February 20, 2008

McCain: Confuse Leadership?

Last night, Republican John McCain echoed President Bush attacks on Senator Obama in this Wisconsin victory speech.
Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan, and sitting down without pre-conditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?
Just like President Bush, McCain is full of it. It got so bad, even the very serious Joe Klein calls McCain attacks utter nonsense.
I'm sure, Barack Obama will explain that any meetings with Iranian leaders will be fully prepped by staff in advance, including advance meetings at the ministerial level...but what about the first part of the quote? Utter nonsense. Here's what Obama actually said:
I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an Al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
And, in fact, Obama was merely saying that he supported current U.S. policy. A month ago, for example, a bomb launched from a CIA predator drone killed the Al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi in Pakistan. Was McCain opposed to that?
Barack Obama is pushing back against Republican talking points in a way Hillary Clinton would not be able to do. Matthew Yglesias has a summary of conference call with Susan Rice in which she counters McCain and Clinton.
One key point of emphasis was the strange notion coming from the McCain campaign that talking about focused counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan is irresponsible, whereas randomly threatening to start new wars is the height of good sense. As she put it "it's a strange contrast -- he says that somehow it's naive for a presidential candidate to outline how he would deal with that crucial national security challenge, but it's appropriate for him to joke about starting another war." A reporter from the Washington Times challenged her on the "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" business saying McCain was joking. Rice responds that "if he wants to say that he was joking and that's the kind of joke he thinks is funny, that's his perogative." [..]

More broadly, on experience there's a three-pronged attack. First, Obama does have experience, with Rice citing the fact that he authored "crucial legislation to secure the United States from the threat of loose nuclear materials" and serves on committees and subcommittees dealing with foreign relations, veterans affairs, and homeland security. Second, this means that Obama has actually "acquired more traditional washington foreign policy experience" than most presidents including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter (Carter in fact served on a nuclear sub and I'm told this gave him a better understanding of nuclear issues than presidents before or after).

Third, there's more to life than being a prisoner of DC conventional wisdom -- "McCain, like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney may have years of Washington experience" but they've all made "flawed judgments and as a consequence we're less safe." In a crucial point, Rice observed (emphasis added) that a McCain administration would be "very much a continuation and intensification of the failed Bush policy, remaining in Iraq indefinitely not investing adequately in Afghanistan." According to Rice we need to "show that we have learned from our mistakes in Iraq and elsewhere and are prepared to cooperate and collaborate on the challenges we face," namely al-Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, and climate change.
Steve Benen points out; does anyone seriously believe these are effective lines of attack? Obama wants to kill terrorists and try diplomacy with rivals. And this is bad, why?

You want to know why John McCain think it will work, it DC conventional wisdom. It lead Hillary Clinton to yes on the Iraq War to show that she can be at tough as McCain, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of beltway that went along with fear over principle. Barack Obama is right.
"I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."
On a related note, Clinton supporter Lanny Davis tells Fox News that Obama is Ned Lamont and Hillary Clinton is Joe Lieberman.


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