of thing that, if a U.S. newspaper did it, would lead to all kinds of outrage. But since it's in Germany, the reception here has been more restrained.

The biggest U.S paper to give it any attention so far is USA Today, which asks: "Is German paper's Obama headline racist?" The rest is a rather sober rehashing of the Spiegel article.
The Village Voice finds in the "Uncle Barack's Cabin" headline a certain commendable quality, based on the editor-in-chief's justification of its intended satirical quality and his response of "tough luck" to any readers who don't understand it. Writes the Village Voice: "When's the last time you heard an editor of a major U.S. daily say that?"

And just to close on a meta note, the satirists over at Wonkette do their own satirical take on the Die Tageszeitung headline: "Ha ha, here is some great newspaper from Nazi Germany that comically names the White House 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin,' because a slave may soon call it home."
Tim Starks 05.06.2008, 22:40 # 2 Comments
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Is The Iraq War Now A Boon To McCain?
  On a night when the race took another conclusive step toward becoming a general election campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain spent large swaths of their Tuesday evening speeches focusing on Iraq. But to whose advantage?

The Washington Post's editorial page (hat tip Foreign Policy), which strongly supported the Iraq War, sees ample evidence that Obama will have to shift his Iraq stance. The major reason is the fact that May was the least deadly month of the entire Iraq War, among other security improvements and some of the most optimistic assessments of Bush administration officials yet.

When those details become widely known, it would not be surprising at all to see public opinion polls show a slight favorable shift toward the Iraq War. But it would be surprising to see the Iraq War become popular in any way whatsoever, let alone enough to be of aid to a candidate -- McCain -- whose identity is closely tied to it. Americans love winners, to be sure, and just as surely want success in Iraq. It's just that, after years of lives and treasure consumed for what turned out to be a faulty justification for war, few Americans want to see any more consumed. The proof is in the same polls. Since the surge, the security situation in Iraq has gotten better. And yet, the Iraq War is as unpopular as ever. This question, for an ABC/Washington Post poll, is particularly telling: "All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?" Since the beginning of 2007 through mid-April, the percentage of people who answered "worth it" has not crossed 40, and at last count stood at 34.

What's more, the Obama campaign -- whether ingenuously or sincerely -- has left itself options should Iraq's turn for the better continue. Obama's position, and that of all the Democrats who ran, has always been that he will consider the facts on the ground in deciding when or if to pull out troops. The only thing he's truly committed to is not staying in Iraq for 100 years -- a commitment that plays on a remark McCain made about that span of time and that Democrats have been using out of context. That flexibility will make it easier to mitigate any McCain gains if the war continues to move in a good direction.

McCain has little alternative but to try and capitalize on the improving situation in Iraq. He can't run from Iraq, at least not very much, nor has he really tried. But short of a 100% victory, a ticker tape parade and a sudden transformation of the Middle East because of it, it's hard to see how Iraq in 2008 is a political issue that can hurt Obama.
Tim Starks 05.06.2008, 01:12 # 1 Comment
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Meeting With Iran Is Dangerous... Unless It's Not
  Was there ever previously a major campaign issue where the positions of the candidates were so loaded up with caveats, apparent contradictions and ambiguities the way there has been with the 2008 debate over how and whether the next president should meet with the leaders of enemy countries?

That debate kicked into a higher gear a couple weeks ago when President Bush, in a speech in Israel, made a cloaked allusion to Barack Obama's stance about being willing to meet with the leader of Iran and implied that Obama favored a policy of "appeasement," akin to those who favored negotiating with Adolf Hitler.

Set aside the apparent reversals, or, at best, subtleties in Obama's actual position on meeting with Iranian leaders. As it happens, Bush himself not so long ago indicated he had no problem meeting with leaders of Iran.

According to excerpts from a 2007 interview with Bush by an NBC News war correspondent, Bush said: "We can have meetings. Talking is not the problem. We can talk to Iran. But Iran wants nuclear weapons and I’m not going to let that happen. Not on my watch. We tried to have dialogue with Syria, right after the war, didn’t get much."

That contrasts with Bush's statement in Israel ridiculing those who would "negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along." Around the same time Bush said that in Israel, his Defense secretary was saying of Tehran, "'We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage . . . and then sit down and talk with them,' [Bob] Gates said. 'If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us.'"

Maybe Bush can explain the difference between his two statements, but they are contradictory on their face. So, too, is the apparent "triangulation" by Obama on meeting with controversial foreign leaders at a time when polls suggest its popularity, and John McCain's continued assaults on Obama's position despite its positive reception from voters. But then, the latest twists and turns in this debate are par for the course.
Tim Starks 04.06.2008, 04:16 # 2 Comments
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Candidates Unite On Darfur, But What Next?
  Recently, the three U.S. presidential candidates released a joint statement on Darfur calling the situation there a genocide and blaming the Sudanese government for it, a remarkable bit of cooperation during an election season. Naturally, the candidates won praise for setting aside partisanship on an important issue. But the statement is short on specifics, and what the candidates have proposed separately in the past neglects at least one of the thorniest problems.

All three -- Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama -- have called for a no-fly zone over Darfur, as did President Bush last year. The idea is supported by some Darfur-related advocacy groups, including the Save Darfur Coalition, which spearheaded the tri-candidate letter. But the idea has not been greeted so warmly in parts of Europe. At the European Union, a top official has called it "technically impossible." Others dismiss it for other reasons. For example, the candidates have specifically called for a NATO-backed no-fly zone, which some experts believe could create more problems than it would solve, since the regime might respond by worsening its attacks or cutting off relief. (Interestingly enough, an Obama adviser, Susan Rice, told VOA last year that there should be a "'very short duration ultimatum in which to accept an effective and robust international force with a mandate to protect civilians - or face the threat of the use of military force,' she said. According to Rice, this force should take the form of 'air strikes, targeted at the aircraft, the airfields [of the Sudanese government]. That's exactly what we [the international community through the UN] did in Kosovo, in a far lesser humanitarian crisis. It's striking to me that we aren't even discussing or contemplating that in the context of Darfur.'") All three candidates, as well, have voted for or proposed increases in funding to help improve the situation in Darfur, and there are minor variations in some of their other, smaller, proposals.

But one of the biggest barriers to solving the problem, if not the biggest, is another country entirely. That country is China, since China is buying up much of Sudan's oil, rendering divestment campaigns around the world less effective and making it hard to deal out any economic pressure. Furthermore, with its veto as a member of the U.N. Security Council, China has been an impediment to all manner of international attempts to intervene in Darfur. If the candidates have enunciated anything they would do specifically to convince China to A. get out of the way of international efforts to intervene or B. use its own economic leverage to halt the genocide, they have done so discreetly. All three did support a boycott of the Olympics' opening ceremony as a way of highlighting various controversial China policies. But as with all things Darfur, there is no agreement on whether the best policy on China as it pertains to Darfur is humiliation or incentives. There are some signs that China has gotten skittish about Darfur, but there's little evidence to suggest they've gotten skittish enough about it to force change. Anonymously, Chinese officials have noted that their country is not the only one to support repressive regimes that are rich in oil.

The joint statement from the candidates, and the respective records of each on Darfur, suggests that all three, as president, would be inclined to do more than Bush. Giving attention to the issue at all is part of the solution. But eventually, the candidates -- or, at minimum, the one who wins the White House -- will have to fill in some difficult blanks.
Tim Starks 02.06.2008, 05:13 # 2 Comments
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