It’s refreshing to see a Democratic nominee who isn’t afraid to speak his mind about Cuba. Most Democrats run scared on this issue, but they always lose this vote to the GOP. The views in the Cuban-American community are changing, particularly among the young who question the policies that have changed mothing in Cuba.
Obama said he would maintain the existing trade embargo to use as leverage for winning Democratic change in the Communist island nation. But he said he would immediately allow “unlimited family travel and remittances to the island.”
“It’s time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It’s time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime,” he said.
This change will be very popular, even among older, more conservative Cuban-Americans who resent the tough travel restrictions. Obama has a tough road ahead of him in Florida, but this policy battle will help. Also, expect him to hit McCain hard later in the campaign on Social Security privatization.
The Obama campaign is fighting back. After ridiculing Senator Clinton yesterday for implying that he might make a good Vice-President, the Obama campaign is hitting her hard on her claims of foreign policy “experience.” As many bloggers and news organizations have been pointing out, Hillary has been padding her resume on foreign policy experience. The entire memo from Greg Craig, former director of the Policy Planning Office, U.S. State Department, is below, and it makes Hillary’s claims look absurd.
When your entire campaign is based upon a claim of experience, it is important that you have evidence to support that claim. Hillary Clinton’s argument that she has passed “the Commander- in-Chief test” is simply not supported by her record.
There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton played an important domestic policy role when she was First Lady. It is well known, for example, that she led the failed effort to pass universal health insurance. There is no reason to believe, however, that she was a key player in foreign policy at any time during the Clinton Administration. She did not sit in on National Security Council meetings. She did not have a security clearance. She did not attend meetings in the Situation Room. She did not manage any part of the national security bureaucracy, nor did she have her own national security staff. She did not do any heavy-lifting with foreign governments, whether they were friendly or not. She never managed a foreign policy crisis, and there is no evidence to suggest that she participated in the decision-making that occurred in connection with any such crisis. As far as the record shows, Senator Clinton never answered the phone either to make a decision on any pressing national security issue – not at 3 AM or at any other time of day.
When asked to describe her experience, Senator Clinton has cited a handful of international incidents where she says she played a central role. But any fair-minded and objective judge of these claims – i.e., by someone not affiliated with the Clinton campaign – would conclude that Senator Clinton’s claims of foreign policy experience are exaggerated.
Senator Clinton has said, “I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland.” It is a gross overstatement of the facts for her to claim even partial credit for bringing peace to Northern Ireland. She did travel to Northern Ireland, it is true. First Ladies often travel to places that are a focus of U.S. foreign policy. But at no time did she play any role in the critical negotiations that ultimately produced the peace. As the Associated Press recently reported, “[S]he was not directly involved in negotiating the Good Friday peace accord.” With regard to her main claim that she helped bring women together, she did participate in a meeting with women, but, according to those who know best, she did not play a pivotal role. The person in charge of the negotiations, former Senator George Mitchell, said that “[The First Lady] was one of many people who participated in encouraging women to get involved, not the only one.”
News of Senator Clinton’s claims has raised eyebrows across the ocean. Her reference to an important meeting at the Belfast town hall was debunked. Her only appearance at the Belfast City Hall was to see Christmas lights turned on. She also attended a 50-minute meeting which, according to the Belfast Daily Telegraph’s report at the time, “[was] a little bit stilted, a little prepared at times.” Brian Feeney, an Irish author and former politician, sums it up: “The road to peace was carefully documented, and she wasn’t on it.”
Senator Clinton has pointed to a March 1996 trip to Bosnia as proof that her foreign travel involved a life-risking mission into a war zone. She has described dodging sniper fire. While she did travel to Bosnia in March 1996, the visit was not a high-stakes mission to a war zone. On March 26, 1996, the New York Times reported that “Hillary Rodham Clinton charmed American troops at a U.S.O. show here, but it didn’t hurt that the singer Sheryl Crow and the comedian Sinbad were also on the stage.”
Senator Clinton has said, “I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo.” It is true that, as First Lady, she traveled to Macedonia and visited a Kosovar refugee camp. It is also true that she met with government officials while she was there. First Ladies frequently meet with government officials. Her claim to have “negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo,” however, is not true. Her trip to Macedonia took place on May 14, 1999. The borders were opened the day before, on May 13, 1999.
The negotiations that led to the opening of the borders were accomplished by the people who ordinarily conduct negotiations with foreign governments – U.S. diplomats. President Clinton’s top envoy to the Balkans, former Ambassador Robert Gelbard, said, “I cannot recall any involvement by Senator Clinton in this issue.” Ivo Daalder worked on the Clinton Administration’s National Security Council and wrote a definitive history of the Kosovo conflict. He recalls that “she had absolutely no role in the dirty work of negotiations.”
Last year, former President Clinton asserted that his wife pressed him to intervene with U.S. troops to stop the Rwandan genocide. When asked about this assertion, Hillary Clinton said it was true. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that this ever happened. Even those individuals who were advocating a much more robust U.S. effort to stop the genocide did not argue for the use of U.S. troops. No one recalls hearing that Hillary Clinton had any interest in this course of action. Based on a fair and thorough review of National Security Council deliberations during those tragic months, there is no evidence to suggest that U.S. military intervention was ever discussed. Prudence Bushnell, the Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for Africa, has recalled that there was no consideration of U.S. military intervention.
At no time prior to her campaign for the presidency did Senator Clinton ever make the claim that she supported intervening militarily to stop the Rwandan genocide. It is noteworthy that she failed to mention this anecdote – urging President Clinton to intervene militarily in Rwanda – in her memoirs. President Clinton makes no mention of such a conversation with his wife in his memoirs. And Madeline Albright, who was Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, makes no mention of any such event in her memoirs.
Hillary Clinton did visit Rwanda in March 1998 and, during that visit, her husband apologized for America’s failure to do more to prevent the genocide.
Senator Clinton also points to a speech that she delivered in Beijing in 1995 as proof of her ability to answer a 3 AM crisis phone call. It is strange that Senator Clinton would base her own foreign policy experience on a speech that she gave over a decade ago, since she so frequently belittles Barack Obama’s speeches opposing the Iraq War six years ago. Let there be no doubt: she gave a good speech in Beijing, and she stood up for women’s rights. But Senator Obama’s opposition to the War in Iraq in 2002 is relevant to the question of whether he, as Commander-in-Chief, will make wise judgments about the use of military force. Senator Clinton’s speech in Beijing is not.
Senator Obama’s speech opposing the war in Iraq shows independence and courage as well as good judgment. In the speech that Senator Clinton says does not qualify him to be Commander in Chief, Obama criticized what he called “a rash war . . . a war based not on reason, but on passion, not on principle, but on politics.” In that speech, he said prophetically: “[E]ven a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” He predicted that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would “fan the flames of the Middle East,” and “strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda.” He urged the United States first to “finish the fight with Bin Laden and al Qaeda.”
If the U.S. government had followed Barack Obama’s advice in 2002, we would have avoided one of the greatest foreign policy catastrophes in our nation’s history. Some of the most “experienced” men in national security affairs – Vice President Cheney and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others – led this nation into that catastrophe. That lesson should teach us something about the value of judgment over experience. Longevity in Washington, D.C. does not guarantee either wisdom of judgment.
The Clinton campaign’s argument is nothing more than mere assertion, dramatized in a scary television commercial with a telephone ringing in the middle of the night. There is no support for or substance in the claim that Senator Clinton has passed “the Commander-in-Chief test.” That claim – as the TV ad – consists of nothing more than making the assertion, repeating it frequently to the voters and hoping that they will believe it.
On the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation – the War in Iraq – Senator Clinton voted in support of a resolution entitled “The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of U.S. Military Force Against Iraq.” As she cast that vote, she said: “This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make — any vote that may lead to war should be hard — but I cast it with conviction.” In this campaign, Senator Clinton has argued – remarkably – that she wasn’t actually voting for war, she was voting for diplomacy. That claim is no more credible than her other claims of foreign policy experience. The real tragedy is that we are still living with the terrible consequences of her misjudgment. The Bush Administration continues to cite that resolution as its authorization – like a blank check – to fight on with no end in sight.
Barack Obama has a very simple case. On the most important commander in chief test of our generation, he got it right, and Senator Clinton got it wrong. In truth, Senator Obama has much more foreign policy experience than either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan had when they were elected. Senator Obama has worked to confront 21st century challenges like proliferation and genocide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He possesses the personal attributes of a great leader – an even temperament, an open-minded approach to even the most challenging problems, a willingness to listen to all views, clarity of vision, the ability to inspire, conviction and courage.
And Barack Obama does not use false charges and exaggerated claims to play politics with national security.
“I don’t know there was much she did apart from accompanying Bill [Clinton] going around,” he said. Her recent statements about being deeply involved were merely “the sort of thing people put in their canvassing leaflets” during elections. “She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience. I don’t want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.”
“And my friends, if we left, they (al-Qaida) wouldn’t be establishing a base,” McCain said Wednesday. “They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen, my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to al-Qaida.”
They’d be taking a country? Last time I checked, Iraq has a Shi’ite majority. McCain thinks the Shi’ites–the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps (and yes, the Iranians)–would allow a small group of Sunni extremists to take over? In fact, as noted above, the vast majority of indigenous Iraqi Sunnis aren’t too thrilled about the AQI presence in their country, either. (The usual caveats apply: AQI is barbaric, dastardly and intent on violating the Qu’ran by engaging in the annihilation of innocents. We can’t get rid of them fast enough.)
Joe Klein deserves credit for addressing this point, and hopefully the Obama campaign is paying attention. Bush and McCain have been justifying the continued presence in Iraq by playing the Al Qaida card, but Klein points out the obvious. They will never “take over” Iraq.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the most influential foreign-policy experts in the Democratic Party, threw his support behind Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, saying the Illinois senator has a better global grasp than his chief rival, Hillary Clinton.
Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world,” Brzezinski said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
“Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand,” Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said. “He has a sense of what is historically relevant, and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”
Brzezinski, 79, dismissed the notion that Clinton, 59, a New York senator and the wife of former President Bill Clinton, is more seasoned than Obama, 46. “Being a former first lady doesn’t prepare you to be president. President Truman didn’t have much experience before he came to office. Neither did John Kennedy,” Brzezinski said.
Clinton’s foreign-policy approach is “very conventional,” Brzezinski said. “I don’t think the country needs to go back to what we had eight years ago.”
“There is a need for a fundamental rethinking of how we conduct world affairs,” he added. “And Obama seems to me to have both the guts and the intelligence to address that issue and to change the nature of America’s relationship with the world.”
The press has had a field day with Hillary’s petty criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy statements. Perhaps this endorsement will begin to change the narrative that Obama lacks experience. As the Bloomberg article notes, Brzezinski is one of the foreign policy heavyweights in the Democratic Party, and he is an excellent strategic thinker. He called out Hillary on her policies and her claims of experience. Tucker Carlson addressed this on his show today. Hopefully Brzezinski will be invited on some of these programs to discuss this further.
Newsweek’s Christpher Dickey has been one of the nest reporters covering the Iraq War from the beginning. If you read his columns, you knew that the chest-thumping and rosy scenarios coming from the Bush administration were not to be believed.
As we look for an exit strategy from this mess, Dickey explains how our withdrawel is playing around the world. The facts are grim – the terrorists will be emboldened.
Terrorists will indeed believe that all this is a triumph for their God, their vision, His design. But the United States and its friends would be repeating one of the egregious mistakes that got us into this sorry mess if we allowed the bad-guys’ opinions to dictate our strategy and tactics.
The signal error of the Bush administration was to embrace the terrorist rhetoric of war, and then to militarize a conflict that should have been handled all along as a matter for the police, the intelligence services and public diplomacy. The struggle ought to have been focused as a fight against malicious individuals, not their aberrant ideologies, against small criminal groups, not the vast civilizations they claim to represent. (A report from the James A. Baker III Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations in 2002 tried to make this point before we went into Iraq, but alas …)
Dickey again presents a powerful argument. We have to be smart about our counter-terrorism techniques.