Obama …and conventional wisdom

Josh Marshall hit a cord on the recent brouhaha created by Obama’s comment on Pakistan:

The unspoken truth here, I suspect, is that Obama has struck on the central folly of our post-9/11 counter-terrorism defense policy — strike hard where they aren’t and go easy where they are. I think everyone can see this. But Obama got there first. So they need to attack him for saying it..

The foreign policy establishment crowd in Washington DC is a cartel…a job pool. Brookings institute and it’s ilk are breeding grounds for folk looking for government jobs. They adhere to the same sort of thinking: the kind that believes Iraq is a danger to the US circa 2002.

Obama is taking them on and his only mistake will be to back down as Josh eloquently puts it in this passage:

I’m always interested to try to tease apart and find the meta-debates operating beneath the surface of campaign debates. As I wrote a few years ago in what I called the bitch-slap theory of GOP electoral politics, the whole swift-boat saga was less about the specifics of Kerry’s injuries forty years ago than whether he could defend himself from the charges today. Someone who can’t defend himself is weak; and if a guy can’t defend himself he can’t defend you.

that’s what that whole song-and-dance was about.

So what is this back and forth about Obama and Pakistan about?

What this has boiled down to — and this became even more clear after Tuesday night’s labor-hosted debate, when Biden and Dodd acted as Hillary’s proxies — is Hillary, in league with the party’s foreign policy establishment, trying to make Obama, implicitly or explicitly, concede an error, that he misspoke.

Precisely what he misspoke about is largely beside the point. The key is that they get him to concede that in the complex and serious world of foreign policy big-think, where words have consequences, he made an error. Of course, it’s almost good enough if most observers decide that Obama screwed up. But once he concedes it himself, if he does, he stipulates from now through the end of the Democratic primary campaign that his inexperience in foreign policy is a basic premise of the campaign upon which the battle between him and Hillary will be waged. He can learn, improve, make progress, whatever, but his inexperience compared to Hillary will continue to be the reference point throughout… ..tpm

Barack likes to tell folks that he is a product of chicago politics…knows when to fight and stand your doggone ground. If he let the Dodds, clintons and bidens of the washington crowd, that voted for the worst foreign policy blunder of this century dictate or lecture him on foreign policy, then he should fold his campaign, because from that point on he becomes their bitch and they will keep slapping him around.

I am not advocating macho stance or refusal to admit mistakes. However in this situation I think he is right and his detractors are wrong. Samantha Powers …an advisor to Obama puts it more succintly in this memo:

August 3, 2007To: Interested Parties

From: Samantha Power — Founding Executive Director, Harvard University Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Re: Conventional Washington versus the Change We Need

It was Washington’s conventional wisdom that led us into the worst strategic blunder in the history of US foreign policy. The rush to invade Iraq was a position advocated by not only the Bush Administration, but also by editorial pages, the foreign policy establishment of both parties, and majorities in both houses of Congress. Those who opposed the war were often labeled weak, inexperienced, and even naïve.

Barack Obama defied conventional wisdom and opposed invading Iraq. He did so at a time when some told him that doing so would doom his political future. He took that risk because he thought it essential that the United States “finish the fight with bin Laden and al Qaeda.” He warned that a “dumb war, a rash war” in Iraq would result in an “occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”

Barack Obama was right; the conventional wisdom was wrong. And today, we see the consequences. Iraq is in chaos. According to the National Intelligence Estimate, the threat to our homeland from terrorist groups is “persistent and evolving.” Al-Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. Iran has only grown stronger and bolder. The American people are less safe because of a rash war.

Over the last few weeks, Barack Obama has once again taken positions that challenge Washington’s conventional wisdom on foreign policy. And once again, pundits and politicians have leveled charges that are now bankrupt of credibility and devoid of the new ideas that the American people desperately want.

On each point in the last few weeks, Barack Obama has called for a break from a broken way of doing things. On each point, he has brought fresh strategic thinking and common sense that break with the very conventional wisdom that has led us into Iraq.

Diplomacy: For years, conventional wisdom in Washington has said that the United States cannot talk to its adversaries because it would reward them. Here is the result:

* The United States has not talked directly to Iran at a high level, and they have continued to build their nuclear weapons program, wreak havoc in Iraq, and support terror.
* The United States has not talked directly to Syria at a high level, and they have continued to meddle in Lebanon and support terror.
* The United States did not talk to North Korea for years, and they were able to produce enough material for 6 to 8 more nuclear bombs.

By any measure, not talking has not worked. Conventional wisdom would have us continue this policy; Barack Obama would turn the page. He knows that not talking has made us look weak and stubborn in the world; that skillful diplomacy can drive wedges between your adversaries; that the only way to know your enemy is to take his measure; and that tough talk is of little use if you’re not willing to do it directly to your adversary. Barack Obama is not afraid of losing a PR battle to a dictator – he’s ready to tell them what they don’t want to hear because that’s how tough, smart diplomacy works, and that’s how American leaders have scored some of the greatest strategic successes in US history.

Barack Obama’s judgment is right; the conventional wisdom is wrong. We need a new era of tough, principled and engaged American diplomacy to deal with 21st century challenges.

Terrorist Sanctuaries: For years, we have given President Musharraf hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, while deferring to his cautious judgment on how to take out high-level al Qaeda targets – including, most likely, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Here is the result:

* Bin Laden and Zawahiri – two men with direct responsibility for 9/11– remain at large.
* Al Qaeda has trained and deployed hundreds of fighters worldwide from its sanctuary in northwest Pakistan.
* Afghanistan is far less secure because the Taliban can strike across the border, and then return to safety in Pakistan.

By any measure, this strategy has not worked. Conventional wisdom would have us defer to Musharraf in perpetuity. Barack Obama wants to turn the page. If Musharraf is willing to go after the terrorists and stop the Taliban from using Pakistan as a base of operations, Obama would give him all of the support he needs. But Obama made clear that as President, if he had actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan – and the Pakistanis continued to refuse to act against terrorists known to be behind attacks on American civilians – then he will use highly targeted force to do so.

Barack Obama’s judgment is right; the conventional wisdom is wrong. We need a new era that moves beyond the conventional wisdom that has brought us over-reliance on an unreliable dictator in Pakistan and an occupation of Iraq.

Nuclear Attacks on Terrorist Targets: For years, Washington’s conventional wisdom has held that candidates for President are judged not by their wisdom, but rather by their adherence to hackneyed rhetoric that make little sense beyond the Beltway. When asked whether he would use nuclear weapons to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Barack Obama gave the sensible answer that nuclear force was not necessary, and would kill too many civilians. Conventional wisdom held this up as a sign of inexperience. But if experience leads you to make gratuitous threats about nuclear use – inflaming fears at home and abroad, and signaling nuclear powers and nuclear aspirants that using nuclear weapons is acceptable behavior, it is experience that should not be relied upon.

Barack Obama’s judgment is right. Conventional wisdom is wrong. It is wrong to propose that we would drop nuclear bombs on terrorist training camps in Pakistan, potentially killing tens of thousands of people and sending America’s prestige in the world to a level that not even George Bush could take it. We should judge presidential candidates on their judgment and their plans, not on their ability to recite platitudes.

Vision: American foreign policy is broken. It has been broken by people who supported the Iraq War, opposed talking to our adversaries, failed to finish the job with al Qaeda, and alienated the world with our belligerence. Yet conventional wisdom holds that people whose experience includes taking these positions are held up as examples of what America needs in times of trouble.

Barack Obama says we have to turn the page. We cannot afford any more of this kind of bankrupt conventional wisdom. He has laid out a foreign policy that is bold, clear, principled, and tailored for the 21st century. End a war we should never have fought, concentrate our resources against terrorists who threaten America. End the counter-productive policy of lumping together our adversaries and avoiding talking to our foes. End the era of politics that is all sound-bites and no substance, and offer the American people the change that they need.

Barack Obama’s judgment is right. It is conventional wisdom that has to change.

Now, thats how you fight back. I like what I am seeing here.

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