Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gaffes, McCain, Obama, and Oliver Kamm

My American ex-partner used to say that the British media get everything about the USA wrong, and doubtless my commentary here will be no exception to that. I do my best: I try to stick to reportage from the States rather than that filtered through the papers here, and I make no apology for my getting a lot of that from blogs.

I haven't followed that much of the primaries. Still, I think Clinton made a gaffe. And by golly this is a gaffe. Arguably this was one too.[1] As was this. Related to that, a gaffe by the incumbent.

Oliver Kamm likes a line from Charles Krauthammer so much he's used it twice this month. First here:Iraq, foreign policy and the Democrats and a week later here (also posted to Comment is Free). Krauthammer:

What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.

Oliver's logic here is interesting. He links to the CNN coverage of the Clinton-Obama debate which in turn links to a transcript. (Note, BTW, the date: 23 July last year.) Oliver also links to Renewing American Leadership an essay by Obama which appeared in Foreign Affairs July/August 2007 issue. Now, the front page of the Foreign Affairs site links to an essay from the July/August 2008 issue. That may have been over-researching the issue, but I am now sure that I'm on solid ground when I claim that Obama wrote his piece before that particular Clinton debate.

"Our policy of issuing threats and relying on intermediaries to curb Iran's nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and regional aggression is failing. Although we must not rule out using military force, we should not hesitate to talk directly to Iran."

Now, Obama's "gaffe" which he managed to spin into a policy was this:

Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.

And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We've been talking about Iraq -- one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.

They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.

So, as far as I can tell, Obama has always supported talking to Iran, Syria, etc. Clinton calls this naive and thinks the US shouldn't. In other words, she wants to perpetuate the status quo.

But all is not lost for Oliver. Not yet, anyway. The "gaffe" position is more tenable than I've made it seem. The question he was asked was just a little leading. I'd use a cricket or baseball analogy here but for two things. I don't know much about either sport, and I don't know anything about the intention of the questioner.

QUESTION: 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 countries?


Diplomacy is not about being friendly. It is about achieving goals through negotiation. If the leader of the western alliance gives up a bargaining chip in advance, then he is making it less likely that western diplomacy will work. In the case of Iran, diplomacy has been conducted by the EU three (Britain, France and Germany) since 2003, with the aim of persuading the Islamic Republic, through a mix of incentives and penalties, to cease permanently its domestic activities in uranium enrichment.

Obama clearly agrees with the first sentence. Not talking, however, is not a bargaining chip. For that matter, I can't see why anyone in the US is happy that the EU is apparently negotiating on its behalf. As I'm sure I've said before, I think Jonathan Powell is right on this one.

"It's very difficult for democratic governments to do - talk to a terrorist movement that's killing your people," he said. "[But] if I was in government now I would want to have been talking to Hamas, I would be wanting to communicate with the Taliban; and I would want to find a channel to al-Qaida."

MSNBC had another take on that debate.

“I was called irresponsible and naive because I believe that there is nobody we can’t talk to,” said Obama, drawing loud cheers. “We’ve got nothing to fear as long as know who we are and what we stand for and our values.”

Oliver also alleges that Obama has not attended the Senate foreign relations committee's subcommittee on European affairs (of which he is the chair). This is discussed on the Democratic Underground site and found to be a substantive charge.

That really should be it, but since I'm here, some more links and stuff. Gene Zitver: First Jewish President?; Jon Swift (an American with a traitorously Irish-British name - but if George Bush can be forgiven that ...) Is Barack Obama Good for the Jews?. Only one of these is a parody. Obama on religion.

Marko Attila Hoare pops up on Harry's Place.

I rather hope they do, as I hope McCain will win. Last time we had a fluffy, feel-good Democrat with no serious interest in foreign policy as president of the US, it meant a whole string of international disasters (Rwanda, Srebrenica, rise of the Taliban, etc.). And the international situation is more menacing today than it was in the 1990s, particularly where Russia is concerned.

The Taliban did indeed rise during the Bill Clinton years, but their antecedents were the Mujahideen who were armed by the previous presidents. Reagan may have been "fluffy [and] feel-good ... with no serious interest in foreign policy" but he unequivocally wasn't a Democrat. I agree that the Rwanda Genocide happened also during the Clinton presidency and that the US could have done more about it. Canada, according to the Wikipedia entry did support the UN fully; but it was under the Liberal party at the time. I don't see any evidence that a President to the right of Clinton would have done any more. Srebrenica, surely, was a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Marko seems well versed in these matters, so I'm sure he'll explain the exigencies of preventing massacres when most US defence spending goes on high-tech rather than ground troops.

Last word to Christopher Hitchens reviewing Obama's The Audacity of Hope.

Still, Obama does possess one faculty that is almost unbelievably rare among today’s candidates. He is an internationalist, has lived in other countries and cultures and likes to travel. In making an otherwise boring point about “energy independence”, he notices that when he was in Ukraine the whole promise of the democratic revolution there was negated by the simple fact that Moscow could cut off the gas and the oil. He describes the atmosphere of Jakarta - a city that he rightly says most Americans cannot locate on a map - with a rather evocative power

[1] How wonderful if that idea crossed the Atlantic. David Cameron hoodies anyone?

Update Thursday 19:22 BST (nb comments are GMT). Well that went well, better than I expected and comments so far - when not discussing the arcana of US athletics jargon at least - have been favourable concerning the relevance of the above to Decency. So here's some more. To come back to Nick Cohen, let me remind you that I posted about Nick's piece on McCain here. (There's a comment by B2 which brings in Kamm and "Brendan Simms (a Scoopie)".) Short version: Nick praises McCain for physically intimidating Malcolm Rifkind (whom I believe to be small and unprepossessing) though McCain is disabled to the extent that he can't hit anyone. Anyway, there's a book called The Real McCain; there's an accompanying site with a blog, from that Important Questions For George Stephanopoulos To Ask John McCain This Sunday (this Sunday has passed, and he presumably didn't).

Doesn’t your legendary temper make you too dangerous to be trusted with the presidency of the United States? Your anger, even toward friends and allies, is legendary. You purportedly dropped the F-Bomb on your own GOP colleagues John Cornyn and Chuck Grassley. In the book, The Real McCain, author Cliff Schechter claims you got into a fist-fight with your fellow Arizona Republican Rick Renzi. Allegedly, you even publicly used a crude term, one which decorum and the FCC prohibit us from even saying on the air, to describe your own wife. Which if any of these episodes is untrue? Don’t your anger management problems make you too dangerously unstable to be president of the United States?

There are other goodies among those 12. But let's come back to Harry's Place's comments.

I can’t stand Obama, due to his horrible fake persona and his fanatical iPod-owning poseur moron ’sorry everybody’ ‘hay let’s re-fuck-up-Iraq’ followers.

Yes indeed. Let's lay into iPod owners. (I'm on my second, BTW, I don't claim to be impartial here.)

Given your wealth and privileged upbringing, aren’t you - and not Barack Obama - the elitist?
You have called Barack Obama an elitist. Yet you recently returned to your exclusive private high school, one which now costs over $38,000 a year to attend. Your wife is the heiress to a beer distribution company, reputedly owns 8 homes and has a net worth well over $100 million. Your children all attended private schools, academies which also happened to be the primary beneficiaries of funds from your supposed charitable foundation. Shouldn’t the American people in fact view you as the elitist, and a hypocritical one at that?

If Eton has two "halves" a year (given Eton terminology, it could be any number) McCain's alma mater is more expensive than David Cameron's. Anyway, despite McCain's expensive education, his wealth comes from his (second) wife. Sriously, I want a hoodie with "fanatical iPod-owning poseur moron" on the back (to go with my LOLcode T-shirt).

Let us not forget Michael Ledeen. How little I knew when I suggested Hitchens be known as the 'Dupe'.

Finally (this time I mean it), as the comments have brought up Clinton v Bush on international knowledge, I loved this review from Saturday's Torygraph. Nicely underwritten and the opening made me laugh out loud. (Warning, I do have a sick sense of humour.)

Late in the spring of 2003, optimism was running high among supporters of the recent invasion of Iraq. The US attorney general, John Ashcroft, hoped to have the rule of law up and running within 30 days, while Lane McCotter, his man on the ground, learned with some excitement that the country already possessed serviceable correctional facilities. He had found a recently abandoned complex of concrete cell blocks that looked "just like the prisons I ran in Texas".
Even after four ex-inmates arrived at the compound's gates, asking for permission to dig up the remains of their amputated hands, McCotter remained convinced of its potential. By August 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom had its first maximum security jail.

Yes, the coalition didn't even know of the reputation of Abu Ghraib when they arrived. Operation Iraqi Freedom indeed!


Blogger ejh said...

Is that another instance of the Decent usage of "serious", when Marko employs the term? I think the idea that Clinton (who I loathe, so I've no particular interest in going out of my way to defend him) wasn't interested in foreign policy simply doesn't stack up unless we assume that only an aggressive foreign policy counts as being interested.

Of course it may mean "didn't militarily intervene in the former Yugoslavia as soon as Marko might have liked" but that's surely an argument about particular policy rather than the degree of one's actual interest, no?

By the standards of his successor, Clinton must have been spectacularly well-informed about foreign affairs, I'd have thought (though who was not?).

6/12/2008 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you follow the link to the HP postings where Marko made that claim, you can see that in all seriousness he consdiers George Bush's foreign policy to have consisted, exclusively, of 'The liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq'. He then goes on:

Clinton’s foreign policy wasn’t all bad; the liberation of East Timor was his finest hour. But overall, Bush’s foreign policy has been less bad than Clinton’s.

notwithstanding Marko's own particular 'issues', this genuinely seems to be standard Decent thinking on Bush vs Clinton, and it's as baffling as ever.

Marko goes on, discussing the Republicans:

they opposed intervention in Kosova because they blindly hated Clinton. But McCain does not belong to that wing of the Republicans. In fact, I understand that the Republican right doesn’t much like him either.

Apologies to your ex-partner if I'm wide of the mark here, but from what I've been reading in places like the New Yorker over the last few weeks, McCain has been slavishly adhering to the line of the Republican right over the last few weeks, and has gone back on almost every issue that made him a 'maverick'...

6/12/2008 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clinton showed an interest in Northern Ireland unprecedented from American presidents. I don't think Ireland's example of a jaw-jaw approach to tricky conflicts registers much in Decentistan.

Marc Mulholland.

6/12/2008 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Nathaniel said...

A fascinating thing about America is that, along with not having a youth panic right now like Britain, hoodies have very little sinister connotation to them (unfortunately, what sinister connotation they do have is probably based on racism). They're what you might wear on those cold days on the track, before you meet up with Ashley and Meredith to plan next week's kegger.

6/12/2008 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

What are "cold days on the track"?

6/12/2008 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Nathaniel said...

Cold track meet days, when there's a certain snap in the air, and the whole team knows they had better have a bake sale before long.

6/12/2008 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Sir S said...

Bill Clinton liberated East Timor? Who knew!

I also didn't know that the rule of law was a machine you could "get up and running".

6/12/2008 08:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Ledeen also gets a mention in a recent Spinwatch article about Labour Friends of Israel. What a coincidence!

Moussaka Man

6/13/2008 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can’t stand Obama, due to his horrible fake persona and his fanatical iPod-owning poseur moron ’sorry everybody’ ‘hay let’s re-fuck-up-Iraq’ followers.

this a comment from a site overflowing with Blair devotees? shurely shome mishtake!

it's also interesting how many decents are seemingly oblivious to what actually gets American presidents elected, ie issues domestic as well as foreign. Marko admits as much when he says that 'on balance Obama will probably be better if you actually live there'.

6/13/2008 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Another Spinwatch article about Decency

2) Is there a Decent line on 42 days pre-charge detention?

Moussaka Man

6/13/2008 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Re: Ledeen. My first memory of encountering him was reading a comment piece on the Telegraph. I was onto the second column and "This is all shit" was banging away in my frontal lobes like an incipient migraine. So I gave up. In those days, though, I still read Stephen Pollard, who linked to said article and praised its percipience and lonely voice against the world, etc, etc. Not long after, I gave up on Pollard - not only was he a spin merchant himself, he was unable to tell spin from analysis.

Organic (can I call you that?): a recurring theme of Decency is that its proponents hail democracy while advocating a version where voters only vote on certain issues (usually foreign policy ones). I hope I'm an empiricist, and this model of democracy is not only risibly naive to me, it doesn't even work at the "how to write columns to persuade the electorate" level. For one thing, all foreign policy is influenced by so many actors that no one can sensibly predict it - hence real party manifestoes tend toward fluff in that direction: they use terms like "promoting" rather than "delivering". Even the most stereotypically dull "Sun" or "Mail" reader does cast her vote on a handful of issues. I can understand single-issue lobbying, but it should be aimed at politicians, not voters.

MM: going by H'sP, yes and it [42 days] is a good thing. Post on that some time. Need to digest the whole David Davis thing first.

6/13/2008 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Alt.Dsquared's move is, I think, at least in part a pre-emptive strike against that highly Decent figure, Michael Gove. Be interesting to see if they deploy in line with Gove, Murdoch and the PolExers against Davies as they did against Livingstone. But Kelvin McCunt's involvement is likely to queer their pomposity a tad.

6/13/2008 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

My American ex-partner used to say that the British media get everything about the USA wrong

Not so different from the US media then...
Actually one of the best writers on the US, American or otherwise, is Gary Younge. The trouble with US journalists is that most of them are very parochial. They either assume that the US is all like where the grew up, or currently live, or that its like the stereotypes. So like the UK media's London bias, but on a far larger scale.

6/15/2008 02:31:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home