Thursday, April 10, 2008

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Hmmm... maybe Hillary

The New York Times ran two stories today that don't make me feel all that confident about the likely major party nominees.

The McCain story, by Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter, ostensibly writes about a tug of war between McCain's realist and neoconservative foreign policy advisors. The story tries to paint it as an evenly matched fight, but it seems pretty clear that the neoconservatives have the upper hand. An example of his sympathy with the realists is that "[McCain's] promise to work more closely with allies." C'mon, even most neoconservatives will say they want that.

Then there's this ditty:

One of the chief concerns of the pragmatists is that Mr. McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate.
Ouch. This story, along with Jason Zengerle's autopsy of the McCain campaign's inner divisions, does not paint a glowing picture of the candidate's decision-making processes (for a small antidote, see Michael Lewis' recycled Slate essay).

Larry Rohter's story on Barsck Obama doesn't make me feel much better:

With the war in Iraq and Islamic terrorism among the top issues in the campaign, all three of the presidential contenders have sought to emphasize the value of their very different foreign policy credentials. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has often pointed to his military and combat experience, while Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has emphasized her involvement in international and national security issues as both first lady and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Mr. Obama has argued that his rivals’ longer official record is no substitute for his real-life grass-roots experience. “Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain,” he said in his remarks in San Francisco.

“Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world,” he continued, provoking laughter among those present. “This I know. When Senator Clinton brags, ‘I’ve met leaders from 80 countries,’ I know what those trips are like. I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do a native dance. You meet with the C.I.A. station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of plant that” with “the assistance of Usaid has started something. And then, you go.”

During the speech, Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said....

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue that “there are multiple aspects to experience, each of which can be relevant.” Mr. Obama’s experience “provides a different kind of insight” than the traditional résumé, said Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a National Security Council official who is one of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy advisers.

“At a time when our foreign policy and national security have so obviously suffered from a simplistic, black-and-white interpretation,” Ms. Rice added, having “an American president who spent part of his formative years and young adulthood living in a poor country under a dictatorship brings an understanding of the complexity of things that others may not have. I’m not saying that official travels and Congressional delegations are without value, but there are limits to what you can glean from that.”

Jamie Kirchick (who beat the Times by two days on this story, it should be noted) points out the obvious political problems with this position.

What strikes me, however, is the hubris involved in Obama's position. Yes, extended travel and living abroad can expose one to information that would not come from an official junket. I'm not sure that such travel at the age of six really counts for much. Furthermore, last I checked, Obama had this kind of experience in only two countries (Indonesia and Pakistan). That leaves an awfully large part of the globe unexplored. It also elides the point that, as president, Obama is far more likely to have to deal with the very dignitaries he dismisses in the story. [UPDATE: Marc Ambinder makes this point better than I:

Some Obama campaign aides privately admit that their boss has a tendency to use superlatives when a comparative is called for. What's weird about Obama's peacock displays is that they're unnecessary. No one -- not even messianic Obamniacs -- believe that he has more foreign policy experience than John McCain, although many millions of voters may well come to believe that Obama's life experience in general gives him a better vantage point.

Obama's confidence is one of his more attractive qualities as a candidate. Sometimes, though, that confidence crosses the border into other, less attractive qualities.]

Suddenly, claiming imaginary sniper fire doesn't look like that bad of a sin.

UPDATE: It is truly amazing that on a day when the press might be forgetting about Bosnia and focusing on the foreign policy flaws of her rivals, the Clinton campaign manages to pull off a.... Clintonesque blurring of the facts.

posted by Dan on 04.10.08 at 10:36 PM


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