In recent weeks, I have met very senior advisors for the Obama, Clinton, and McCain camps. In each case, the senior presidential aide was quite aware of critiques I had offered regarding a variety of foreign policy issues.
In the case of Obama, I’ve been critical of his recent triangulation on Israel/Palestine issues and his unwillingness to embrace at least the Bush administration 2001-2004 “status quo” in US-Cuba policy.
In the case of Hillary Clinton, I have been critical of her Cuba stand, her failure to mention Israel-Palestine in what her staff called Clinton’s definitive foreign policy vision statement, and critical of her stand on the Beijing-hosted Olympic Games and her views about how to pursue better human rights conditions for people inside China, Tibet, and Darfur.
In the case of John McCain, whom I have admired and written positive treatments on many occasions on this blog, I part company on his approach to the inevitability of more wars in the Middle East, his glib embrace of bombing Iran, and his stand on a long-term deployment in Iraq.
John McCain’s national security vision — as it stands now — will either require substantial tax increases to cover the military commitments he seems unable to extract his thinking from — or a new military draft. Both will harm confidence of citizens in America and its future — and hasten America’s decline economically, politically, and strategically.
What has been quite strange is that in certain micro-policy areas, whether its Cuba, Israel-Palestine, or knocking back the Cheney wing of John McCain’s divided foreign policy advisers, these senior political aides I spoke to all said, practically verbatim:
You are pushing us in the direction we need to go.
I’m still trying to get my head around the implications of this.
To some degree, it means that the campaigns — and perhaps the candidates themselves — aren’t accepting full responsibility for his or her views. They perhaps want to be pushed. They want gaiatsu, a Japanese term meaning “external pressure”.
During US-Japan trade dispute days, Japan frequently worked behind the scenes to solicit American trade negotiators to pressure the Japanese government to concede on some respective trade policy issue — so that Japanese politicians could use the ‘excuse’ of American pressure to explain the seeming concession to its public. The fact is that Japanese politicians usually actually wanted to go in the direction that we were pressuring them; it was in their interests — but politicians did not want to shoulder the responsibility.
To some degree, the franchises of diverse opinion that surround each candidate are going to be looking for outside agitants, ideologues and validaters to help bolster the internal policy case they are making to the potential president. For a refresher on the internal divide problem inside the campaigns, please read “Agonizing Over the Candidates and Who They Really Are.”
When top tier advisers are looking for excuses for positions that they need to take — then it raises serious questions about authenticity of the rhetoric we are hearing from all three — Obama, Clinton and John McCain.
— Steve Clemons