29.09.2008  
     
 
Bad Omen: Palin’s Foreign Policy Inexperience Not Making Many Fans, And It Gets Harder Thursday
 
  Generally, Sarah Palin’s lack of national office experience has been catching her heat ever since she took the vice president slot for the GOP, but specifically, it is her lack of foreign policy experience that has drawn the most criticism. Her recent answers on that subject in interviews has really brought about an incredible amount of blowback from unexpected sources – and unless there are some miracle workers in the McCain camp, it’s just going to get worse after Thursday’s debate against foreign policy specialist Joe Biden.

The new criticism from the right is fairly well-documented. But some less partisan analysts have recently loosed their tongues upon Palin, too. Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria called her comments about Russia vis-à-vis Alaska “gibberish,” said they were marked by “absurdity” and said John McCain’s pick of her betrayed that he did not, in this instance, put “country first.” My CQ colleague Jeff Stein offered: “It’s clear now, as if we needed more proof, that Sarah Palin doesn’t have a clue about the world beyond the Bering Straight. Or if she does, she can’t express it.” The Associated Press revisited her Russia remarks, and came up with this: “A stumbling interview with CBS's Katie Couric last week in which Palin equated her state's proximity to Russia with foreign policy experience may have been her defining moment so far.”

Ouch. But that’s just dealing with Couric, who did a good job in the interview but was rather non-confrontational. What’s going to happen when she’s being asked even tougher questions, requiring even greater foreign policy knowledge, and for comparison’s sake, answers to the same questions come from the gaffe-prone, but encyclopedic, brain of Biden?

Maybe it's just that the focus on her mistakes is sharper because she's done so few interviews, as McCain surrogate Mitt Romney theorized. But if she falls short at the debate, it could get very rough from here on out. Here's how serious it is -- George Stephanopoulos of ABC goes so far as to say this: "A major mistake, particularly on foreign policy, would be absolutely fatal to her candidacy."
 
 
 
Tim Starks 29.09.2008, 23:49 # 5 Comments
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  28.09.2008  
     
 
Flip-Flop Allegation: Obama On Missile Defense
 
  The right is calling Barack Obama a flip-flopper after his statement during Friday night’s debate that “I actually believe we need missile defense.” The truth is a little more subtle than any charge of a flagrant flip-flop that took life that evening, but either way, Obama’s position has apparently shifted over time, and his current stance raises some questions.

At one point, anyway, it appeared that Obama opposed missile defense entirely. Back in 2001, he said, according to a quote from a television station that the John McCain campaign rustled up: “I, for example, don't agree with a missile defense system.” That’s the only quote from the interview I’ve been able to find – what he said before or after that, and in what context, is not readily available.

But for as far back as I can discern other than that remark, Obama has primarily taken a skeptical view of missile defense, not a “no way, no how” view of missile defense. Almost all of his statements have indicated he does not oppose missile defense in theory. But he has favored cutting spending on missile defense – “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems,” he said in February – and has opposed deployment of missile defense infrastructure in Europe until certain conditions are met. “The Bush administration has been developing plans to deploy interceptors and radar systems in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of a missile defense system designed to protect against the potential threat of Iranian nuclear armed missiles,” he said in July of last year when the Polish president visited. “If we can responsibly deploy missile defenses that would protect us and our allies we should - but only when the system works. We need to make sure any missile defense system would be effective before deployment. The Bush administration has in the past exaggerated missile defense capabilities and rushed deployments for political purposes.”

Between those two statements lies the following question: Given the billions that have been spent on missile defense so far and that fact that the United States still has no working shield, how will cutting missile defense spending increase the chances of producing a system that works?
 
 
 
Tim Starks 28.09.2008, 21:58 # 11 Comments
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  28.09.2008  
     
 
Kissinger, McCain, Obama And Iran
 
  There were plenty of things to fact check from Friday evening’s presidential debate on foreign policy, but one where the fact-checkers seemed to come down in a couple different directions was Barack Obama’s claim about Henry Kissinger’s views on meeting with Iran.

My reading is that this Marc Ambinder breakdown has it right.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 28.09.2008, 05:58 # 0 Comments
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  26.09.2008  
     
 
Yet More International Affairs Debate Questions With An Economic Twist
 
  It’s still up in the air, this foreign policy debate scheduled for Friday evening between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, owing to McCain’s campaign-suspending maneuver in light of the economic crisis. Yesterday, I shared some questions from Council on Foreign Relations experts on foreign policy that could keep the candidates focused on the topic of the economy, if that’s the primary concern these days. Today, here are some more, from Foreign Policy:

--Should the United States continue its embargo against Cuba?
--Would you be willing to cut farm subsidies to allow the Doha Round of trade negotiations to proceed?
--Do you support the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, which would allow the United States to provide civil nuclear technology and fuel to India, a country that hasn’t signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty?
--How would you balance concerns over human rights and freedom in China with the United States’ growing economic interdependence with that country?

Also today, a liberal interest group distributed to my mailbox and others this interview with economist Joseph Stiglitz, who argues that the war in Iraq “broke the camel’s back” in making our economy worse – higher gas prices, a chain reaction by the Fed, the budget deficit the war exacerbated, etc. There are questions available to both candidates about how much they think the war affected the economy and what they’d do about it.

That I know the answer to some of the above questions (on India, both would answer “yes;” on Cuba, McCain would answer “no” and Obama would answer “just here and there,” a reversal of his previous position of "yes") is beside the point. The point is that there are plenty of joint foreign policy-economy-style questions available, and really, over the last two days, what I've passed along is just the tip of the iceberg.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 26.09.2008, 03:24 # 1 Comment
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  25.09.2008  
     
 
Economy Got You Down? Don't Worry, The Foreign Policy Debate Has It Covered
 
  As of this writing, it’s completely unclear whether there will be a foreign policy-oriented presidential debate Friday night, as previously planned. But if economic woes are the predominant concern, there are plenty of questions for the candidates on the foreign policy front that have an economic angle.

At a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington this week, a group of foreign policy experts offered up the following debate questions along those lines, per ABCNews.com:

--With the United States' power around the world largely built on its economic influence, how does the current U.S. financial market crisis affect U.S. power in the world?
--With the bailouts of Wall Street giants likely to increase the massive U.S. deficit and foreign entities buying up a large chuck of that debt, what do you see as some of the foreign policy consequences of foreign entities buying U.S. debt?
--What's the sustainability of foreign entities investing in the U.S. at a time when the U.S. markets seem to be in so much trouble?
--Do you think that climate change and energy issues should be treated as separate issues? If not, how are they related?

Of the 13 questions ABCNews.com conveyed, four had an economic angle, and they didn’t even get into international trade. And even if these specific questions aren’t asked, it’s hard to imagine that the economic angle on foreign policy won’t be explored. That is, if the debate happens at all.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 25.09.2008, 02:19 # 0 Comments
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  24.09.2008  
     
 
The First Debate Being On Foreign Policy Helps McCain… Correction, Obama
 
  The two candidates began prepping Tuesday for their first debate later this week, on the topic of foreign policy. So clearly that favors John McCain, war veteran, long-time senator, Armed Services Committee guru, right? Except there’s a case to be made that it benefits Barack Obama, too.

The case for McCain is offered by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, here. It goes: “The debate this Friday at Ole Miss presents McCain an opportunity to go on offense. While the nation is focused on its financial future, the two candidates will square off on foreign policy. If McCain has a comfort zone, this is it. The bombing at the U.S. embassy in Yemen on Sept. 17 and the massive hotel bombing in Pakistan on Sept. 20 -- both during the worst week in recent U.S. economic history -- are stark reminders of the dangerous world America inhabits. McCain could still retake control of the conversation.”

The case for Obama is offered by presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, at ABCNews.com. It goes: “As we saw last week Obama has a clear advantage on the economy issues, so if he can diffuse the national security issue, which has been Sen. McCain’s strong suit, then I think going into the home stretch he probably establishes a clear if small advantage overall.” In other words, better to get McCain’s strength out of the way sooner, so Obama can focus on his own strengths when it matters most – just before voters hit the polls.

Smith, it must be noted, offered the case for both Obama and McCain. Which goes to show how easy it is to see both interpretations as plausible.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 24.09.2008, 03:07 # 1 Comment
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  22.09.2008  
     
 
The Politicization And Depoliticization Of The Iran Rally
 
  Both sides are casting blame on the other for the flap over whether Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and/or a representative of Barack Obama’s campaign would attend an anti-Iran rally in New York Monday. That’s fine, because there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Clinton was the original guest, but when organizers learned that Palin would be in New York around the date of the rally, they invited her, too. It is around here that the maneuvering began – liberal critics of inviting Palin saw political motives among organizers in boosting the John McCain-Palin ticket with Jewish voters (not to mention family ties between the two camps), and when Clinton abruptly pulled out of the event following Palin’s invitation, conservative critics savaged her for putting politics ahead of an important protest. The Obama campaign arranged to have a surrogate, Rep. Robert Wexler, attend. But by the time that happened, several liberal-leaning Jewish groups had begun a protest of Palin’s appearance, figuring she would outshine anyone from Obama's campaign other than her vice-presidential equivalent, Joe Biden, and Palin was out.

The fallout was swift. Some of the liberal-leaning groups were pleased when Palin was disinvited, a move the organizers said they were forced to make if they wanted the event to be devoid of politics. A local New York station reported that some unnamed Democrats threatened the organizers' tax exempt status if Palin spoke, infuriating the right. Said one of the groups involved about the whole mess: “Sen. Clinton’s appearance at a rally with Gov. Palin would have sent a strong message to Ahmadinejad and his cronies – that Americans understand the threat and stand together against it. Instead we have divided ourselves in front of it." Clearly the rally organizers did not consider all the ramifications of inviting a former Democratic presidential candidate and the Republican vice presidential candidate to their event in the stretch run of a heated campaign. But given how much Democrats have made this year about their confidence on foreign policy in this election, it is strange that Clinton didn't stay put or that the liberal-leaning groups didn't relent in their pressure to disinvite Palin once the Obama camp was prepared to send Wexler.

There really wasn’t any good way for this to end; once Palin was invited and Clinton pulled out, the rally was doomed to get wrapped up in the 2008 campaign, no matter what organizers did after that. Still, the rally drew thousands, according to news reports, even without Palin, Clinton or anyone else. It’s hard to believe the rally wouldn’t have been bigger had Palin and/or Clinton attended, but the publicity over the feud surely won it more attention than an anti-Iran rally might have gotten otherwise.

And if you get curious about what Palin and Clinton might have said, my old paper, The New York Sun, obtained the remarks they might have delivered. You can read them here and here.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 22.09.2008, 21:25 # 4 Comments
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  22.09.2008  
     
 
Have Neocons Taken Over The McCain Campaign?
 
  A few months ago, there were some news reports about the internal struggle within John McCain's campaign between realists/pragmatists and neoconservatives/idealists. Recent events, though, have led some commentators to conclude that the struggle’s over, and the neocons have won.

Three of these events happened in the past week. First, Henry Kissinger urged the next president to meet with the leader of Iran without preconditions, as Barack Obama had said he would do. This is the same Henry Kissinger who had been seen as one of the top realist advisers to McCain. Second, McCain apparently reversed a previous stance when he refused to say he would meet with the president of Spain, and one plausible explanation is that this was a deliberate slight because of his Iraq troop withdrawal. Third, neocon advisers have reportedly taken the lead in the foreign policy education of Sarah Palin.

It’s not just been this week, of course. As Michael wrote, one recent analysis is that hawks within McCain’s camp pushed him to take a harsher line against Russia. In fact, it’s hard to find many headlines McCain has made these days for any foreign policy position that might be categorized as realist.

ThinkProgress’s M. Duss wrote: “Hopefully, Kissinger’s statement will put to rest the idea that McCain’s foreign policy brain trust is divided between realists and neocons, which I’ve long argued is nonsense. McCain is a committed neoconservative, and has been for years.” Democracy Arsenal’s Adam Blickstein wrote: “McCain is not only an outlier, if he were part of the Bush administration, he would have already been marginalized and rendered irrelevant like the rest of the anachronistic and dangerous neocon cult.”

Granted, those two commentaries come from the left, which has an incentive to push the line that McCain is a neocon – not the most popular designation these days. But it’s worth wondering whether their basic argument right.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 22.09.2008, 01:23 # 1 Comment
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  20.09.2008  
     
 
McCain Maims Spain In Name Game
 
  It’s hard to get at what John McCain was thinking this week, precisely, when he refused to say he would meet with the president of Spain if elected. That’s because none of the explanations – three of which are speculative and one of which is official – entirely make sense.

Explanation #1: McCain didn’t know whom the interviewer was talking about. This is the most embarrassing possible outcome, because it puts it in the gaffe territory, and it’s not very flattering to McCain’s argument that he’s the one with all the foreign policy experience. McCain answered the question with references to “Mexico,” the “hemisphere,” “Latin America” and “the region,” and when the interviewer specified that the question was about “Europe,” McCain answered, “What about me, what?” as though he was confused, then went back to speaking very generally about his policy. On the other hand, McCain has spoken about Jose Luis Zapatero before, so why would he suddenly not know who he was? Which brings us to…

Explanation #2: McCain didn’t understand what the interviewer was saying, through no fault of his own. Of all the explanations, this seems to be the one that even liberal types have been offering most generously. The interviewer, they say, spoke with a very think accent. (Alternately, McCain was having a “senior moment” – not that such a moment is a good thing.) The problem with this one is that McCain’s foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has explicitly stated that McCain did understand the interviewer. That doesn’t mean it’s the truth, but if it’s not, it does mean that the McCain camp would be lying instead of taking the answer that would cause the least controversy. But maybe they have a reason for wanting it to be known that he understood. Which brings us to…

Explanation #3: McCain intended to slight Zapatero. Relations between President Bush and Spain have been cold ever since Zapatero pulled troops out of Iraq shortly after winning election in 2004. McCain could be in the same camp. The problem with that is, back in April, McCain didn’t seem to be. He spoke in a very conciliatory manner in a spring interview: “I would like for [President Zapatero] to visit the United States. I am very interested not only in normalizing relations with Spain but in obtaining good and productive relations with the goal of addressing many issues and challenges that we have to confront together.” Nothing major has happened in U.S.-Spain relations since April that has been made public, so that means that any change would have had to come as a result of a mysterious internal shift within the McCain camp. So what does the McCain camp say?…

Explanation #4: McCain was just keeping his options open, as a matter of policy. The official explanation, from Scheunemann: “If elected, he will meet with a wide range of allies in a wide variety of venues but is not going to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance. He also is not going to make reckless promises to meet America's adversaries. It's called keeping your options open…” Few problems there. First, the interviewer didn’t ask for those specifics. Second, in the same interview, McCain implied he welcomed the idea of meeting with Mexico’s president. “I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are our friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion. And by the way, President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very tough fight against the drug cartels,” he said. Finally, it also doesn’t square with McCain’s April implication that he would like to meet with Zapatero, unless McCain just wanted to have Zapatero come to America and not meet with him, for some reason.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 20.09.2008, 02:52 # 3 Comments
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  19.09.2008  
     
 
The India Nuclear Deal And The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election (Part II)
 
  (As Congress considers voting on a civilian nuclear deal with India in the very near future, now is as good a time as any to evaluate where the two presidential candidates have stood on the issue, and how it could play politically. This is the second of two parts, which focuses on the latter; the first part, which focuses on the former, can be read here.)

Both candidates bring up their support for the India nuclear deal when addressing Indian American -- sometimes called Asian Indian -- voters. Extensive data on the actual voting patterns of Indian Americans proved more difficult to find than I expected; they tend to get grouped in with other Asians, and considering that views on the Indian nuclear deal would surely vary between Chinese Americans, Indian Americans and Pakistani Americans, Asian American figures are useless here.

Estimates vary because their population is exploding, but according to the 2007 U.S. Census, there are 2.5 million Indian Americans in the U.S. Over the past couple elections, they have appeared to vote strongly Democratic; one estimate had them registered at 60 percent, while a poll from before the 2004 election had them strongly favoring John Kerry. Per this study, they don’t tend to vote as often as the general populace, although there is some evidence that they have increased those numbers of late. There does seem to be an anecdotal surge of young Indian Americans who are inclined toward Barack Obama. The reasons for the trend toward Democrats, according to a journalist who frequently reports on them: “If I had to theorize… I'd say it relates directly to a.) the geographical location of the community in more blue stats [sic] (like NJ, NY, and California) b.) how a President handles foreign policy in South Asia, c.) how religious/Christian the Republican rhetoric is at the time, and d.) the fact that most Indian Americans don't arrive wealthy - it's a slow climb to the top.” Because, as the U.S. India Political Action Committee notes, many Indian Americans are wealthy, they exert influence in campaign donations. They raised $5 million for Democrats in 2004 and $1.5 million for Republicans, according to a piece in the L.A. Times.

However, Republicans have been making a play for this group of voters. One evaluation of the voting group in 2006 estimated that pro-India policies championed by George Bush had helped pull some Indian Americans into the GOP column. Many Indian Americans favor conservative family values. Some of the wealthier among them might be inclined toward tax policies that do not target the rich, and resentful of negativity from some Democratic candidates toward outsourcing that has benefited India. And Indian American Bobby Jindal won election as Republican governor of Louisiana with nearly 90 percent of the vote from the group.

There is contrasting information on whether the nuclear deal is a big deal to Indian American voters. The LA Times story I linked above shows that Indian Americans mobilized to support the deal in 2006 and help push it through, despite other political barriers to doing so. An official with USINPAC said that for Indian Americans who voted in 2006, “the Indian nuclear energy deal was right up there with green cards and visas” as top issues. On the other hand, a focus group convened by the liberal Campaign for America’s Future found that, among its sample, there was greater interest in this election in issues of concern to all voters, from the economy to Iraq.

While there are a decent number of Indian Americans in swing states Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, because American businesses might benefit from increased trade, there’s a broader economic argument to the India deal, too. It’s not something either candidate spends much time on the trail talking about, but if the deal comes before Congress next week, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of them touting –- a little bit, anyway –- the economic benefits of the deal and jostling for position about who supported it most.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 19.09.2008, 01:42 # 1 Comment
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  17.09.2008  
     
 
The India Nuclear Deal And The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election (Part I)
 
  (As Congress considers voting on a civilian nuclear deal with India in the very near future, now is as good a time as any to evaluate where the two presidential candidates have stood on the issue, and how it could play politically. This is the first of two parts.)

The process on the India nuclear deal is rather complicated. Here’s CQ’s Adam Graham-Silverman’s explanation, in a Sept. 8 article that lays out all the pros and cons of the deal, the political stakes and more: “India, which has twice tested nuclear weapons, has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That means it needs exceptions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to join the global nuclear energy domain, and special action from Congress for nuclear trade with the United States. Over the weekend, the NSG, an international body overseeing trade in nuclear reactors and fuel, agreed under heavy U.S. pressure to waive its restrictions. The Indian parliament approved the nuclear agreement and the IAEA engaged safeguards earlier this year. Under the Hyde Act (PL 109-401), enacted in 2006 to give Congress oversight of a final agreement with India, congressional approval is also needed.”

Both Barack Obama and John McCain voted for that 2006 act. And each of their positions is now virtually indistinguishable from the other. But in the process of considering the 2006 legislation, they diverged on two failed amendments that some supporters of the deal said were “killer” amendments that would unravel the agreement by forcing its renegotiation. Obama voted for amendments that, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, would “condition the deal on India ending military cooperation with Iran and a presidential certification that nuclear cooperation with India will not aid India in making more nuclear weapons.” The arguments for those amendments are almost self-explanatory -- that Iran has been hostile toward the United States and the U.S. has a goal of halting the creation of more nuclear weapons.

Although Obama voted for the amendments, a magazine in India that interviewed him reported in July that he said he now was “reluctant to seek changes” to the agreement. McCain’s camp has hit him over this position, citing his votes for “poison pill” amendments as evidence that he did not fight hard enough for the deal. Wrote McCain blogger Michael Goldfarb: “Obama, as is so often the case… joined a small minority of liberal senators to stymie important legislation with serious implications for national security. And now he claims to be a champion of the nuclear deal.”

(Part two, tomorrow, will look at Indian Americans as a voting group and some related political ramifications of the deal.)
 
 
 
Tim Starks 17.09.2008, 00:34 # 0 Comments
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  16.09.2008  
     
 
Revisiting Palin's ABC Interview And Her Take On World Issues
 
  I thought I’d missed my chance at commenting on Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson last week, but since others are still dissecting it, there’s no reason not to analyze what she said on our little slice of the blogosphere, foreign policy in the 2008 presidential race. Let’s try to do a little refereeing.

--Vice presidents. Palin was just plain wrong when she answered the question about whether she’d met with foreign leaders thusly: “I have not and I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you.” CBS found that you’d have to go back to Spiro Agnew to find even a vice president who likely had not met with a foreign leader prior to taking on the job of running mate.
--Bush doctrine. This piece in The Australian Monday may have been overly generous in giving Palin credit for “perfect nuance” on foreign policy, but it’s right about one thing: Different people mean different things by “Bush doctrine,” so Palin probably wouldn’t have been alone in wanting to clarify. That said, her answer betrayed a lack of familiarity with any single version of the “Bush doctrine.”
--Global warming. When she said that she believed mankind “can be contributing” to climate change, it was not a flip-flop. She has said in the past: “I'm not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made.” Each of those statements sounds at odds, and maybe they are meant to lead the listener down one direction or the other toward what she wants people to think she believes. Her position can be summarized thusly: “I’m not saying it’s man-made, but it might be.” It’s roughly equivalent to the view of an agnostic: “I’m not saying there’s a God, but there might be.” I think the more relevant question than whether she flip-flopped is whether there’s enough science to suggest more than mere “potential” for man-made global warming.
--Russia. It is true that if NATO accepted Georgia into its ranks and Russia attacked it, the U.S. “perhaps” could find itself in war with Russia, as Palin said. It’s actually the whole idea – if one NATO ally is attacked, the concept goes, the whole of NATO is attacked and must respond as such. But you won’t find many candidates who would have answered the hypothetical that way, for fear of being provocative. And was the Russia attack on Georgia “unprovoked,” as Palin said? Russia had made it pretty clear that they were agitated by Georgia’s actions in South Ossetia but Georgia continued along the path it did. “Provoked” and “justifiable” aren’t necessarily the same thing. Some would argue that Russia was indeed provoked, whether it was right to attack Georgia or not.
--Pakistan. Palin effectively endorsed Barack Obama’s position on going after terrorists in Pakistan without that country’s permission, a position John McCain has rejected, when she said, “I believe America has to exercise all options.”
 
 
 
Tim Starks 16.09.2008, 02:35 # 16 Comments
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  15.09.2008  
     
 
Is Bush Following Obama On Foreign Policy, Or Is Obama Following McCain?
 
  In this space of late, I've emphasized the ways in which President Bush's foreign policy has come to resemble Barack Obama's: On Iraq, on meeting with controversial foreign leaders, and most recently, on conducting operations inside Pakistan without its permission to go after al Qaeda.

The Weekly Standard offers up a different case: That Obama is actually following John McCain's lead. And on most of the examples the conservative magazine offers, there is truth in them. On the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on Russia's invasion of Georgia and other topics, Obama over time shifted toward McCain.

Both cases, stated at their lowest common denominator, are true. Bush has shifted toward Obama, in some situations. Obama has shifted toward McCain, in some situations.

There's a kind of three-way game of chase going on here, where each of two candidates and the one president alternately distances himself from and moves closer to one or both of the others.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 15.09.2008, 02:22 # 2 Comments
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  12.09.2008  
     
 
First On Iraq, Then On Meeting With Enemies -- Now, Bush Moves Toward Obama On Pakistan Strikes
 
  It's remarkable, really. On several of the top, most divisive national security issues of the 2008 election... from Iraq to meeting with controversial foreign leaders... and now, to whether to conduct military operations in Pakistan against al Qaeda targets even if Pakistan doesn't allow it... President Bush has moved significantly toward Barack Obama in the last few months.

If this New York Times story is true, Bush has taken up Obama's proposal -- much-mocked by John McCain -- to take action across the Pakistan border without the blessings of that country's leadership. It is the key position in which Obama is more hawkish than McCain. McCain has said he will follow Osama bin Laden to the "gates of hell" as president, but he has drawn the line at crossing the border into Pakistan, reasoning (as many do) that alienating Pakistan with an attack on their soil isn't worth the trouble it would cause. (Interestingly enough, at a hearing I attended the day before the Times story broke, Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- possibly alluding to the divide over this issue on the presidential trail -- made the argument that Pakistan was too important to alienate.)

Indeed, the move has has proven troublesome, based on Pakistan's reaction. But that's not the point. The point is that, once again, Bush has done something that is more like the Democratic presidential candidate than the Republican one. And it hasn't much been noticed yet that in this case -- Reason picked up on it, and MSNBC briefly mentioned it, but I don't see much else on a cursory search, perhaps because it would require reporters to confirm the Times' account of a classified order and they simply haven't done it yet.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 12.09.2008, 02:28 # 2 Comments
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  11.09.2008  
     
 
McCain Goes After Obama's Opposition To "Future Combat Systems"... Which McCain Opposed, Too
 
  Another nice catch from the National Security Network: John McCain this week criticized Barack Obama for wanting to cut the Pentagon's "Future Combat Systems" program, when McCain himself actually proposed eliminating the very program just last month.

McCain has disliked the program for quite some time, per Wired's Noah Schactman.

Unless, of course, McCain was just talking about lower-case "future combat systems," as opposed to the expensive upper-case version that has critics just about everywhere, in which case the burden is on his campaign to produce evidence of that.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 11.09.2008, 03:09 # 0 Comments
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  10.09.2008  
     
 
Taking Biden's Challenge On Differences Between Bush And McCain On Foreign Policy
 
  "Tell me one single thing they're going to do on the economy, foreign policy, taxes, that is going to be change," Joe Biden said this weekend on NBC.

I answer the challenge thusly:

Part one -- there are ways in which John McCain and Sarah Palin would do things differently than George Bush has on foreign policy. There are some distinctions between McCain and Bush on nuclear non-proliferation, although they are slight and closing. McCain's rhetoric on Russia and Darfur has been more brisk, and McCain has taken a harder stance on negotiations with enemy countries than Bush has of late. Bush favors drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and McCain opposes it (at least for now). The full list is actually longer than that; those are just a few that come to mind.

Part two -- the fact is that McCain would do things more like Bush than Barack Obama would. On Iraq, free trade and a number of other foreign policy-related issues, there is very little difference between Bush and McCain. On Iraq, free trade and a number of other foreign policy-related issues, there IS a good deal of difference between Bush and Obama.

It's a framing question, more than anything. Biden was trying to use some shorthand. It just seemed that, since he asked, someone ought to answer.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 10.09.2008, 03:20 # 1 Comment
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  09.09.2008  
     
 
Sarah Palin's Foreign Policy Education Is Ongoing, But Rice Doesn't Sound Impressed
 
  The race seems to be all about Sarah Palin right now, even though she isn't around. She's not around in part because she's been getting a briefing on foreign policy.

I missed this last week, but the Washington Post added some detail to the Newsweek account of how Palin is getting up to speed, which I discussed here. The highlights include details of her trip to AIPAC, chaperoned by Joe Lieberman -- prompting yet more tea leaf-reading about her views on Israel. Another highlight is the list released by John McCain's campaign of the foreign trade representatives she had met with from foreign countries, which strikes me as among the more credible foreign policy-related credentials she has in a record that still remains very thin. The Public Diplomacy blog takes note of some other points from the piece here.

Condi Rice isn't impressed, either way. The Secretary of State declined to praise Palin's nomination in a recent interview, as she did for Barack Obama's pick of Joe Biden. I continue to be surprised by the lack of outrage from the right at Rice's friendship with Obama and some of her comments about the campaign; they've only indirectly attacked the State Department for undermining McCain on the campaign trail.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 09.09.2008, 03:34 # 6 Comments
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  07.09.2008  
     
 
For The First Time, Obama Himself Goes After Palin On International Affairs Experience
 
  Even though his staff has been more critical of Sarah Palin, Barack Obama has been mostly hands-off about directly going after her. That changed Sunday in the area where she is least experienced: foreign policy.

"I actually knew that Alaska was right next to Russia as well," Obama said with a laugh, responding to Republican claims that Palin is more experienced than he is on foreign policy. "I saw it on a map." And he threw a slightly more indirect jab by bringing up the experience of his own vice presidential nominee. "As somebody who's served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and passed legislation on issues like nuclear proliferation -- and somebody who selected Joe Biden as vice president, who is chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- I'm going to be happy to have a substantive debate with [John] McCain about foreign policy," Obama said. Both his remarks came on ABC News.

There's a delicate risk/reward ratio to Democrats getting too aggressive in their attacks on Palin, which will be tested more than Obama tested it Sunday when Biden debates Palin. Every delegate I talked to at the Republican National Convention said they salivate at the idea of the two male candidates attacking Palin, reasoning that women voters will rally to support her. My CQ colleague Jonathan Allen asks here whether Republicans have set a trap.

The McCain camp, for its part, continues to push the line that Palin is more experienced on foreign policy than Obama, based on her role as head of the Alaska National Guard, although that argument has been exposed as faulty in numerous outlets, since the president controls the National Guard in national security-related scenarios. Perhaps a safer argument for the McCain team is more like the one made by the Democrats: Being right on the issues matters more than experience. "We will stack Palin’s foreign policy credentials against Obama’s any day," McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said. "She understands the surge in Iraq is working."

This ends up being rather circular, no matter how you cut it.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 07.09.2008, 23:08 # 7 Comments
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  05.09.2008  
     
 
National Security Vs. The Economy, Energy Vs. Foreign Policy, Giuliani Vs. Islamic Terrorism
 
  SAINT PAUL, Minn. – It’s been a busy week here, to say the least. Let’s hit some links.

--Here, for CQ, I run down the reason this convention has focused so much on national security when voters care more about the economy. It’s a subject I’ve written about here before, but the piece elaborates on it, and features some interviews with pollsters and campaign aides.
--I had the same thought as Foreign Policy’s Passport here: Sarah Palin was looking to piggyback foreign policy with energy during her speech, which was a way of using one of her strengths to cover one of her weaknesses. Interestingly, as I’ve written before, John McCain has been using foreign policy to buttress himself on other topics.
--Rudy Giuliani’s statement that Democrats were afraid to use the phrase “Islamic terrorism” at their convention warranted a “barely true” rating from Politifact. There’s an interesting side debate about what labels should be used to describe this particular national security phenomenon. It erupted in Congress after the Bush administration itself issued guidelines about the best language to avoid inciting unnecessary hostilities with Muslims. Giuliani obviously sides with some conservatives who say “Islamic terrorism” is the best description of the phenomenon and should not be censored. Democrats obviously side with the administration guidelines that “terrorism” does the trick just fine without additional possible risks.
--I was wondering about this, and wouldn’t you know, Michael Isikoff is on it. That is, how is Palin getting up to speed on foreign policy? She handled it without incident in her convention speech, but it won’t be too long until she’s debating Joe Biden, and things could get interesting if he challenges her on foreign policy details and she’s not prepared.
--McCain is certainly a hawk, so it’s interesting to see that a top surrogate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, says McCain plans to bolster the doves who usually inhabit the State Department if he becomes president.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 05.09.2008, 00:37 # 1 Comment
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  03.09.2008  
     
 
Obama And McCain On Voting Against War Funding
 
  SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Foreign policy quickly got into the Republican National Convention mix Tuesday. But it did it, in its most prominent instance, in a head-scratching way.

Republicans hadn’t much been using the "Barack Obama voted against funding troops on the ground" argument of late, but it surfaced in Tuesday’s speech by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat turned independent, when he said: "When Barack Obama was voting to cut off off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide." President Bush made a similar point.
What Lieberman says Obama did, John McCain did also, but in different bills. The Democratic group Democracy Arsenal has two fact checks that are on point. Obama would say his vote was a vote in opposition to the war; McCain would say his vote was a vote in opposition of ending the war. But the claim of not supporting the troops either applies to both of them or neither of them.

Fred Thompson, who delivered the more fiery and well-received speech, largely steered clear of foreign policy, and usually spoke generally when he did, so no fact check is really necessary there – although he implied Obama believes he has to apologize for the United States of America, and to my knowledge, Obama has never expressed that desire.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 03.09.2008, 12:02 # 5 Comments
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  01.09.2008  
     
 
John Bolton And Cindy McCain Get Aboard The "Palin Has Foreign Policy Experience Because She's Next To Russia" Train
 
  SAINT PAUL, Minn. – It looks like this is turning into some kind a talking point: On Sunday, in remarks to ABC, Cindy McCain said Sarah Palin had foreign policy experience because the state she governs, Alaska, is near Russia; then, to a fellow CQ reporter, former Bush administration official John Bolton offered the same defense of her, adding proximity to Canada as a qualification.

It really is a bemusing strategy. Of all the arguments one could make for John McCain picking Palin, it offers the least. Via Political Animal: "Has Palin ever been to Russia? No. Has she ever demonstrated any expertise on U.S. policy towards Russia? No. Does she have any background in international relations at any level? No. But for Republicans, the fact that she's lived near Russia is somehow a qualification for national office. The mind reels."

The strategy is not original, though. Democrats, it must be noted, have offered Barack Obama’s youthful stay in Indonesia as evidence of his own foreign policy experience, which is slightly – slightly – more credible than the Palin argument because at least in his case he actually had been the foreign country in question. A common defense of then-Gov. Bush in 2000, when faced with criticism of his own lack of foreign policy experience, was that he had lived near Mexico, but that was a slightly – slightly – stronger argument because at least there was interaction in that case.

For now, it doesn’t look like the Palin camp is fully embracing the talking point, so one can guess they haven't issued it. A Palin spokeswoman offered this to the Wall Street Journal: "Alaska’s geographic location certainly contributes to Governor Palin’s experience since she has dealt with trade and economic issues as a result, but it is only one part of her overall experience."
 
 
 
Tim Starks 01.09.2008, 14:55 # 14 Comments
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  01.09.2008  
     
 
Will McCain Change His Position On ANWR, Now That Palin Is His Running Mate?
 
  SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- On one hand,
it looks like John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin to be his running mate very well could push him to change his mind and favor drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. "I continue to examine it," he said, and asked whether he ought to have a chat with Palin about the subject, he answered, "I probably should" and "I will."

On the other hand, the Republican platform-writing committee just had a bit of a scuffle over whether to include drilling in ANWR in its platform. And it was left out, officials said, specifically so that McCain wouldn't be undercut. Maybe they were just leaving him some flexibility?

CQ examines points in between.
 
 
 
Tim Starks 01.09.2008, 03:41 # 0 Comments
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