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Spinning the Obama Doctrine

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the recent foreign policy fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is how Obama supporters have come to defend a position that even Obama himself does not hold. That is, namely, a commitment to meet with Kim Il-Jong, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Basher al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his first year of presidency, with no pre-conditions, anytime, anywhere.

Rather than admit a mistake, or explain that he was answering the question's core principle not the details of its formulation, Obama has muddied his position to disguise the fact that he has walked his answer back to the same position held not only by Hillary Clinton but every other Democrat running for president, except Dennis Kucinich, who alone has committed himself to calling rogue leaders on his cell phone.

Let's review.

1. The day before the debate, Obama is asked if he would meet with Hugo Chavez.``Under certain conditions, I always believe in talking," he told columnist Andres Oppenheimer.

Under certain conditions.

2. At the debate, he is asked this:

"In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our country?"

(Fact check: Sadat went to Israel in 1977, not 1982. It was his seventh year as Egypt's president, and his visit came only after carefully construction diplomatic groundwork known as "preconditions.")

3. Obama's answer:

"I would. The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them - which had been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration - is ridiculous."

4. "This answer was perfectly in line with common sense experience," says Eric Zorn, comparing the world's most fraught diplomatic tensions with talking to your neighbors or co-workers about, you know, keeping things down a bit. (Yes, let's just invite them all to the Rose Garden for a barbecue! Kim Il, you bring the potato salad!)

It is, however, taken literally, as radical a shift in American foreign policy - and world diplomatic protocol - as any president in our history has taken this side of pre-emptive war.

5. Obama never meant to promise A) face-to-face presidential meetings B) anytime, anywhere C) without preconditions D) with Kim Il-Jong, Ahmadinejad, Assad, Castro and Chavez.

What Obama was really responding to was the Bush's policy of not engaging Syria and Iran, which each Democratic candidate thinks is a mistake.

7. "[A]fter the debate, speaking to reporters in the spin room, Axelrod claimed Obama didn't mean any such meetings would actually take place," Byron York, among many others, reports.

"'He said that he would be willing to talk,' Axelrod explained. 'And what he meant was, as a government, he'd be willing and eager to initiate those kinds of talks, just as during the Cold War there were low-level discussions and mid-level discussions between us and the Soviet Union and so on. So he was not promising summits with all of those leaders.'

"Axelrod said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who took sharp issue with Obama on the question, was 'trying to make a distinction without a difference.'"

8. Sensing its own vulnerability, the Obama campaign attacked first - and tried to change the subject to Hillary's war vote.

9. Hillary told the Quad City Times that Obama's debate answer was "irresponsible" and "naive."

10. Obama responded: "What she's somehow maintaining is my statement could be construed as not having asked what the meeting was about. I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon."

The Obama campaign accused Hillary of creating a "fabricated controversy," harkening back to Axelrod's post-debate spin that the positions of the candidates represented "a difference without distinction."

(Biden also called Obama naive after the debate. "World leaders should not meet with other world leaders unless they know what the agenda is, so you don't end up being used," Biden said. "When I went to meet with Milosevic before the war, the condition I met with him was that no press would be available, I'd only meet him in his office late at night, and I wouldn't dignify being seen with him."

(Dodd and Richardson agreed. "You have to have a purpose," Richardson said.)

11. Axelrod also trotted out the cup of coffee line. "He wasn't suggesting he would call Hugo Chavez and invite him over for a cup of coffee; obviously there are some things to do first," Axelrod said. "But Obama would not emulate the Bush strategy of shunning our adversaries."

So . . . his position is the same as Hillary's and his real answer to the YouTube questioner is No, not Yes.

12. "Obama adviser David Axelrod said on Tuesday that Obama would not just meet blindly with such leaders but only after diplomatic spadework had been accomplished." AP reported.

"The Obama campaign was quick to point to an April 23 quote from Clinton in which she said, 'I think it's a terrible mistake for our president to say he won't talk to bad people.' That, Obama representatives said, showed Clinton had changed her position.

"Clinton advisers noted that the New York senator's full quote included a line that she would first 'begin diplomatic discussions with those countries' before such meetings - same as she said in Monday's debate."

13. Obama holds a conference call with reporters, makes special calls to others (maybe even Zorn), gives an "exclusive' to NBC, calls Hillary's approach Bush-Cheney Lite and begins issuing e-mail alerts in an effort to control the damage.

14. "I have never seen a guy get clobbered this badly, I'm not even sure he's aware . . . " Tucker Carlson says of Obama. "He's allowed himself to get boxed into this corner."

Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt says: "If you've made a mistake, don't keep repeating the same line and don't dig yourself in any further . . . rather than just clarifying, 'Of course you have to have the appropriate ground-laying.'"

15. Axelrod squares off against Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson on Tucker and Hardball.

AXELROD: It's about the fundamental principle of how we're going to engage our enemies.

WOLFSON: David is avoiding the question that was asked at the debate . . . do you commit to meet with dictators without conditions in the first year of the presidency.

AXELROD: I think you better go back and look at the transcript . . . any president should be willing to meet with any foreign leader .

WOLFSON: Willing to consider, or are you going to do it? It seems like he now has two positions . . . first, that he wasn't saying summitry; now he's saying he'll be sitting down with them . . .
AXELROD: You've misstated the question that was asked . . . would you be willing to sit down with any foreign leader . . .

WOLFSON: So now you are saying you'll meet with them.

AXELROD: . . . dialogue with the Iranians and Syrians.


MATTHEWS: Are you still working that line? Trying to make [Obama] live up to his own standards?!

WOLFSON: Maybe they're planning the meetings right now . . .

AXELROD: Didn't call anybody Bush-Cheney Lite.

MATTHEWS: Then who was he referring to?

WOLFSON: Who was he referring to David?

AXELROD: [Talks about Iraq]

WOLFSON: Don't commit ahead of time to meeting with the Irananian president, who is a Holocaust denier.

AXELROD: Barack Obama stood up [against the war] in 2002.

WOLFSON: Then he came to the Senate and has the same record as Senator Clinton.

AXELROD: . . . changing the Bush policy of non-engagement.

MATTHEWS: Jack Kennedy said never fear to negotiate.

WOLFSON: That's not same thing as you're going to commit a year-and-a-half before the election to meet with Castro, Chavez, the president of Iran, who is a Holocaust denier.

AXELROD: No one said that.

17. "'Rather than just simply acknowledging the mistake that was during the course of the debate, the senator has attempted to distort Senator Clinton's record in an effort to sort of mask this confusing statement of his,' former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said. [Vilsack supports Clinton.]

"Obama's embrace of personal presidential diplomacy without pre-condition at the debate came only a day after he told a Miami Herald columnist that he would meet Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez - but with pre-conditions.

"'Under certain conditions, I always believe in talking,' he told columnist Andres Oppenheimer.

"But in an Iowa appearances following the debate, Obama has restated his belief in speaking without preconditions though he appeared to have muddied the issue Saturday.

"'I am confident we can go before the world and talk to the worst dictators and tell them we don't believe in your values, we don't believe in your human rights violations, we don't believe in you exporting terrorism,' he said. 'But if you are willing to work with us in a better direction, then we're willing to talk.'

Vilsack said he remains confused about Obama's true position on the matter.

"'I would hope that the senator would clarify his comments as to whether he is for preconditions or not and would cease and desist from criticizing and distorting the record and comments of Senator Clinton,' he said.

"Also Saturday, the influential Des Moines Register newspaper published a story about the dispute under the headline: 'Attacks on Clinton seen as undermining Obama's message of hope.'

18. "A spokesman for the senator, Robert Gibbs, confirmed the remark, but said there was no conflict, adding, 'The meeting would have to be in the national interest.'"

19. "I don't think I was that ambiguous," Obama said. "I said I would consider meeting, without precondition, with any world leaders, and I continue to believe that."

20. "ADEL, Iowa - Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama today said critics of his call to meet with the controversial leaders from the world's trouble spots symbolized a Washington belief system that equates experience to doing the same thing 'over and over and over again' even when it doesn't work.

"'That's how we got into this war' in Iraq, Obama told a group of more than 100 people in front of a gently sloping cornfield on a family farm more than 150 years old.

"The same people who said, 'Oh, Obama made a gaffe about going and talking to people we don't like,' those are the same folks who were writing columns back in 2002 saying, 'Of course we have to go and invade (Iraq). And we're going to be greeted as liberators and it will cost us a few million dollars and it will be over in six months.'"

"My attitude was, 'What do we have to fear as Americans? Why is it that we should be afraid? If we know who we are, if we know what we stand for, then we shouldn't be afraid to meet anybody because we'll tell them what we believe and what makes this country great. They may not like what we have to say, but we're going to go ahead and speak to them about those issues,' he said."

20. Barack Obama to Kim Il-Jung: Okay, let me just restate again what makes America great.

21. Obama says he has the best foreign policy judgement of any candidate, Republican or Democrat.

23. ZORN COMMENTER: "Two strikes on Obama so far in the debates. First he flubbed the question regarding what his first response would be to a terrorist attack and now he comes off as someone ready to give legitimacy to Chavez & Ahmadinejad. While he is at it, should he talk to Bin Laden too?

"Both highlight his lack of international experience and his lack of campaigning experience. He is coming off as a lightweight similar to Edwards which is surprising. C'mon Zorn, admit he appears more like a state senator than US senator.

"One more of these and 'He Gone!'.

ZORN REPLY - He didn't flub the terrorist attack question. His answer made perfect sense . . . you have a city chaos and crisis, what's the first thing you do? You get emergency services in place. "Retaliate" is the red-meat answer.
Posted by: PJ | Jul 31, 2007 6:54:02 AM


"But in rapid succession, former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Clinton offered rather different responses, sounding a far more aggressive tone in their determination to retaliate and unequivocal in their willingness to use force.

"'The first thing I would do is be certain I knew who was responsible, and I would act swiftly and strongly to hold them responsible for that,' Edwards said.

"Clinton, citing her experience as a senator from New York during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said, 'I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate.'

"'If we are attacked, and we can determine who is behind that attack, and if there are nations that supported or gave material aid to those who attacked us, I believe we should quickly respond,' she said.

"New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was not even offered the chance to respond to the question, but offered his views moments later. 'I would respond militarily, aggressively,' he said. 'I'll build international support for our goals. I'd improve our intelligence, but that would be a direct threat on the United States, and I would make it clear that that would be an important, decisive, military response, surgical strike, whatever it takes.'

"Those responses ultimately prompted a clarification from Obama, who, during a later exchange about global climate change, veered back to terrorism."

24. Nobody has ever suggested that the problem with American foreign policy is the absence of face-to-face meetings anytime, anywhere without precondition with Kim Il-Jong and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And is this really the best way to spend your first year in office? Because five meetings like this will pretty much sink the rest of President Obama's agenda, whatever it is.

25. "But Obama said his proposal symbolized that 'I am continually challenging conventional wisdom and thinking independently.'"


STANDARD DISCLAIMER TO OBAMAPHILES: I am not supporting Hillary Clinton nor do I intend to vote for her. Don't blame me for the facts.


Posted on August 3, 2007

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