July 29, 2007

The Naivete Sweepstakes

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have finally broken out into an extended debate with each other over a substantive issue, and the Democratic primary race finally looks interesting as a result. Unfortunately for the rookie, the debate favors his opponent. Obama wants to communicate a change in direction for American foreign policy that evokes Kennedy, but most everyone else understands he's evoking Carter instead:

Senator Barack Obama, who has spent the first six months of his presidential campaign focusing on his own attributes, has found a new anecdote in his quest to convince Democrats that he is a fresh voice of change: his foreign policy dust-up with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. ....

The quarrel emerged from this week’s debate in South Carolina, when Mrs. Clinton said she would not meet with foreign leaders, including those of Iran and North Korea, without preconditions. She later criticized Mr. Obama’s response as “irresponsible and, frankly, naïve.”

Those four words touched off the most direct confrontation yet in the fight for the Democratic nomination. And Mr. Obama worked to keep the distinction alive during a weekend trip to Iowa, turning the disagreement into an example of how he would lead the country differently.

“Our standing in the world has diminished so much because people think that the United States wants to dictate across the world instead of cooperate across the world,” Mr. Obama said Saturday. “When we start sending a signal that we are ready to engage in serious diplomacy, then we’ve got the opportunity to stand before the world and say: We’re back. America is back.”

America has never gone away, Senator. In fact, we have engaged in serious diplomacy where diplomacy has application, including with North Korea. What we have not done is to call summit meetings between heads of state without having any foundation for progress on our national priorities as well as whatever the dictator du jour has in mind.

Obama wants to use John Kennedy and even Ronald Reagan as his examples, but neither of these Presidents rushed to meet with the nation's enemies. Reagan disliked summit meetings entirely, and only engaged in them when the Soviets needed something bad enough that they would acquiesce to American demands to get it. Kennedy seems like an even sillier example; he tried to have Fidel Castro assassinated, and never attempted to get a tete-a-tete with the island dictator.

In order to conduct successful diplomacy, both parties have to be prepared to negotiate in good faith. That has to be established with lower-level and indirect contacts before heads of state go traipsing off to summit meetings with oppressive banana-republic thugs or Islamist theocrats. Only one President in recent memory failed to understand this, and as a result, has done more than any ex-President and most serving Presidents to undermine American national security. That's Jimmy Carter, whose private diplomacy with Kim Jong-Il in the 1990s should serve as a how-not-to manual for meeting with nations without proper foundation.

That's not to say Hillary Clinton is much better, although she certainly will milk this dispute for all that it's worth. She has also castigated Bush for not meeting with the same roster of kleptocrats and enemies of the US, even though as the New York Post points out today, neither did her husband during his eight years in office. She has scolded Bush for not meeting directly with Iran's leaders, and issued the tired proverb that Obama also uses to defend his position -- "you don't make peace with your friends - you have to do the hard work of dealing with people you don't agree with."

There is a large difference between dealing with nations over disagreements, and meeting directly with leaders conducting low-level war against the US. Bill Clinton, at least, understood the distinction. Perhaps he can explain it to his wife.

UPDATE: Dependable CQ commenter Brooklyn correctly notes that Bill Clinton didn't understand it well enough to keep Yasser Arafat from visiting the White House on several occasions, and then proving why Obama's naivete is so dangerous. Great point, and one I had forgotten.


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Comments (13)

Posted by ScottM | July 29, 2007 11:43 AM

I really hope Hillary gets the Democratic nomination.

Hillary has a very different view of US interests than I do, but Obama doesn't seem to recognize or care that the US has interests. He thinks that it's the president's job is to make nice for its own sake, not to act in the interests of his country.

(Edwards, of course, is both a lightweight and a demagogue--and possibly, to judge from his latest tantrum, a paranoid.)

Of the three top Dems, Hillary is the only one who seems to think about governing in a serious way.

Of course, I hope she loses in November, but if she wins, America will be a lot better off than it would be under an Obama (or Edwards) Administration.

Posted by SMGalbraith | July 29, 2007 11:45 AM

And we can include in our history lesson (as Samuel Johnson once said: "Men need to be reminded more than they need being informed") Kennedy's disastrous meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna that helped lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

If these summitt or meetings are not carefully devised, they can lead to more hostile relations and misperceptions that engender greater danger.

Obama trapped himself and can't find a way out.

Posted by brooklyn | July 29, 2007 12:09 PM

Bill Clinton understood?

Is that why he empowered the killer Mr. Arafat, inviting him over to the White House?

Appeased the nutty Dictatorship of North Korea?

Ignored the threats of Osama and like minded Radical Militants?

One of the biggest problems, remains those who take Hillary and Bill seriously.

Unfortunately for many Conservatives, (not regarding the Captain), their focus on Sen. Obama seems to be providing the unethical Clintons a pass.

Reading the NRO was truly embarrassing, as was listening to the likes of Mr. Charles Krauthammer, who all seemed to believe the latest performance of Ms. Rodham.

Some actually suggested Ms. Clinton was 'Presidential'...

The Clintons will say anything, being completely dishonest.

Anything to further themselves.

Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton once kissed the cheek of Mrs. Arafat, after she provided one of the most ugly speeches.

In reality, Obama represents a more healthy debate for the USA in the Presidential race, as he actually provides the expression which truly matches the typical Democrat Supporter.

Instead of a merely narcissistic manipulation, he may bring a more accurate display of what the Democrat Liberal wants in American Leadership.

Perhaps a frank debate with the GOP Nominee, involving a Democrat who isn't simply being dishonest every minute (like the old Clintonian swindle), regarding the future policy of the USA would be welcome.

Posted by docjim505 | July 29, 2007 12:38 PM

SMGalbraith beat me to it:

And we can include in our history lesson (as Samuel Johnson once said: "Men need to be reminded more than they need being informed") Kennedy's disastrous meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna that helped lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Libs have developed this bizarre idea that all countries and leaders had essentially identical goals and desires. Take, for example, their lunatic assertion that it's in Syria's and Iran's "best interests" to have a peaceful, stable Iraq. This is true ONLY IF that "peaceful, stable" Iraq is a puppet state of Damascus and / or Tehran.

Kim Jong-Poofy Hair doesn't share a common interest with the United States or Japan, and negotiating with him as if he does is dangerously foolish.

Chavez... The man appears to be a lunatic. How can you negotiate with someone like that?

Diplomacy has its place, but only when both sides have some real common ground or at least the possibility of compromise that won't be totally anathema to them. It also requires that both sides negotiate in good faith... or at least are smart enough to realize that the other side might just decide to cheat. As Ronald Reagan said to Gorby, "Trust but verify".

In his zeal to appeal to the feeble-minded peaceniks of his party, Obama has indeed painted himself into a corner. Let's see if he tries to get out.

Posted by FedUp | July 29, 2007 12:58 PM

Actually, I think it would be a dandy idea for Hilarity to meet with the whackos of the world. If nothing else, she could talk at them until they'd be willing to do anything to shut her up! How about Michael Moore for VP? Bring back the Keystone Kops!

Posted by Bill Faith | July 29, 2007 1:10 PM

We need to all be pushing for Obama to get the Dim nomination so he can make an utter fool of himself in the debates, but we should also be hoping that if the Dims actually win the White House Hillary was the nominee. She's a barely disguised Socialist but once she gets control of the country she's not likely to let the jihadis destroy it without a fight. I excerpted and linked.

Posted by John | July 29, 2007 1:21 PM

To be fair to Clinton, he didn't aggressively persure some of the awful meetings he hand, but was too weak to say no, the way Reagan did when he walked out of his meeting with Gorbachev in Iceland.

The Oslo accords worked out by the PLO and Israel gave Arafat more legitimacy than he deserved, and opened the door to justifying those White House visits. Clinton was not a strong leader in terms of foreign policy, and if Rabin was meeting with Arafat, he didn't have the stomach to go against the Israeli PM and not meet with him.

The same weakness held true in the North Korean situation -- it was Clinton's inability to tell Carter to stay the hell out of U.S. foregin policy in 1994 that led him to allow Jimmy to meet with Kim Il Sung and forge that disastarous nuclear deal.

Once those deals were done, then you can fault Clinton for not only failing to back out of them, but pushing them even harder in his final years in the White House in an effort to gain both a legacy and a Nobel Prize. My guess is a President Obama would be even more weak and befuddled in foreign policy, while a Preisdent Hillary would probably take a harder line, if for no other reason than she and her staff would be looking towards her 2012 re-election.

Posted by Rose | July 29, 2007 2:45 PM

Captain, you FORGOT Hillary smacking Yasser Arafat STRAIGHT ON THE LIPS, IN THE MIDDLE EAST, even after the Carter faux pas of telling the Arabs he sometimes lusted after other women???


Posted by oldguy | July 29, 2007 5:21 PM

He's evoking Carter, true; but worse than that, for a lot of potential voters, he's also evoking McGovern. "McGovern," the political death label.

Posted by Hope Muntz | July 29, 2007 5:42 PM

And yet Churchill came close to meeting with Hitler several times during the war, and a real-life secret meeting between them remains a favorite subject of WWII conspiracy theorists and alt-historians.

Clinton's meetings with Arafat were foolish not because he conducted them at all, but because he allowed the appearance of genial campaign-trail schmoozing between them to legitimate the PLO leader. Barak, meanwhile, committed political suicide back home by publicly wrestling with Arafat in front of the cameras in mock-cameradie. A stern face-to-face meeting over a table with Chavez or Kim with negotiating demands would hardly be the same thing.

Further, it's part of liberal dogma to at least hear every point of view before making up your mind. That's actually one of the definitions of the term. In this debate Obama has out-flanked HRC to the left--and that's what he'll have to continue to do to stand any chance of beating her machine for the nomination. Not that I think he actually has one. It's interesting that most left-leaning blogs disagree with your conclusions and view the advantage on this issue resting with him. There are real reasons why Jimmy Carter continues to be revered by some Democrats.

It never ceases to amaze me that just as left-wing blogs are incapable of seeing things from a conservative POV, so right-wing blogs always manage to get it wrong about liberals. By and large yours is the major exception to this rule, Cap'n, which is why I'm a loyal reader. But you got it wrong here. This isn't about wooing the electorate, it's about wooing the party.

Posted by patrick neid | July 29, 2007 6:29 PM

obama et als are simply card board cut outs used as back drops for hillary's coronation. the nomination has been hers since 04.

the standard clinton set up, used successfully several times before is to make sure all challengers are ultimately to the left of her. he/she then steals the middle ground independents appearing to them to be a moderate of some sort compared to the other left wing candidates. it has worked every time. in the general election they then run slightly to the left of the repub.

as viewers the mistake is to believe that any of the other candidates has a chance. it is just all hype like the contrived cleavage stunt.

Posted by Jim | July 30, 2007 7:23 AM


This is all a total, complete, and absolute con job. Both camps are parlaying their "differences" for the benefit of journalists needing an article to write, and for the camera, and they are taking the requisite shots at each other simply to stay in the news. See, if they started singing Kumbaya NOW, the public would lose interest.......this is a pre-planned, pre-packaged, and SCRIPTED little ongoing soap opera....which is scheduled and timed to END at the proper moment.

It has already been decided behind closed doors, that, absent some huge gaff (there is always an escape clause) the ticket is going to be Hillary/Obama. Obama and his handlers know he has no chance of actually winning the 08 election; but 4 or 8 years as VP will give him the inside track for a future Pres run. Also, placing a candidate with little to no actual experience in national public office on the VP ticket - not to be employed in any important role AFTER the election; but merely to capture a voting block and/or garner more undecideds FOR the election itself, is not an uncommon tactic. (Think Gerry Ferraro). Obama is tailor-made for the VP slot. He sounds so very nice when he speaks, and the MSM is going to play the race card from here to eternity on this. (Edwards is history btw; notice how he is now being carefully shut out - and he knows it - that is why he is squawking so loud - HE hasn't accepted that he's done yet - but he's done).

Fewer people watch the VP debates - so from the Dems standpoint, WHO CARES if Mitt/Fred/Duncan etc. "out-debate" Obama. All we'll see on MTV ("Rock the Vote!!"), John Stewart's snarky shallowness, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, or read from AP "news" articles, USA Today "news","News"week, Time, NYTimes, Chic Trib, WaPo, LATimes, etc., are the feel-good soundbites. Obama will make a fool of himself in front of 50 people in a debate, but in front of 50 million viewers he'll be "bridging divides" and spreading the message of hope, reconciliation and unity, right and left 24/7.

Versus Hillary, who would not accept the second banana spot on ANYONE's ticket - not a chance. It's all about power with her (anyone who thinks differently knows NOTHING about this woman's history) and she has for more power and visibility as a Senator than she ever would as a VP. She ain't waiting 8 years for NOBODY.

So she is the careful, measure, and "presidential" sounding......."Centrist." (Snort).

This is all pre-planned, pre-scripted, and pre-packaged. This isn't the party of Hollywood for nothing. The soap opera followed by a "dramatic" burying of the hatchet for the "good of all Americans" is as pathetically predictable as your typical Hollywood script or sitcom plot cranked out by the leftists who run the studios.

In fact, I would not be at all surprised if Obama's and Hillary's handlers are already discussing how to script their physical contact at the convention - bear hug (eeeww!) a no body touch hug, two handed handshake with the arms around the shoulder afterwards (whose arm goes on top?); standard handshake (hmmm, too cold and formal?), etc.

Yeah I'm a cynic. But it is July 30, 2007. I am going to save this post. And we'll see how much of what I have predicted comes to pass. Like I said - there is an escape clause, and Hillary will choose someone else (and it won't be Edwards) instead of Obama if Obama keeps revealing his essential and core shallowness by spouting nonsense that he or his handlers later have to disclaim or "correct." I figure they are going to try harder to keep him strictly "scripted" from now on, in order to avoid any spontaneous remarks.

Posted by buma | July 31, 2007 1:01 PM

The all-time winner of the naivete sweepstakes has to be bush swaggering around the deck of the A Lincoln before stepping up to the mike in front of the Mission Accomplished banner. Takes the cake.