Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obama Is Right; Words Matter: Particularly his


"Don't tell me words don't matter!" Sen. Barack Obama thundered at a Wisconsin Democratic Party dinner in February. He should have remembered that at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference last week. There, Mr. Obama defended the outrageous promise he made last July to meet, during his first year as president and without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Mr. Obama's eagerness to undertake a "World Tyrants Tour" is both naive and foolhardy, and how he dealt with those concerns at AIPAC raises the question of whether he's done his homework.

Mr. Obama knew the audience was wondering what could come from such meetings, except propaganda victories for thugs and a loss of prestige for America. He tried to mitigate the damage of his promised meetings. But the man who criticizes George W. Bush for unilateralism ended up denouncing a multilateral approach to Iran, saying it would "outsource the sustained work to our European allies."

Mr. Obama also said he would practice "tough and principled diplomacy." There would be "careful preparation." He would "open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies." And then he brought up Ronald Reagan. He said he'd be "tough" like Reagan, who "understood that diplomacy backed by real leverage was a fundamental tool of statecraft."

But what do Mr. Obama's words mean? What would his preparations be? What would his agenda be? Does he want to coordinate closely with allies or not "outsource the sustained work" to them? And would he really be anything like Reagan?

As early as March 1975, Reagan described the leverage he would require before sitting down with the Soviets. His key insight was that "We need to remove [the Soviets'] incentive to race ahead by making it clear to them that we can and will compete . . . at the same time we tell them that we prefer to halt this competition and reduce the nuclear arsenals by patient negotiation."

There were three elements to Reagan's strategy. First, he argued America must become a reliable ally and respected by our adversaries. As we did, we would "be tested in ways calculated to try our patience, to confound our resolve and to erode our belief in ourselves." But being consistent and credible was important to friend and foe alike.

Second, Reagan said America must rebuild its conventional as well as its nuclear defenses, because "we are number two in a world where it's dangerous, if not fatal, to be second best." The Soviets must "know we are going about the business of restoring our margin of safety."

Third, Reagan knew "peace is made by the fact of strength - economic, military, and strategic. Peace is lost when such strength disappears or - just as bad - is seen by an adversary as disappearing." America's economy had to be restored, so the Soviets would know the U.S. could compete with them.

Reagan's careful preparation for negotiations with the Evil Empire was simple to explain and difficult to achieve: "a consistent foreign policy, a strong America, and a strong economy." If you want an arms race, we'll give you one, Reagan said, and we will win it, so once you're convinced of that, let's negotiate.

Reagan spoke about his strategy repeatedly in speeches, debates and articles in the half-decade before being elected president. His approach was not cloaked in secrecy. It was not abstract promises. And it was not something to be revealed only after the election. Reagan knew a successful strategy doesn't surprise adversaries, it engages them and draws them toward changes in behavior.

When it comes to America's adversaries, Mr. Obama doesn't have a comprehensive strategy to match Reagan's. Mr. Obama believes in talking and in meeting, in the hope that his charm will sweep despots off their feet like college students in Madison, Cambridge and Berkeley.

If Mr. Obama wants to portray himself as Reagan, then let him show it by spelling out his strategy for Iran and the other rogue states he's pledged to spend his first year visiting. What specifically will he say in those meetings that will cause their leaders to change? What will he do to create the conditions that lead them to abandon their aggressive course?

If Mr. Obama keeps dodging these questions, then the American people will have every reason to view him as unprepared for the world stage. America's adversaries are watching too. And one can only imagine the guffaws in Tehran, Damascus, Pyongyang, Caracas and Havana as tyrants think about how they'd be able to take advantage of Mr. Obama's arrogance and innocence if he were elected president.


Obama Is No 'Post-Racial' Candidate

By WARD CONNERLY (Mr Connerly is a black opponent of racial preferences)

With all my heart - and for the betterment of my country - I desperately wanted to believe that Sen. Barack Obama was not one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about "institutional racism."

I have heard him say that America is not about "black and white." I was inspired when his supporters chanted at his rally on the night of his victory in South Carolina that "race doesn't matter." I thought his March 18 speech about race had the potential to become a defining moment in our endless struggle to confront and conquer this issue. I was encouraged by his perceptive acknowledgment that affirmative action breeds resentment and hostility. As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he truly was a transformative leader.

But a June 10 article in USA Today by DeWayne Wickham dashed my hopes for Mr. Obama. Mr. Wickham, who had interviewed the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, wrote that "Obama believes America can keep its promise to women and blacks without dashing the hopes of working-class whites. He doesn't think opportunity guarantees made to one group must come at the expense of another." Then he went on to quote Obama campaign spokeswoman Candice Toliver, who said that "Senator Obama believes in a country in which opportunity is available to all Americans, regardless of race, gender or economic status. That's why he opposes these ballot initiatives, which would roll back opportunity for millions of Americans and cripple efforts to break down historic barriers to the progress of qualified women and minorities." Translation: Mr. Obama supports race preferences.

As many readers will know, I am intimately involved in the effort to enact race-neutral ballot initiatives around the country (right now in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska). I find it difficult to understand how the senator can "strongly oppose" any initiative that does precisely what he professes to believe and is consistent with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This is the language of the initiatives I am now sponsoring: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin, in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."

The rationale for using race preferences to "eliminate historic barriers," upon which Mr. Obama relies as his primary justification, has been rejected consistently by the Supreme Court since the Bakke decision in 1978. Only the pursuit of "diversity" by higher education meets the strict constitutional test for race preferences. As a lawyer, I am sure that Mr. Obama must know this.

He must also know that blacks and whites are not the only racial groups in America. Every year there are more than 48,000 applicants for one of the 4,500 seats at the University of California campus at Berkeley. Before the passage of the initiative in that state to outlaw race preferences, thousands of Asian students were denied admission so that a greater number of "underrepresented minorities" could be admitted.

Similar circumstances exist across the nation, because college admissions, public jobs and government contracts are the ultimate "zero-sum" game, and race and gender should not be the determining factors in picking winners and losers. It simply stretches credulity to argue that an "opportunity" given to one, on the basis of race, is not discrimination against another for the same reason.

The issue that troubled many Americans about the widely publicized sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright was his view that America is an "institutionally racist" society. This view lies at the heart of the defense advocates of race preferences make for "affirmative action." It is also at the core of Black Liberation Theology.

By supporting race preferences, Mr. Obama is unmistakably attaching himself to despicable ideas like Rev. Wright's. And, if he believes in those precepts, how does he reconcile his impressive political success and that of Mrs. Clinton with this perspective? Thirty-six million Americans didn't vote for the two of them because the majority of the American people are racist and sexist.

If Mr. Obama wants to be the candidate of "change," why doesn't he change the idiotic racial classification system that burdens millions of Americans? Why doesn't he call attention to the barbaric "one-drop" (of hereditary blood) rule that continues to haunt our nation, and which drives him to identify with the "black community" at the expense of his white ancestry? If he wants to unite the American people, how does he propose to do that by asking some Americans to accept preferential treatment for others and discrimination against themselves?

How does Mr. Obama expect America to compete with China and India when we abandon the principle of individual merit and elevate skin color and sex above performance? Soothing rhetoric about uniting our nation against a backdrop of American flags isn't sufficient to accomplish that objective. Specific policies like affirmative action - and where candidates stand on them - are where the rubber meets the road.

If either Barack Obama or John McCain want to be a truly "post-racial president," then it is essential that they support efforts to place our nation on a path to guarantee equal treatment under the law for all Americans. That means preferential treatment for none on the basis of their race, ethnic background, skin color or sex.


Ex-Friends of Barack

It turns out that Jim Johnson was not the man Barack Obama thought he knew. The presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee threw the former Fannie Mae CEO over the side as his Vice Presidential vetter yesterday, only a day after he'd said that Mr. Johnson was only "tangentially related" to his campaign and that criticism was a "game that can be played."

Mr. Johnson was cast off after the Journal disclosed that he had received sweetheart loans from Countrywide Financial - the very firm that Mr. Obama has specifically excoriated for its role in the mortgage meltdown. The press corps will now move on to other things, but this is more than a campaign issue. The disclosure about Mr. Johnson and his successor as Fannie CEO, Franklin Raines, raises serious questions about the extent to which favorable mortgage pricing contributed to Countrywide's rise and fall. At a minimum, a regulatory probe is warranted.

As for Mr. Obama, Mr. Johnson now joins an intriguing and growing list of Mr. Obama's ex-associates that includes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, and former terrorist bomber William Ayers. We might call this list eclectic, except that there is a consistent pattern of bad judgment followed by an initial defense, then followed by rapid disassociation and regret that none of them were the men Mr. Obama "knew."

We can only wonder if Eric Holder, who is also among Mr. Obama's veep vetters, will be the next to join this club. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, he played a role in the Marc Rich pardon that also deserves to be fully vetted - all the more so if Mr. Holder is on the short list to be Mr. Obama's Attorney General. Caroline Kennedy, the other member of Mr. Obama's veep vetting team, has probably already inherited a stack of files from Mr. Johnson. She might want to take a peek at Mr. Holder's too.


Revisiting Obama's Speech to AIPAC

Barack Obama's June 4 speech to AIPAC received a favorable initial response, but the more one scrutinizes it, the more troubling it becomes. Here are some of the portions that raised questions, ranging from minor to major:

1. Obama began his speech (the video is here) with something not in his prepared text -- a reference to the need to remember and bring home "the three soldiers still held by Hezbollah." Perhaps it was simply a momentary slip, but it seems strange he did not realize that Gilad Shalit is held by Hamas in Gaza, not by Hezbollah in Lebanon, particularly since Shalit's status has been a key issue in the on-going negotiations over a Gaza truce.

2. More serious was his statement regarding Jerusalem -- and his reversal of it 24 hours later. In a paragraph beginning "Let me be clear," Obama told AIPAC that "Jerusalem must remain undivided." The statement produced a standing ovation. The next day, his campaign decided his statement had to be "clarified." It turned out that, by "undivided," Obama meant that, after the city was divided, there would be no checkpoints between the two sides.

3. Obama's statement to AIPAC that he supported "boycotting firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization" was at best disingenuous. He did not acknowledge he had strenuously opposed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment last September, which called for precisely that policy.

His support at AIPAC for boycotting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was thus a little late. The month after Kyl-Lieberman passed the Senate (by 76-22, including 29 Democratic votes), the Bush administration designated the Guard as a terrorist organization and subjected it to sanctions under U.S. law and relevant U.N. resolutions, just as the Senate had urged. At AIPAC, Obama was thus supporting something that (a) had already been done (b) many months before (c) over his objections.

4. The nature of Obama's opposition to Kyl-Lieberman turns out to be instructive. On October 11, 2007, he published a lengthy op-ed in a New Hampshire newspaper about it. In the op-ed, he acknowledged that "[w]e do need to tighten sanctions on the Iranian regime, particularly on Iran's Revolutionary Guard." But he argued "this must be done separately" from Kyl-Lieberman, which he asserted went "out of its way to draw connections between distinct threats" -- the Iraq war and Iran -- and constituted "saber-rattling." He proposed instead "tough and direct diplomacy" with Iran.

It is hard to conceive of a more misleading description of what the Kyl-Lieberman amendment involved. Kyl-Lieberman set forth seven pages of direct quotations from official sources, including: (a) the September 2007 testimony of Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, (b) the August 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, (c) the September 2007 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, (d) the September 2007 Defense Department report on Stability and Security in Iraq, and other sources.

Based on those sources, the Senate found that Iran was seeking to use the Guard "to turn the Shi'a militia extremists into a Hezbollah-like force" to "fight a proxy war" against the Iraqi government and the American-led forces in Iraq, and that it was a critical U.S. interest to prevent Iran from turning those extremists in Iraq into such a force. The Senate also concluded that the manner in which the U.S. "transitions and structures" its military presence in Iraq would have critical long-term consequences for the ability of Iran to threaten the security of the region and the prospects for democracy in the region. In other words, Kyl-Lieberman did not go "out of its way to draw connections between distinct threats." Its findings established instead that Iran was fighting a proxy war against the United States and its interests in Iraq itself.

The Senate also made findings with respect to the efficacy of diplomacy as a solution to the proxy war. Kyl-Lieberman noted that Ambassador Crocker had held three rounds of talks with Iran on Iraq security since May 2007 and had "found no readiness on the Iranians' side at all to engage seriously on these issues." Crocker testified the Iranians "were interested simply in the appearance of discussions, of being seen to be at the table with the U.S. as an arbiter of Iraq's present and future."

In order to get Democratic votes for Kyl-Lieberman, the amendment was stripped of the provisions stating that: (1) U.S. policy should be "to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran," and (2) such a policy should be backed by the "prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq." In addition, two new findings were added, noting that both Ambassador Crocker and Defense Secretary Gates had endorsed diplomatic and economic means as the preferable approach to dealing with the Iranian challenge. In other words, not only was Kyl-Lieberman not "saber-rattling," but the faint sound of sabers that had once been in it had been explicitly removed. The only action item left in the amendment when it passed, by an overwhelming margin, was economic sanctions on the Iranian entity seeking to destabilize Iraq.

5. Obama also promised at AIPAC that "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- everything." The statement produced another standing ovation, but the repetition of "everything" masked the fact that he was simply pledging a maximum personal effort, not making a presidential commitment to actually achieve that result.

His statement recalled the colloquy during the October 30, 2007 presidential debate, when Tim Russert asked each candidate the same question -- "would you pledge to the American people that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb while you are president?" -- and Hillary Clinton repeated her talking point three times:
CLINTON: I intend to do everything I can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

RUSSERT: But you won't pledge?

CLINTON: I am pledging I will do everything I can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

RUSSERT: But, they may.

CLINTON: Well, you know, Tim, you asked me if I would pledge, and I have pledged that I will do everything I can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.


Compare Obama's promise to do "everything in my power" (echoing Hillary Clinton's pledge to do "everything I can") with John McCain's statement of a national commitment in his February 7, 2008 speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee:
I intend to make unmistakably clear to Iran we will not permit a government that espouses the destruction of the State of Israel as its fondest wish and pledges undying enmity to the United States to possess the weapons to advance their malevolent ambitions.

6. As Obama gave his AIPAC speech, his positions over the past year had been effectively refuted: he had opposed the surge (which has succeeded), opposed imposing economic sanctions under Kyl-Lieberman (but now favored them seven months after they were implemented), and had drawn no adverse conclusions from the fact that Ambassador Crocker's three rounds of negotiations with Iran had been fruitless and counterproductive. Instead, Obama proposed future "tough and principled" negotiations with Iran that would be conducted while the centrifuges continued to whirl, together with a "redeployment" of troops from Iraq.

7. It was that part of Obama's AIPAC speech that was the most troublesome of all. Here is the process of diplomacy with Iran that Obama outlined at AIPAC:
We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, especially Israel, and evaluate the potential for progress. . . . [W]e will present a clear choice [to Iran]. If you abandon your dangerous nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives -- including the lifting of sanctions, and political and economic integration with the international community. If you refuse, we will ratchet up the pressure.

In other words, in 2009 or later, after the lines have been opened, the agenda is built, the allies coordinated, the potential evaluated, the choice presented, the talks held, and the talks eventually fail, Obama will then start to "ratchet up the pressure" -- at just about the time Iran will have completed (or used) its nuclear weapon. But Obama will be able to say don't blame him, he did everything he could.

It is easy to understand why Obama's speech at AIPAC received an enthusiastic response. It reflected his trademark rhetoric: soaring language, an inspiring delivery, sounding great for as long as it lasts (or until one thinks more about it). But like his final primary speech ("this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow") and his speech on race ("I could no more disown . . ."), the rhetoric can be overblown, and its shelf life limited.



No comments: