Tag Archives: Barack Obama foreign policy

Barack Obama and the Iraq War

In the New Hampshire debate on Saturday night, Hillary Clinton understandably came out swinging at Barack Obama.  Having just lost Iowa by an astounding margin and facing frightening polls in the Granite State, she knew she needed to score some points against the Senator from Illinois if she had a hope of recovering in the NH primary.  One of the ways she chose to attack, an attack I’ve heard repeated by both Hillary and Bill Clinton in the days since, was on Obama’s record regarding the Iraq War. 

The Clintons assert that while Obama came out strong against the war in 2002, he has since reneged on that position by voting for bills in the US Senate that fund the war.  Grant me the indulgence of pointing out that Obama’s voting record and Clinton’s voting record on these bills is identical.  So, essentially what Hillary is saying is, “How dare you be just like me.”  What she wants to be drawing attention to is a perceived inconsistency between Obama’s saying that he is against the war, has been from the beginning, and his voting record for funding the war.

On November 11, 2007, Obama appeared on Meet The Press with Tim Russert.  As Russert is want to do, he grilled Obama fairly hard on this exact question.  Here’s is an excerpt from that interview:

“Look, I was opposed to this war in 2002, 2003, four, five, six and seven. What I was very clear about, even in 2002 in my original opposition, was once we were in, we were going to have to make some decisions to see how we could stabilize the situation and act responsibly.  And that’s what I did through 2004, five and six, try to see can we create a workable government in Iraq? Can we make sure that we are minimizing the humanitarian costs in Iraq?  Can we make sure that our troops are safe in Iraq?  And that’s what I have done. ”

Clearly, once we had boots on the ground, Barack Obama would not have voted to cut off the funding that provides those troops with the equipment they need to keep them safe.  That would have been the height of irresponsibility.  And rapid flight from the area, resulting from sudden loss of funding, would, according to the Iraq Study Group, be a “humanitarian disaster”.

Understanding that he needed to vote for the funding necessary to maintain troop support, he has consistently worked for a withdrawal plan.  Here is another excerpt from his interview with Tim Russert:

“You know, throughout I was a constant critic.  The first hearing that I had was with Condoleezza Rice in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  This was a few months after I had been sworn in as senator.  And I told her at that point, we need to wind this war down.  It is true that my preference would not be to end this war simply by cutting off funding.  My preference would be for the president to recognize that we needed to change course, and that was what I continually pushed for. At the point where we realized the president was not willing to change course, I put forward a very clear timetable for when we should remove our troops. And, when that was vetoed, I then suggested that the only way to get the president to the table to negotiate how we’re going to move in a different direction in Iraq is by not giving him a blank check when it comes to funding.

But, look, throughout this process my views have been consistent.  The question has been, given the situation on the ground, how can I be most constructive not in scoring political points, but making sure that we have the best possible outcome after what I considered to be a tragic strategic mistake in the region . . . . You know, I’ve never rooted against success in Iraq, I’ve just been skeptical that this was the right approach for us to take.”

It seems extraordinarily disingenuous for Hillary Clinton to claim that Barack Obama suddenly became pro-war when he came to the Senate.  Or that his votes to fund the war somehow make a case that he is in support of the overall strategy.  She, herself, believes that we need out of Iraq, and yet she has voted for these same funding bills.  This is, in the end, a manipulation of Obama’s voting record in an attempt to dupe the voting public.  Thank goodness we are too smart to fall for it.

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Let’s Talk Foreign Policy

There’s been a lot of talk in the past few days about whether or not Barack Obama is ready, “on day one,” to handle the foreign policy aspect of being President.  I have much to say on this issue and hope to blog more, but this week has brought us a full color image of what President Barack Obama would look like in the foreign policy realm.

In the middle of a grueling campaign schedule for all of the candidates, Kenya is in turmoil over a contested Presidential election of its own.  There has been some extreme violence in that normally stable country.  As you may or may not be aware, the Obama family is from Kenya and Barack Obama still has relatives there.  He is well known there and the people of Kenya are watching our election.

Because of his name recognition in that country, Obama knew that he could offer something during this time of crisis.  So he picked up the phone on January 1 and called Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice and asked if he could be of service.  She called back and asked him to tape a message to be played on the Voice of America.  He did so and you can read an excerpt here

He has also, with the blessing of the White House, called both the President of Kenya and the opposition leader.  He has spoken with Bishop Desmond Tutu and had “had near-daily conversations with the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya.” 

The Obama campaign, however, has not publicized this.  This is not something he is doing to prove his capability as a leader in foreign policy.  He is doing this because it is right; because he can make a difference.  This is the kind of instinct we can expect him to have when he is President and these are the kinds of actions we can expect him to take.  As Joe Klein said in his Time piece of January 7, “it does seem noteworthy that, in the midst of the most amazing week of his life, Barack Obama has found the time to do . . . some diplomatic scut-work. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing if he wins the nomination and is elected President.”  Is he ready?  You better believe it.

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