Where I Stand

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Salon.com asked me to join a number of other writers and bloggers to comment on the qualities we liked and didn’t in the various candidates and to disclose who we thought looked best from our vantage point before the Iowa Caucuses. I feel badly today because I actually told them I’d do it — and then kept deleting about a dozen versions of the 250 word mini-essays I had written.
I never filed the response that would have been an attempt to talk about the Hagelesque “hybrid candidate” rather than any of the candidates we were being forced to choose between. I eventually posted this on my own blog that sort of went that direction.
As I’ve written many times on this blog and elsewhere, only Senator Chuck Hagel’s approach to foreign policy seemed to match my own thinking, and he’s not running. Senator Biden came closest to Hagel’s approach but never got enough traction in his campaign efforts.
Unlike Bill Bennett, I am not predetermined in any of the candidates’ favor and just faking it when I write. I have more criticism and applause in store for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and John McCain.
I add the last two candidates — because there are things in the portfolios of McCain and Romney that I do like. And after Tuesday, I’ll specify more about the qualities and views in the approaches of those still standing.
Overall, I’m tilting Democratic only because I think it’s important for the country to have a political shift — but not because I’m an automatic Democrat. I’m not. In fact, I’m quite disappointed in the complicity of the Democratic Party in many of our problems today and the lack of leadership in setting an exit strategy from today’s domestic and international foreign policy and economic quagmires.
But I just want to say for the record that if I post something that disturbs me about Obama’s profile, or Hillary Clinton’s, I’m not doing so as an agent for either. They both have qualities and positions I can support — but there is a great deal of uncertainty I have about both.
Fareed Zakaria has a great piece out today on something I’ve been writing about for ages — Barack Obama’s approach to US-Cuba policy. I agree with Zakaria that Obama was able to get out of the standard grooves on the US-Cuba issue, but he hasn’t used the same out of the box approach in his commentary on the Middle East. That has bothered me.
Obama has given speeches that seem to throw every foreign policy challenge from Darfur to engaging bad guys to climate change to dealing with Russia in a roster of equal challenges. I don’t see a sense of priority or an understanding of trade-offs consistent with the brilliant framing Obama applied to US-Cuba relations.
Hillary Clinton too has been holding on to many incrementalist grooves in foreign policy and national security that are very disconcerting and that, in my view, promise disaster if we continue down our current path. She supports “coercive diplomacy,” as she said in the Los Angeles debate the other night. But America’s abilities to coerce are evaporating and are not as credible any longer. There must be a new approach — and we aren’t yet hearing it from her.
So, just for the record — so that all of you can stop guessing — I’m not comfortable disclosing affinity for any of the candidates yet.
They need to work harder to get my support — and none has met my standard.
If forced to vote today, I’d write in Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden, Lincoln Chafee (on no one’s list — but I like him), or Chris Dodd.
I’ve got some positive and negative comments coming about some things I have learned about Obama and Clinton. Rather than just chasing the ethereal stuff, I’ve been doing some research into their foreign policy positions.
More on that later.

— Steve Clemons

Comments

28 comments on “Where I Stand

  1. pauline says:

    Oh, barf…Tom [don’t] DeLay [in calling me a crook] already had called this back in ’06!
    “Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said today that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) would be elected president in 2008 and would probably tap Senate colleague Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) as her running mate.”
    see —
    http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=18446

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  2. pauline says:

    Anyone in the t-shirt business?
    You might as well start printing them now…
    “Clinton/Obama 2008”
    The fix is already in the works.

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  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “He was invited to speak by AIPAC; he’s a politician running for President. So he’s not going to be impolite and insult the people who invited him to speak.”
    Hmm, I see. So he was just politely telling them what they wanted to hear. How nice.
    Has it occured to you he might be paying you the same courtesy?

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  4. Linda says:

    POA,
    He was invited to speak by AIPAC; he’s a politician running for President. So he’s not going to be impolite and insult the people who invited him to speak. I have relatives who disagree with me about Israel. I don’t talk about that issue when I am a guest at their home for dinner. That’s how I think.
    I do regret that Friday when I early voted, I didn’t have a lever to pull. So I voted for Obama on a touch screen. If he doesn’t win in Fulton Co, GA (Atlanta), I’ll be with plenty of others protesting the accuracy of the machines.

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  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Read this speech, and tell me if this sounds like the words of someone that intends to “get tough with Israel”. Linda, sorry, but I prefer reality to your “I want it to be so, so it must be so” attitude.
    http://usliberals.about.com/od/extraordinaryspeeches/a/ObamaIsrael.htm

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  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Even if Obama believes we have to get tougher with Israel, he’d be a fool to be shouting that in the campaign”
    Yeah we wouldn’t want any off these posturing asses to do anything honest or straightforward, would we? Best to keep us all guessing where they stand. How convenient. Using that rationale, everyone of these candidates can stand for anything we want them to.
    What, Linda, are you out of your everlovin’ mind? Do you bother to THINK before you peck at your keyboard, or pull a lever at the polling booth??

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  7. Linda says:

    I still think in all ways Obama is the best we can do–got to be a Democrat because of SCOTUS,right to choose, etc. Hagel is far too conservative. Obama might consider making him Secretary of State (or plenty of others) to have a bipartisan cabinet. Even if Obama believes we have to get tougher with Israel, he’d be a fool to be shouting that in the campaign–would lose more votes to perhaps gain POAs.
    I’m sure Susan Eisenhower contacted the campaign before she did her op-ed. She will bring him votes in an election and that puts the military-industrial-complex as more vulnerable (I grant you not as much as any of us would like) than it has been in 47 years. Then start thinking of Susan perhaps as in that position Wolfowitz now has or as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control.
    It starts to look much better to me.

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  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Just another coincidence in Bushworld…..
    http://www.internettrafficreport.com/asia.htm

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  9. peg says:

    i’m worried about how the Supreme Court would become if a Republican becomes president. No more Alitos or Scalias, please! i think about my daughters’ right to choose. i hope Steve thinks about that!

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  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And, uh, BTW, have you seen even one of these candidates question Wolfowitz’s new posting, or the Bush Administration’s decision to cut Turkey in on the Bush fueled spread of nuclear technology?
    No?
    Well, maybe you people ought to be asking yourselves WHY. Or have we become a nation of bleating ovine idiots?

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  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Anyone that has followed this blog for any amount of time has surely noticed Steve’s interest in Paul Wolfowitz’s various postings and roles. Further, Steve has obviously made foreign policy his priority issue here, and despite many of our pleas for him to consider domestic policies in his commentary, he has always made it clear that foreign policy is his balliwick, and it is there that he prefers to focus his attention.
    So, with the above in mind, and considering the diversionary nature of the ongoing campaign circus circus, one has to wonder what this Administration will attempt while our eyes are glued to the lastest episode of “How to Bullshit Your way Into The Oval Office”.
    Doesn’t anyone else find Steve’s silence about the effort to sell Turkey nuclear technology, and Paul Wolfowitz’s new posting to chair a U.S. advisory panel on arms control, as inexplicable? When has Steve shown a propensity to ignore a major foreign policy shift, or such an important new role for Paul Wolfowitz?
    And these developments coming right on the heels of Sibel Edmonds’ accusations being published in a British newspaper lend a particularly sinister air to these developments, and Steve’s inexplicable silence on the matter.
    http://www.israelenews.com/view.asp?ID=829
    Meanwile, in the Middle East, THREE undersea network cables are coincidentally severed, (it is extremely rare for even one cable to be damaged), plunging Iran and Dubai into internet darkness. Coincidentally, (of course, just another “coincidence”), the cable feeding Iraq and Israel is undamaged.
    The campaign??? Look at the birdie, kiddies. Don’t look away, theres nothing to see elsewhere. Tune in, tune out. See Spot run, see Sally hide.
    http://letsibeledmondsspeak.blogspot.com/
    Luke Ryland: Two weeks after the first article in the Times about the involvement of high-level US officials being involved with Turkish and Israeli interests in supplying the nuclear black market, President Bush quietly announced that the US will start supplying nuclear technology to Turkey. Do you think that is a coincidence?
    Sibel Edmonds: The timing is certainly very, very suspicious. The proposals that are being floated are very suspicious too. There are reports that Turkey will build an enrichment facility, and that Turkey will become the key supplier of nuclear fuel to other Muslim countries who want nuclear power plants. None of this makes any sense.
    And again, the US media is nowhere to be seen on this issue. Where are the journalists? Do you remember the noise made a couple of years ago when the US announced that it would supply India with nuclear technology? So far, nearly a week after the announcement and not a single major US media outlet has even reported on the deal! Think of the hypocrisy, with all the saber-rattling at Iran over enrichment.
    If it’s such a good idea to sell nuclear technology to Turkey, why isn’t the White House out there selling the idea? Where are the arguments in the press saying that this will be good for regional stability, or that it will help reduce demand for oil, or even that it is simply good business because US firms will be able to sell their hardware and knowledge? There’s nothing! Silence. What does that tell you?
    Luke Ryland: What needs to be done?
    Sibel Edmonds: The way they’ve structured this deal is that Congress has 90 days from the announcement, now 84 days, to block the ‘agreement’ otherwise it basically becomes law.
    The first thing that we need to do is to make sure that this doesn’t ‘automatically’ become law. We need the journalists, the experts, and the bloggers to raise hell over this issue, and we need to make sure that Congress investigates this properly before rubber-stamping it. The clock is ticking and we need to act now.
    As you know, and this was even published in the White House press release on this issue, certain ‘Turkish private entities’ have been involved ‘in certain activities directly relating to nuclear proliferation.’ This includes supplying the A.Q. Khan network – which built Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, and also supplied North Korea, Iran and other countries – but as the recent Times stories indicate, so much more as well.
    The White House press release states that all these issues have been resolved; that the Turkish government has addressed these issues, that the US government has evaluated these actions and that the US government is satisfied, and that all of this is secret, classified!
    Given the track record of this administration in abusing classification and distorting intelligence, why on earth would we trust them with this? What is in the report? Is it truthful? Why is it classified? We saw these exact same people do the same thing in the late 80s when they enabled Pakistan to get nuclear weapons. Richard Barlow did his best to stop them then, but if Congress doesn’t hold hearings this time around the same thing will happen again. We should have stopped Pakistan then, but unless this ‘classified’ report is made public and the contents publicly debated, then the Barlow of today won’t even get the chance to debunk whatever is in that ‘classified’ report. What conceivable logic is there in classifying the details of how Turkey has cleaned up its act regarding nuclear proliferation? If they have, they should be proud of it!
    There are many great anti-proliferation organizations out there, we need to rally all of them, and all of the ‘pro-transparency’ organizations, to this cause. We need journalists to contact these experts for their opinion and expertise, and we need these experts to contact journalists to ensure that the story, and the issues, is covered, and covered thoroughly.
    We also need to recruit bloggers and alternative media to keep the pressure on. Perhaps a ‘countdown clock’ as we count down the 90 days might help.

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  12. Lurker says:

    We cannot begin to address our domestic issues until we address our international ones — i.e., the endless quest for war that both the Democrats and the GOP engage in, because of their fund-raising reliance on the pro-Israel lobbies/ military/ industrial complex, elements of which are one and the same.
    Lest we forget, Hitlery got more money from the military armaments industry than any other candidate. And Obama is on record advocating U.S. troops into Pakistan.
    Then there is McInsane, (R-Israel) whose Zionist roots stretch back to his father, Admiral Jack McInsane’s, cover-up of the savage Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty.
    I would expect that Steve’s readers, and Steve himself, would know more about what truly drives D.C. politics than what is exhibited in this comment thread.
    The naivete is staggering. No matter if it’s McInsane, Robo-Romney, Hitlery, or It-Boy Obama, the neo-cons have won the election, and an attackk on Iran, and most probably Pakistan, will proceed as planned.
    WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO SECURE THE NEEDS OF OUR COUNTRY IF WE CONTINUE TO LAUNCH ATTACKS ON OTHER COUNTRIES.
    It appears that Steve and my fellow posters have fallen into the trap of thinking that there is a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.
    There isn’t, in terms of foreign policy (i.e., kissing Israel’s a*ss) the two major parties vie with each other to be more subservient, and we will all suffer terribly because of it.
    If you don’t believe me READ the foreign papers — PAY ATTENTION to the Shanghai cooperation organization!!!
    Pay attention to what comes out of Putin’s mouth. Pay attention to China’s investment in Iran.
    Are the lives of your children worth American politicians’ ambitions??? They suck up to the Israel/ war machine in order to get into office.
    Do you think that Hitlery, McPain or Obama will give up all the powers that Cheney has grabbed for the executive branch?
    Not on your damn life.
    Americans are fools and we will get exactly the hell that is coming to us, brought about by our own lack of critical thinking.

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  13. ... says:

    poa – it is rather sad more can’t see what you outline in your 323pm post.. it may as well be the same party.. just call it the war/money party..

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  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I personally believe that this nation simply cannot weather another four or eight years of Republican ideology and remain a representative democracy.”
    Remain? Do you feel “represented”? Have the Democratic candidates done anything these last seven years that would seem to represent the concensus of the American people in regards to Iraq, holding the Bush Administration accountable, or pursuing our best interests?
    I got news for you, the Democrats have no more intention of “representing” you than the Republicans do. Wake up.

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  15. tbaum says:

    Mr. Clemons:
    Although I understand the tendency to be impressed by the personality, the looks and the stated positions of candidates, I do believe that we are ill served by not giving precedence to the underlying ideology and philosiphy of the two major political parties. Much, if not all that a President will do or attempt to do will be driven fundamentally by that ideology and philosophy. I personally believe that this nation simply cannot weather another four or eight years of Republican ideology and remain a representative democracy. That makes the choice of candidates much easier since it clearly implies that we need fundamantal change and I do not see any such change as being possible from any of them except Obama. That is not to say that I believe he can succeed in effecting the kind of change we need. It only says that both his being a Democrat with that Party’s underlying ideology and philosophy along with his stated intentions means that he alone has any chance to turn this ship of state into anywhere near the right direction.

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  16. gqmartinez says:

    There was a Facebook question about who from the opposing Party you could vote for and the only one I could think of was Lincoln Chafee. (I’m a Dem.) Hagel would screw-up the judiciary and that would probably have foreign policy implications (though I NEVER see Steve comment on that aspect for some reason). Hagel’s economic policy would probably drive us to a further weakened international position and increase poverty, uninsured and increase instability by further increasing the income gap. I never understood why these domestic issues are absent from Steve’s analysis of foreign policy.
    BTW, Cee, you are either lying about Hillary’s comments or are just repeating Obama talking points. Hillary has said over and over again that we need to meet with everyone. Obama continues to lie by saying she won’t. What she said she wouldn’t do was “pre-commit to head of state meetings without preconditions”. She pointed out in the interview that that was no different than what JFK said. You don’t have to vote for Hillary, but you should at least be honest about her positions.

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  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Have you seen any one of these candidates take Israel to task for the current crimes against humanity occurring in Gaza?
    Have you seen any one of these candidates advocate for accountability against an Administration that used lies and propaganda as a rationale for engaging this nation in the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States? A blunder, I might add, that has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of humanb beings.
    Obama states publically that he does not believe Bush has exceded his executive authority. That rules out Obama, the supposed “Constitutional scholar”. What standard of behaviour can we expect him to hold himself if he thinks Bush has operated within the law?
    Hillary is AIPAC’s darling, and also has the arms industry salivating in anticipation of a Hillary presidency. Gee, ya think there might be a message there? No thanks.
    McCain. Ah yes, Mr. Amnesty himself. You want secure borders, or someone that will stem the tide of cheap exploitable labor pouring over our southern border like a tsunami? Well, google Juan Hernandez, and ask yourself what this open border zealot, and Mexican citizen, is doing on McCain’s campaign staff. Or hey, if you’re all for illegals cuttin’ in line, perhaps McCain’s infamous fairy tales about picnicking in Bagdad might give you pause to ponder the sanity of good ‘ol Walnuts McCain. (Or is our memory so cluttered with insane Washington antics that we forget yesterday’s insanity so we can concentrate on today’s latest amazing display of Washington bullshit?)
    Then, of course there is Romney, who stated during the very first Republican debates….
    “If you’re saying let’s turn back the clock, and Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in.”
    Well, guess what, folks? That is a bald faced unmitigated purposeful LIE. Its not a “little white lie”. Its not a mistake in rhetoric. Its not a lapse in memory. IT IS A BALD FACED LIE.
    And it is not a lie about a trivial issue. It is a lie about the greatest foreign policy debacle in the history of the United States. It is a lie about the rationale andjustification for a foreign policy decision that has cost hundreds of thousands of lifes, billions of dollars, (probably trillions), and our world standing and credibility. Get it??? Does that sink in? This son of a bitch, running for President, is willing to stand before the American people, look them straight in the eye during a Presidential debate, and lie his slimey treasonous ass off to them about the reason for the deaths of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF HUMAN BEINGS. Now I ask you, why in God’s name would we want to trade one fuckin’ liar for another?
    Vote for one of these posturing frauds?
    Not on your life.
    You people might still be buying this charade, might still be willing to accept lies, posturing, participation in illegally waged and so called “pre-emptive” war, billions of dollars to subsidize Israel’s crimes, the loss of our soveriegnity, the arming of dictaorships and fascist regimes, the concealment of the facts surrounding 9/11, participation in torture, the politicization of the justice system, I could go on indefinitely. Do you see one single candidate standing up for what this nation is supposed to stand for, demanding accountability?
    No.
    There is not a single one of them that represents me.
    Steve. I thought you were a foreign policy wonk.
    Why are you ignoring whats going on with Wolfowitz/Turkey/Nukes/Edmonds?
    Who got to you?
    What are you afraid of?

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  18. weldon berger says:

    What is it with Hagel and Democrats? Hagel opposes pretty much every domestic policy Democrats profess to support. He is a very, very conservative Republican. Yes, he has made some appropriate noises about Iraq and foreign policy, which aren’t reflected in his voting record, but even if he’s Jesus on a half shell with respect to foreign policy, why would you want him in the second slot on a Democratic ticket? Bizarre …

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  19. Lee says:

    Chuck Hagel may not be a candidate for president, but he could be a vice presidential candidate with Barack Obama, if he is the Democratic nominee–or with Michael Bloomberg, if the Dems falter and nominate Hillary Clinton.

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  20. JohnH says:

    The problem with Hagel is that he can’t lead–he can’t even convince himself to vote for the foreign policy positions he advocates.
    Lakoff has a great piece contrasting Clinton and Obama. Besides being able to motivate and inspire, Obama’s position is that “policies have to do more than look good on paper; they have to bring concrete material results to millions of struggling Americans in the lower and middle classes. They have to meet the criteria of a community organizer.
    The Clintonian policy wonks don’t seem to understand any of this. They have trivialized Reagan’s political acumen as an illegitimate triumph of personality over policy. They confuse values with programs. They have underestimated authenticity and trust.”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/what-counts-as-an-issue_b_84177.html
    Clinton may appeal to policy wonks, but her talking points and lists of policies mean litte if she can’t inspire and motivate people to implement them. Realisticallly all we can expect from her is incremental change, which leave intact most of Bush’s destruction of the constitution and of our economic and social fabric.

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  21. Matt says:

    Bring on the foreign policy research!

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  22. Dan Kervick says:

    I really wonder how the notion has gotten abroad that Hillary Clinton is a foreign policy realist. Since she has been a Senator, and before, she has shown herself to be very comfortable with the neoconservative approach to foreign policy that has dominated the US scene at least since the time of the Iraq Liberation Act and those famous PNAC letters of the late nineties. She has offered only stylistic criticisms along the way, with a few occasional rhetorical sops to internationalists to her left. She moved to New York, which along with Washington is the intellectual and activist center of neoconservatism, so she could run for the Senate turn herself into a political champion of that kind of foreign policy. And since then she has been one of the neoconservatives’ favorite Democrats.
    Perhaps foreign policy realism is being confused here with some sort of generic “hawkishness”. Well there are foreign policy realists who incline toward hawkishness and foreign policy realists who incline toward doveishness. But certainly the kind of hawkishness that we have seen during the neoconservative ascendancy of the past several years is not the same thing as realist hawkishness.
    Genuine foreign policy realism might also be confused with mere *political* realism, where the latter is concerned with balancing the desires and interests of the domestic pressure groups who make up one’s own electoral coalition. But that is not foreign policy realism. Foreign policy realism is an approach to the foreign policy aimed at pursuing the *national interest*, where the latter is conceived in traditional, hard-headed, non-ideological terms of wealth, power and security. Foreign policy realism might in some cases recommend aligning with the preferences of powerful domestic political players, if the preferences of those players truly conduce to the national interest. But in some cases a principled adherence to foreign policy realism requires the political courage to serve the national interest by *resisting* the entreaties of these domestic players. For example, foreign policy realism may recommend in some cases tilting away from an existing ally that is supported by a large contingent of enthusiastic domestic friends and toward an emerging great power that has a lot of domestic enemies, but engagement with which would serve the nation’s long term interests.
    I also have concerns about some of the idealistic tendencies the Obama foreign policy, which are reminiscent of the Bill Clinton foreign policy. But there are also many indications that he is also listening to realistic geostrategic thinkers who clearly understand the emerging world and reject the neoconservative fantasies and obsessions of the Bush administration. So there is a chance. Electing Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, would be a *ratification* of the foreign policy mistakes of the Bush administration, since on the foreign policy front she has been a fellow traveler of that administration. The idea that after seven years of intense blogospheric agitation against this policy, and the difficult gradual turn of the American public against these bunglers, we might actually end up electing a candidate who has clearly been *part of the problem* fills me with despair over the capacity of the American body politic to respond intelligently to massive failures in national strategy.

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  23. Linda says:

    Steve,
    I appreciate your thoughtful and nuanced analyses of foreign policy issues all the time and especially in this election year. It reminds us that there are no perfect candidates. I don’t take anything any of them say during the campaigns too seriously. No one keeps all his/her campaign promises. So we each do the best we can with deciding for whom to vote.
    The most exciting thing about this campaign is that more people are involved and voting. One thing that always upsets me about the US is how low a per cent of eligible people actually vote. If somebody can find and link to how US rates with other countries, I’d appreciate a link to that.

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  24. p.lukasiak says:

    Steve….
    While I understand the need for a new direction in foreign policy, what the world is looking for from the United States is stability AND sanity. I think that, in foreign policy terms, the world would be a lot more comfortable with a “realist” Clinton foreign policy than with the uncertainty that will be the result of Obama’s idealism.
    I’d also like to suggest that Bill Clinton was building toward the kind of foreign policy that Obama advocates — there is a reason why the entire world stood behind the US after 9-11, and that was because of the legacy of respect for the US that Bill Clinton left behind.
    Change isn’t always good — sometimes its a disaster (New Coke) — but properly managed it can be brilliant (Remember Tab? the Diet versionn of Coca-Cola — and how Tab gave way to “Diet Coke?” THAT was brilliantly managed change.)

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  25. Carroll says:

    My hybrid for the country would be a Edwards-Hagel.
    And to repeat myself once again. Chaffee is talking about what this campaign should be about.
    How to get congress and all our government to “represent the country”, not make decisions based their own career and self interest and political cowardice:
    “In his upcoming memoir, titled Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President, former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee (R) “excoriates [President] Bush and his GOP allies” for exploiting “wedge issues,” but also “saves some of his harshest words for Democrats who paved the way for Mr. Bush to use the U.S. military to invade Iraq”:
    Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against prosecuting the war. “The top Democrats were at their weakest when trying to show how tough they were,” writes Chafee. “They were afraid that Republicans would label them soft in the post-September 11 world, and when they acted in political self-interest, they helped the president send thousands of Americans and uncounted innocent Iraqis to their doom.
    “Instead of talking tough or meekly raising one’s hand to support the tough talk, it is far more muscular, I think, to find out what is really happening in the world and have a debate about what we really need to accomplish,” writes Chafee. “That is the hard work of governing, but it was swept aside once the fear, the war rhetoric and the political conniving took over.”

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  26. Dan Kervick says:

    Obviously Middle East policy is a minefield for US politicians, and so it is difficult to get clear and detailed answers out of them on the subject. But I do think we see some important differences between Obama and Clinton that come up most clearly in discussion of Iran.
    There are two major US strategic options for the Middle East. On the one hand, we have the neo-neocon Israel-centric approach, which Bush attempted to defend to less than enthusiastic audiences during his recent Middle East trip. This approach seems focussed on the aggressive containment and even rollback of Iran and its interests throughout the region, including in Lebanon. The means of this containment is supposed to be some sort of new Israel-Sunni Arab bloc, under the sponsorship and security umbrella of the US. I think one way of looking at it is that this approach seeks to create a new regional Cold War and bipolar division of the Middle East.
    This approach seems to me politically unrealistic, contrary to long-term US interests, and dangerous from a global security perspective. It is unrealistic because it is based on yet another Israeli piped ream of eliminating the regional political pressure and hostility from Arabs rooted in Israel’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by manufacturing some alliance with Arabs against a common enemy. It won’t work. Evolving conditions on the ground in the Middle East suggest that the players in the region increasingly view Iran as a rational power that can and should be worked with to establish stability.
    It is contrary to US interests, because the US will increasingly recognize that it needs Iran to help stabilize both Iraq and Afghanistan, to help stabilize oil prices and promote oil security, and to serve as a counterweight to militant Sunni Arab elements in Northwestern Pakistan and elsewhere. These Sunni jihadists after all, not Shia, are the ones responsible for the vast bulk of the terrorism that has afflicted that region, and even spread beyond that region. And Shia domination of Iraq is not going away. The US will be bogged down in Iraq for a long time if it doesn’t begin to work constructively with all of Iraq’s neighbors to bring stability to the country. Iran has attempted to work constructively with the Iraqi government, diplomatically and economically, to secure its survival. The US should welcome that.
    The Bush-neocon approach is also dangerous to US and global security, because drawing a Cold War line down the center of the Middle East is an invitation to Russia and China to protect its interests by moving in as Iranian backers and sponsors, thus turning the Middle East into the front lines of a new Cold War II, with heavily nuclear-armed powers lined up on each side, and with a festering Pakistan-India nuclear fueled side conflict ever ready to tip the whole world into war.
    The alternative strategic approach, and one which appears to be taking shape on the ground among the regions players, who are increasingly disenchanted and unimpressed by US power and crackpot US schemes, is to build a new regional security system based on constructive engagement, cooperation and conventional balance of power arrangements, a rejection of and common front against militancy, and the recognition of a common interest in Gulf security and the region’s energy economy.
    This is the approach the US should move to embrace. It is the key to extricating ourselves from the Iraqi quagmire. It also bodes well for future global security by building on the common global interest in stability in the energy producing regions of the world, and managerial stewardship of the global energy economy.
    Clinton has given numerous signals during the past six years, and also during the campaign, that she is on board with the first approach. She has openly said that one purpose for an enduring US presence in Iraq is to confront Iran. Her stance during the Israel-Lebanon war, when she was vociferous in her anti-Hizbollah, anti-Syria and anti-Iran statements, and when she participated in a fanatical pro-Israel “send a message” rally on the very day Kofi Annan and Tony Blair proposed a multinational force for Lebanon, underlined her stance. And her recent vote for Lieberman-Kyl shows she is still on board with the anti-Iran hardliners.
    Obama has sent a number of signals indicating he leans in a different direction, although given the realities of US domestic politics, sending these signals is much harder to do. Obama, of course, indicated early on his willingness to begin talking with the Iranians. He did not support Leberman-Kyl and spoke out against it. And while he did not succeed in vigorously challenging Israel during the Israel-Lebanon war, his support for the Israeli onslaught was much more muted than Clinton’s, as he indicated only that he supported Israel taking “some action” in response to the attack on its soldiers. And during the recent debate, Obama once again criticized Clinton’s position that a goal of the “residual forces” remaining in the Iraqi theater after the draw down should be to confront Iran. (This topic was, of course, completely ignored by most of the media, which has a pathological fear of addressing controversial issues related to the Middle East.) So I think there is good reason to think that Obama rejects the Clinton neocon-lite approach and is thinking along different lines about Middle East stability.
    Note that when Ha’aretz and others rank candidates in terms of how likely they are to follow Israeli preferences, Clinton always comes out near the top, and Obama near the bottom. There must be some reason for that.

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  27. weldon berger says:

    Steve, maybe I’ve missed it but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you define exactly what distinguishes Hagel from the rest of the crowd; you often mention liking his approach, but rarely offer any specifics. Maybe you could do a paragraph or two on that? It must be powerful stuff if it has you wanting him as president despite his extremely conservative domestic agenda–please share.

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  28. Cee says:

    I just saw her on ABC being critical of Obama for being willing to talk to foreign leaders that we don’t like.
    She never gets my vote.

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