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August 29, 2008 |  10 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

From the Editorial Team

Obama Stresses Security Policy Differences with McCain

From the Editorial Team: In his nomination speech, the Democratic presidential candidate reiterates his commitment to direct diplomacy with Iran and his hawkish position on Pakistan. What do you make of Barack Obama’s security policy positions?

Video of Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention:



Accepting his party's nomination for president, Barack Obama not only focused on domestic politics, but also reiterated the "fundamental change" he would like to bring to US foreign policy He promised to "restore America's moral standing in the world" and to "end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan."

He stressed his differences with the Republican nominee: "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives." This line drew some of the most enthusiastic applause among the 80,000 supporters in Denver's largest football stadium. Obama wanted to stress his relatively hawkish position on Pakistan: he had earlier promised to run down high-value terrorist targets inside Pakistan even without that government's authorization, i.e., he would violate the sovereignty of a US ally in a unilateral move. American unilateralism has long been criticized by the Europeans. Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, however, has said that US-Afghan-Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror will improve after Musharraf's resignation. See the atlantic-community.org article Pakistan's New Commitment in the War on Terror.

Obama emphasized that strong rhetoric alone is not sufficient: "I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." He further argued, "you don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances." This line could be interpreted as a response to McCain, who declared "We are all Georgians now" and opposes direct high-level negotiations with Tehran and was even caught singing about bombing Iran.

Obama did not elaborate further on these "oldest alliances" nor did he once mention NATO or Europe in his speech. Instead he indicated "I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease." This might indicate that he is looking beyond Europe for new allies. Senator Obama was criticized for not convening policy meetings as the chairman of the Senate European Subcommittee. Do you think the Atlantic Alliance is less important for Obama than for McCain? Or do you consider Obama an Atlanticist because he visited Germany, France and Britain during his election campaign?

A President Obama would certainly demand more burden-sharing from Europeans. Watch his speech in Berlin and the attendees' reactions in our video interviews. Last week atlantic-community.org started to discuss whether Europe will be able to continue the security policy of free-riding. We invite you to continue to share your views and your policy recommendations.

 

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Tags: | Pakistan | elections | Obama | Afghanistan | Iran | Alliance |
 
Comments
Member deleted

August 29, 2008

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I have considered Obama as good alternative to McCain with hope to see some change with US Foreign policy. However when he selected Biden as his running mate based e.g. Biden's experience about foreign affairs I doubt his judgement. Selecting a man on the record for stating that “all Serbs should be placed in Nazi-style concentration camps” during Senatorial deliberations in 1999 over NATO aggression on Serbia, and that United States ought to conduct a fascist, “Japanese-German style occupation” of Serbia. My expectations are now below zero level - unfortunately.
 
Richard  Wales

August 29, 2008

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Here's the thing. There is always a lot of rhetoric during campaigns. I don't listen to most of it, I watch what they do. Obama said during the primary election debates that he would filibuster any bill put forward to weaken FISA. Two weeks later, he voted for Bush's bill to effectively neutralize any and all public protections in FISA. Obama claims to eschew special interest money but the truth is he's taken 150 million in carefully laundered corporate gifts. This doesn't include money used in ads by "uncontrolled" committees. While I applaud Obama’s avoidance of Clinton as Vice President, Biden is not exactly known for human rights work in the trenches, he’d rather send the police to kill em all and let God sort em out later.

So I’ll just listen to some good music while their mouths are moving and see how much anti civil/human rights legislation they leave in place or quietly approve. That said, of course I’ll be voting for Obama, the other choice is McCain who seems anxious to out do Bush in violence, theft and reduction of basic human rights. This election process in the U.S. that results in nose holding at the voting booth has got to change.
 
John  Hadjisky

August 29, 2008

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"Direct diplomacy" in this context is just a slogan.

Direct diplomacy has been tried over and over again with Iran, with some mixed results but mostly non-results. Bush recently tried to initiate direct, high-level talks with Iran, they basically ignored his envoy. Sen. Obama could score points by observing that the Bush administration followed his recommendation; but then he would have to explain what he would do differently. He seems to assume that he doesn't have to do a single thing differently; that the Iranians will give him some sort of honeymoon or benefit of the doubt, so that he can succeed where others have failed. Well, he has made history, and if he becomes President he will make some more. But do the Iranians really care about that? After all, Islam abolished slavery (amongst believers, that is...) over 1000 years ago. And how will Obama explain his "unified Jerusalem" statement from his AIPAC speech to the conspiracy-obsessed mullahs?

On the other hand, unilateral pursuit of the Taliban and al-Qaeda into Pakistan IS a substantial policy. Does he really mean it? If so, it will come as quite a shock to his core supporters, who are already upset about FISA. But at least with Pakistan he hasn't flip-flopped.

The new Pakistani government allegedly is going to give us permission for some actions, but will they remove all limits? They, like Obama, are new and unproven. If US pursuit causes a scandal leading to the collapse of the new Pakistani government, it could turn into one of those moments in history when an inexperienced President gets in way over his head. Sure, you're thinking of the current President, but remember Kennedy's Bay of Pigs. Several (but my no means all) biographers suggest it was influenced disastrously by Kennedy's sense that he had to prove himself both at home and abroad. Like Kennedy, Obama is an outsider, but one with much less experience in government.

Of course, that is hypothetical.

The real problem with hot pursuit into Pakistan is not simply avoiding failure, but defining success. Hot pursuit admits to the world that bin-Laden still matters, and is still feared by the world's only superpower. Do we really want to give bin-Laden a martyr's death? Even the best possible outcome imagined by Obama, capture followed by trial, gives bin-Laden his second favorite martyrdom - a long, public trial so the whole world can see him wrestle with the Great Satan. And how on earth do we get the FBI, or the investigators from the Hague, into the Hindu Kush to gather evidence? After bin-Laden's embarrassing retreat from Taliban hospitality in Afghanistan, after al-Qaeda's embarrassing declaration of caliphate after caliphate in Iraq, only to be disowned by tribe after tribe of his fellow Arabs, WHY ON EARTH shouldn't we just let him rot in some cave?

Death has never been much of a problem for wanna-be martyrs, but failure gets them EVERY TIME. Our best policy again al-Qaeda is to field a team of expert diplomats who can ask over and over again, in flawless Arabic, "Osama, where is the caliphate you promised?"
Tags: | caliphate | Pakistan | Afghanistan | Iran | Osama | Obama | McCain |
 
Richard  Wales

August 29, 2008

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It's rhetoric. Obama is a fool if he engages in an adventure of chasing Bin-Ladin around. Better he disengage from Iraq, repair our tattered constitution and worry about the net global standard of living. The water, climate and energy issues will bite him in the backside if he plays at world policeman.
 
Unregistered User

August 29, 2008

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@ John,

Obama wants to meet with Ahmadinejad. Bush has refused such high level meetings.

I agree with your suggestion that a President Obama might consider it necessary to prove himself and do something foolish like other young presidents without military experience have done. Well, Kennedy did have military experience, but that did not stop him from going after Castro.
 
John  Hadjisky

August 29, 2008

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@Michael Marin,

It is more complicated than what you say...it always is.

Bush has never refused to meet, in fact he is made clear he would be delighted to meet under certain conditions. These conditions were not invented out of thin air, they are all promises than Iran has made in the past. The conditions would cost Iran nothing -- for example, they wouldn't have to give up enrichment in order to meet, merely pause enrichment. Bush was not requiring them to discuss human rights, or the fact that Iran has killed Iraqi civilians and coalition soldiers, and is continuing to do so. Bush appears to be willing to listen whatever other nonsense Ahmadinejad wanted to talk about (Bush's Jewish overlords, the "truth" about the holocaust, etc.). Plus there would typically be other goodies for Iran, behind the scenes.

More recently, Bush's ignored envoy suggested that even Bush's earlier, minimal conditions were negotiable.

Perhaps Obama has said, or will say, that he wants to meet "unconditionally". But in diplomacy, you still have to define what is meant by unconditionally. Suppose that a couple of days before the meeting, Iran makes a special point to round up a group of homosexuals, artists, students, and other dissidents, put them to death, and publish the videos on the Internet. I am assuming that Obama would not meet after such an outrage. Is Obama therefore imposing an implicit condition on the meeting? It depends on how you define it.

As absurd as this sounds, this sort of thing is actually how diplomacy happens sometimes. It is replacing a contest of arms with a contest of symbolism, but it is still a contest, and the symbolism can cause real people to suffer horribly, so it shouldn't be done lightly. There is always a price to be paid.

I just don't see how Obama thinks he can make a fresh start, given what he's already said. I already mentioned "unified Jerusalem", but consider this: How will he assure the Iranians that his election promise of unilateral, hot pursuit from Afghanistan to Pakistan, will not become unilateral hot pursuit from Afghanistan to Iran? From Iraq to Iran?

Does team Obama even realize the diplomatic problems these election promises will create?

____

On the other hand, McCain's promise to pursue bin-Laden to the Gates of Hell, reflects his long experience with the art of diplomacy. Even though it may seem more inflammatory, it artfully dodges the question of exactly which countries share a border with the Nether Regions.

Based on this rhetoric I am certainly concerned that McCain will make the same conceptual mistake as Obama appears to be making, and give bin Laden a chance to make headlines. Fortunately, if McCain avoids the temptation to declare a new manhunt, and sticks to his specific plan to have a "surge" in Afghanistan similar to the one in Iraq, he will deal al-Qaeda another crushing blow. The surge is not a simple matter of sending more troops, it means implementing Gen. Petraeus' proven tactics. Doing that will require a (re-)unified NATO command, which is nearly impossible; but if anyone can make that happen, it is McCain.
Tags: | Iraq Surge |
 
John  Hadjisky

October 30, 2008

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Has anyone noticed that Obama's promise to meet "unconditionally" with Iran has now become "meet without conditions, but with preparations". Which just means that there will be conditions, but they will be called preparation steps, or something like that. As I suspected all along.

Both the McCain campaign and the media have been negligent in pressing Obama to define exactly how his "preparations" will be different than the "preparations" the Bush administration has already attempted.

Furthermore, it turns out that Iran isn't willing to meet unconditionally with Obama! From an Oct 22, 2008 Wall St. Journal editorial, "Iran's Preconditions":

"Mehdi Kalhor, Vice President for Media Affairs, said the U.S. must do two things before summit talks can take place. First, American military forces must leave the Middle East -- presumably including such countries as Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and anywhere else American soldiers are deployed in the region. Second, the U.S. must cease its support of Israel. Until Washington does both, talks are "off the agenda," the Islamic Republic News Agency reports. It quotes Mr. Kalhor as saying, "If they [the U.S.] take our advice, grounds for such talks would be well prepared."

So much for Obama being entitled to an automatic fresh start.

Finally, our French allies may not be all that happy about this. The NY Post repeats a story reported by Haaretz:

"Sarkozy fears Obama would pursue direct, unconditional talks with Iran. He reportedly told Obama in their meeting that it would be 'very problematic' if US policy toward Iran changes, 'arrogantly' ignoring ongoing efforts."

The French have of course denied stating this, which means it was either a legitimate leak, or just a rumor.
 
Donald  Stadler

October 30, 2008

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I think the answer is that Obama should of course mak 'preparations' but really allow the situation to - ripen.

As I pointed out earlier the difference between the negociating position occupied by the Bush administration and Obama (should he be elected) is not Obama's youth, andsome smile, or global popularity. No, it's something a bit more fundamental; the difference between a world oil price of $147 BBL - and a price of $57 BBL.

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman points this out in his most recent column "Sleepless in Tehran": http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/opinion/29friedman.html?_r=1&ref=...

Freidman points out that Iran is extremely overextended right now. "Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge".

Freidmn points out two historical parallels to the current situation: the fall of the USSR, and the fall of the Shah of Iran. The USSR became overextended during the previous oil boom of the 70's then was forced to change radically in the 80's. And the Shah?:

"(Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.)"

Friedman agrees with me about negociating strategy, that Obama should be willing to negociate but that the west shouldn't be too easy: "we need to deflate the Iranian mullahs as well. Let them chase us."

One more thing. Let's look around the world to see who else is in a similar coil to the one facing Iran's sleepless leader. There are two obvious candidates, Venezuela and Russia.

Venezuela is toast. with oil at $60 BBL sooner or later Hugo Chavez will be unable to meet all of his committments. No need to negociate here, but we should probably make plans to help out whomever his successor is - assuming that the successor isn't another Chavez of course.

The other vulnerable country is of course Russia. Russia is in a better position than Itan and Venezuela with much higher reserves prior to the crisis, and it's much closer to the break even point than the other two countries. But the oil bust may change the balane of power in Russia, weakening Putin and putting power in other's hands. This definately merits study, but not action one way or the other, for now....


 
John  Hadjisky

November 16, 2008

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@Donald Stadler:

I read the Friedman article. I really, really like the idea of lowering the reward for bin Laden. We don't need a man-hunt; we need a counter-insurgency. Our enemy is the movement, not the man.

As to Iran, I am sure cheap oil will give their leadership headaches. But I still don't believe we know nearly enough about the internal workings of Iranian society, not to mention Iranian government. We would have to get a lot better intel to understand exactly how much leverage the low price of oil and the overextended Iranian economy really gives us.

If Iran really is facing collapse, we need to figure out how to avoid making the mistake we and China, and South Korea have made with North Korea. Our negotiations have allowed North Korea's leadership to stay in power; without massive S. Korean, Chinese and Western aid, they would probably already have collapsed by now.
Tags: | Iran | oil | Friedman | bin Laden |
 
Donald  Stadler

November 16, 2008

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"If Iran really is facing collapse, we need to figure out how to avoid making the mistake we and China, and South Korea have made with North Korea."

I'm not sure I accept the implicit argument that the west is somehow to blame for the situation in North Korea, and I really don't accept that there are major parallels between Iran and North Korea. Iran sill has a lot of oil and a potentially productive citizenry. It has not been systematcally ruined since 1945. It is unlikely to collapse, but the mullahs may be foreced to give up power. If the Iranian constitution is changed to remove the mullah's veto, the west should be prepared to negociate in good fith with a new president and legislature elected under the new scheme.

If that doesn't happen, talk. But don't concede anything. Allow the recession to put increasing pressure on the current rulers.....
 

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