By KARL ROVE
Barack Obama is ambling rather than sprinting across the primary-season finish line. It's not just his failure to connect with blue-collar Democrats. He has added to his problems with ill-informed replies on critical foreign policy questions.
On Sunday at a stop in Oregon, Sen. Obama was dismissive of the threats posed by Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. That's the same Iran whose Quds Force is arming and training insurgents and illegal militias in Iraq to kill American soldiers; that is supporting Hezbollah and Hamas in violent attacks on Lebanon and Israel; and that is racing to develop a nuclear weapon while threatening the "annihilation" of Israel. By Monday in Montana, Mr. Obama recognized his error. He abruptly changed course, admitting that Iran represents a threat to the region and U.S. interests. Voters need to ask if Sunday's comments, not Monday's correction, aren't the best evidence of his true thinking.
Is Mr. Obama's first instinct to dismiss North Korea, the world's worst nuclear proliferator, as an insignificant threat? Is his immediate reaction to treat Venezuela as a wayward child, rather than as an adversary willing to destabilize the hemisphere? Is his memory so short he has forgotten the Castro brothers' willingness to aid revolutionary movements? Is he so shortsighted as to ignore the threat to Mideast stability that Syria's meddling in Lebanon and support for Hamas and Hezbollah represents?
Mr. Obama's Sunday statement grew out of a kerfuffle over his proclaimed willingness to meet - eagerly and without precondition - during his first year as president with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. On Monday, he said it was a show of confidence when American leaders meet with rivals; he insisted he was merely doing what Richard Nixon did by going to China.
I recommend that he read Henry Kissinger's book, "The White House Years." Mr. Obama would learn it took 134 private meetings between U.S. and Chinese diplomats before a breakthrough at a Jan. 20, 1970 meeting in Warsaw. It took 18 months of behind-the-scenes discussions before Mr. Kissinger secretly visited Beijing. And it took seven more months of hard work before Nixon went to China. The result was a new relationship, announced in a communiqu‚ worked out over months of careful diplomacy.
The Chinese didn't change because of a presidential visit. In another book, "Diplomacy," Mr. Kissinger writes that "China was induced to rejoin the community of nations less by the prospect of dialogue with the United States than by fear of being attacked by its ostensible ally, the Soviet Union." Change came because the U.S. convinced Beijing it was in its interest to change. Then the president visited.
The same is true with other successful negotiations. President Ronald Reagan prepared the ground for his meetings with a series of Soviet leaders by rebuilding the U.S. military, restoring confidence in American intentions, and pressuring the Soviets by raising the specter of a missile defense shield.
Reagan knew rogue states only change when they see there are real consequences of their actions, and when it is in their interest to change. This requires patience, vision, hard work and the use of all the tools, talents and relationships available to the U.S. We saw a recent example when Libya, fearful of American resolve after 9/11, gave up its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. These programs, incidentally, were more advanced than Western intelligence thought.
Reagan knew he must not squander the prestige of the American presidency and the authority of the United States by meaningless meetings that serve only as propaganda victories for our adversaries. Mr. Obama seems to believe charisma and smooth talk can fundamentally alter the behavior of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
But what might work on the primary campaign trail doesn't work nearly as well in Tehran. What, for example, does Mr. Obama think he can offer the Iranians to get them to become a less pernicious and destabilizing force? One of Iran's top foreign policy goals is a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. This happens to be Mr. Obama's top foreign policy goal, too. Why should Iran or other rogue states alter their behavior if Mr. Obama gives them what they want, without preconditions?
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama said in Florida that in a meeting with the Iranians he'd make it clear their behavior is unacceptable. That message has been delivered clearly by Republican and Democratic administrations in public and private diplomacy over the past 16 years. Is he so na‹ve to think he has a unique ability to make this even clearer?
If Mr. Obama believes he can change the behavior of these nations by meeting without preconditions, he owes it to the voters to explain, in specific terms, what he can say that will lead these states to abandon their hostility. He also needs to explain why unconditional, unilateral meetings with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or North Korea's Kim Jong Il will not deeply unsettle our allies.
If Mr. Obama fails to do so, voters may come to believe that he is asking them to accept that he has a "Secret Plan," and that he is hopelessly out of his depth on national security.
The Obama Learning Curve
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden took to the airwaves this week to "help" the rookie Barack Obama out of a foreign-policy jam. Oh sure, admitted Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee had given the "wrong" answer when he said he'd meet unconditionally with leaders of rogue states. But on the upside, the guy "has learned a hell of a lot."
Somewhere Mr. Obama was muttering an expletive. But give Mr. Biden marks for honesty. As Mr. Obama finishes a week of brutal questioning over his foreign-policy judgments, it's become clear he has learned a lot - and is learning still.
Right now, for instance, he's learning how tough it can be to pivot to a general-election stance on the crucial issue of foreign policy. He's also learning Democrats won't be able to sail through a national-security debate by simply painting John McCain as the second coming of George Bush.
Remember how Mr. Obama got here. In a July debate, the Illinois senator was asked if he'd meet, "without preconditions," the "leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea." It was an unexpected question, and Mr. Obama rolled with his gut: "I would," he said, riffing that the Bush administration's policy of not negotiating with terror-sponsoring states was "ridiculous."
Hillary Clinton, who still had the aura of inevitability, and who was already thinking ahead to a general election, wouldn't bite. At that point, any initial misgivings the Obama campaign had about the boss's answer disappeared. Mr. Obama hadn't got much traction differentiating himself from Mrs. Clinton over Iraq, but this was a chance to get to her left, to cast her to liberal primary voters as a warmonger. Which he did, often, committing himself ever more to a policy of unfettered engagement.
Today's Obama, all-but-nominee, is pitching to a broad American audience less keen to legitimize Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who provides weapons that kill American soldiers. The senator clumsily invited this debate when he took great umbrage to President Bush's recent criticism of appeasers (which, in a wonderfully revealing moment, Democrats instantly assumed meant them). Mr. Obama has since been scrambling to neutralize his former statement.
A week ago, in Oregon, he adopted the "no-big-deal" approach, telling listeners Iran was just a "tiny" country that, unlike the Soviet Union, did not "pose a serious threat to us." But this suggested he'd missed that whole asymmetrical warfare debate - not to mention 9/11 - so by the next day, he'd switched to the "blame-Republicans" line. Iran was in fact "the greatest threat to the United States and Israel and the Middle East for a generation" - but all because of President Bush's Iraq war.
This, however, revived questions of why he'd meet with said greatest-threat leader, so his advisers jumped in, this time to float the "misunderstood" balloon. Obama senior foreign policy adviser Susan Rice, channeling Bill Clinton, said it all depended on what the definition of a "leader" is. "Well, first of all, he said he'd meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders. He hasn't named who that leader will be." (Turns out, Mr. Obama has said he will meet with . . . Mr. Ahmadinejad.)
Former Sen. Tom Daschle, channeling Ms. Rice, explained it also depended on what the definition of a precondition is: "It's important to emphasize again when we talk about preconditions, we're just saying everything needs to be on the table. I would not say that we would meet unconditionally." This is called being against preconditions before you were for them.
And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond "experience" to "judgment." In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn't be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. Mr. Obama is still manfully marching down this road, today spending as much time warning about a "third Bush term" as he does reassuring voters about a first Obama one.
Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.
Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you'd use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?
It explains too the strong desire among the McCain camp to get Mr. Obama on stage for debates soon. There's a feeling Mr. Obama is still climbing the foreign-policy learning curve. And they see mileage in his issuing a few more gut reactions.
Obama's Iraq Problem
Once Barack Obama's appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he's been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.
On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, "The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain's policy too," without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government's and Iraqi military's recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country's largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad's Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.
We already know that the world's candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.'s global image denigrate the efforts of America's newest-and arguably most critical-ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?
If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge "a failure" and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:
Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.
The lack of popularity of Pelosi's views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi's arrival.
Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi's. Every time he says "I will bring this war to an end in 2009," Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.
The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country's progress.
Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed
IN his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy expressed in two eloquent sentences, often invoked by Barack Obama, a policy that turned out to be one of his presidency's - indeed one of the cold war's - most consequential: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy's special assistant, called those sentences "the distinctive note" of the inaugural.
They have also been a distinctive note in Senator Obama's campaign, and were made even more prominent last week when President Bush, in a speech to Israel's Parliament, disparaged a willingness to negotiate with America's adversaries as appeasement. Senator Obama defended his position by again enlisting Kennedy's legacy: "If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with John F. Kennedy, because that's what he did with Khrushchev."
But Kennedy's one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one's adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings - his Harvard thesis was titled "Appeasement at Munich" - he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy's own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: "Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?"
But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting "old, moribund, reactionary regimes" and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood "against other peoples following its suit." Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was "very unwise" for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.
Kennedy's aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was "just a disaster." Khrushchev's aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed "very inexperienced, even immature." Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was "too intelligent and too weak." The Soviet leader left Vienna elated - and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.
Kennedy's assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the "roughest thing in my life." Kennedy went on: "He just beat the hell out of me. I've got a terrible problem if he thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won't get anywhere with him."
A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that "a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war." The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to "throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam's pants": nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna - of Kennedy as ineffective - was among them.
If Barack Obama wants to follow in Kennedy's footsteps, he should heed the lesson that Kennedy learned in his first year in office: sometimes there is good reason to fear to negotiate.
More of Obama's strange friends
On May 14 Barack Obama held a private and unpublicized meeting with Imam Hassan Qazwini at Macomb Community College in Michigan.
Qazwini heads the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. Debbie Schlussel describes Qazwini as the Hezbollah terror group's foremost agent in America.
Qazwini is very open about his support for Palestinian homicide bombings, HAMAS, and Hezbollah. And he's a good friend of Hezbollah spiritual leader, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah--the man who issued the fatwa to Hezbollah terrorists to murder over 300 U.S. Marines and U.S. Embassy civilians in cold blood. Qazwini's mosque has held rallies and celebrations in support of Hezbollah, and many of Hezbollah's biggest money-launderers and agents in America are his congregants.
When I went undercover to his mosque in 1998, he and others welcomed Nation of Islam chief racist Louis Farrakhan as "our dear brother" and "a freedom fighter." Qazwini applauded Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements saying that Jews were the "forces of Satan" and that there needed to be a "jihad" on the American people.
Obama's meeting with Qazwini was discovered almost by accident. The Detroit Free Press had a short piece on the meeting, which appears to have been sourced by Qazwini's mosque.
Yet another choice Obama associate
An attorney and top foreign policy adviser to Sen. Barack Obama is coming under fire for representing controversial figures, including an accused human rights abuser, an alleged murderer of a U.S. soldier and even the would-be assassin of President Ronald Reagan.
Greg Craig, who has been termed the "lawyer of the left," represented John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate Reagan in 1981 by firing six bullets at the president as he left a hotel. Craig was reportedly the architect of Hinckley's successful defense in which he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, even though reports by the federal prosecution found Hinckley sane.
As a partner in the high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm of Williams & Connolly, Craig represented former Bolivian Defense Minister Carlos Sanchez-Berzain in a federal lawsuit of "crimes against humanity" due to his alleged role in the suppression of labor union riots in 2003 that resulted in the deaths of 67 people.
Sanchez-Berzain is loathed in Bolivia for allegedly turning the army loose on protesters in what was described as a brutal massacre of unarmed men, women and children, some of whom were reportedly shot at point-blank range.
Craig currently represents Pedro Miguel Gonzalez-Pinzon, president of the Panamanian National Assembly, who is wanted in the U.S. for the 1992 murder of a U.S. Army soldier and the attempted murder of another.
Gonzalez, a harsh critic of the U.S., is accused of murdering the solider, Zak Hernandez Laporte, on the eve of President George H.W. Bush's visit to Panama in 1992. The FBI is said to have credible evidence proving Gonzalez's guilt. The accusations and Gonzalez's Panamanian government position are a primary reason the U.S. has halted a U.S.-Panama free trade accord.
The American Future Fund this week called on Obama to fire Craig, stating in an ad campaign that someone who "has a history of defending corrupt foreign leaders and murderers" could offer severely misguided advice to the Illinois senator. The AFF launched a YouTube video petitioning for Craig's ouster.
In a January editorial, the Dallas Morning News called on Obama to fire Craig if the attorney doesn't drop the Panamanian as a client: "Mr. Obama has made clear that the White House is no place for influence-peddlers and special interests. ... This is one instance where he needs to show presidential decisiveness by asking Mr. Craig to choose between the campaign and involvement in a legal case where hot-button bilateral issues - and a Senate vote - hang in the balance," read the editorial.
Obama repeatedly has attacked Sen. John McCain for purportedly allowing lobbyists to serve as top advisers.
The Political Punch blog run by ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper noted, "There's a big difference between a lobbyist, who is paid to interact with lawmakers such as Mr. Obama, and a lawyer, who works with the courts. But in this situation, Gonzalez's indictment has complicated passage of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement."
Craig recently said at a forum that Obama's campaign is aware of his involvement in the Gonzalez case. "I have removed myself from participation in discussions with the candidate or his advisers on relations between the United States and Panama," Craig said. Obama has been on the record stating he opposes any trade act with Panama due to the Gonzalez case.
But Obama has not addressed Craig's defense of other unsavory characters such as Hinckley.
Craig also has represented Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in the 1991 Palm Beach, Fla., rape case involving the senator and his accused nephew, William Kennedy Smith, who was acquitted of all charges. Craig was an aide to Kennedy in the 1980s.
In 2004, Craig was counsel for then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during investigations that year of the Oil-for-Food scandal.
Craig, an anti-war protester in the 1960s, also successfully represented Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the Cuban father of Elian Gonzalez during the 2000 child custody dispute that ended in the forcible seizure of Elian by U.S. marshals and the boy's return to Cuba. According to reports, Craig was heavily involved in the decision to seize Elian. The outcome was seen as a major victory for Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Craig is a top foreign policy adviser to Obama. His foreign policy experience includes serving as Sen. Ted Kennedy's senior adviser on defense, foreign policy and national security issues from 1974 to 1988. In 1997, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appointed Craig as a top senior adviser and as director of policy planning.
Craig's embrace of Obama turned some heads due to the attorney's high profile representation of Bill Clinton during impeachment hearings over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When the Senate refused to convict Clinton on accusations of perjury, Craig was seen as the politician's savior.
But Craig admonished Sen. Hillary Clinton in a March posting on Obama's site: "Hillary Clinton's argument that she has passed 'the commander-in-chief test' is simply not supported by her record," he wrote. "[Obama] possesses the personal attributes of a great leader - an even temperament, an open-minded approach to even the most challenging problems, a willingness to listen to all views, clarity of vision, the ability to inspire, conviction and courage," Craig argued.
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