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August 08, 2007

Hillary v. Obama

To underscore exactly how little difference there is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's stated foreign policy positions, an Obama supporter e-mails this article where Hillary says:

"If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured," she said.

That is, so far as I can tell, exactly Obama's position. The question isn't whether any of these candidates -- save maybe Kucinich -- would act on actionable intelligence in Waziristan. It's what they consider "actionable intelligence." The current argument is telling us exactly nothing, save that various candidates think they, and not the other candidates, should be president.

August 8, 2007 | Permalink


Which according to Matt is, at least in part, Hillary's position:

Reviewing the debate coverage and watching recordings of some key exchanges, it's really striking how invested Hillary Clinton's campaign is in the idea that there are no important policy differences between the candidates.

Posted by: Rich | Aug 8, 2007 3:57:14 PM

What makes you think Kucinich would somehow not defend the country? I heard you interviewed, I think on Air America by Sam Seder, where you were commenting on some issue where you mentioned Kucinich by saying, in a derisive tone, "well, there's Kucinich." What's with the snide attacks? Be honest enough to say what you mean.

Posted by: Eric Ferguson | Aug 8, 2007 3:59:27 PM

Thsi dispute isn't about policy differences; it's about differences in the two candidates' philosophy of governance, particularly as it relates to foreign and military policy. Clinton projects the traditional view that the President needs to keep her cards close to her cleavage. Obama believes in laying those cards on the table, and being forthright--with both the American people and other nations--about when, how, and why he will use force.

This difference has real policy implications. Consider the differences over the seemingly silly question of whether we should nuke Osama's yurt. Obama says no. Clinton says we shouldn't ever say that we won't use nukes. Which of these two, as president, would be more successful in winning international support for an American-led effort to reinvigorate nonproliferation? And, by extension, which will be more likely to try?

Posted by: Bob Narus | Aug 8, 2007 4:01:16 PM

Not quite. "Ensure" is a different from "if Musharraf doesn't act, then we will."

One is a general statement of resolve, the other a public ultimatum given to a leader who is ostensibly our ally. I don't think Hillary's comment, even if, like Obama's, it had been said during a major speech, would have sparked anti-American, flag burning demonstrations in Pakistan, or protests in Chicago, as Obama's speech did.

On this issue Obama is the disingenuous, incoherent one. He says he'd bomb inside Pakistan if Musharraf won't do it (In last night's debate "won't" became "can't.") Meanwhile his chief foreign policy advisor claims Obama would respect Pakistan's sovereignty and Obama claims that he would "work with" Musharraf. Nothing like dropping bombs and missiles on another country at the same time you're respecting its sovereignty and working with its government.

And if true that as Ezra says, "the question isn't whether any of these candidates -- save maybe Kucinich -- would act on actionable intelligence in Waziristan," then we can assume that Bush-Cheney would too, correct? If Obama is merely stating a conventional, common sensical position, why does his advisor says it's a break with Bush's policy? How is it a break?

All of which is not to say that Obama's Look-How-Big-My-Gun-Is comments (and they were clearly meant to project hawkishness) will backfire. Demagogy on foreign policy often works--it's just rare to seeing it coming from a progressive.

Posted by: david mizner | Aug 8, 2007 4:09:16 PM

I think Kucinich wouldn't unilaterally enter Pakistan if we had actionable intelligence -- my understanding is that he's said as much.

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 8, 2007 4:14:55 PM

Has anyone checked that Hillary said exactly as what is quoted from an Obama supporter?

Posted by: joane ciccone | Aug 8, 2007 4:34:18 PM

That is, so far as I can tell, exactly Obama's position.

As david points out, it isn't. Hillary is careful not to say that she will act without Pakistan's permission. Her statement is ambiguous as to whether she would bomb without permission or persuade Musharraf to bomb or persuade him to let the US act. This matters in part for the reason david points out, that it doesn't undermine Musharraf and insult Pakistanis in the way Obama's comments do. On this point Obama has staked out a position more hawkish than Bush, which ought to make people wonder about its wisdom.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 4:34:33 PM

That's silly
Obama laid down a set parameters that would guide his decision.

Benefits of strike against terrorist > costs of doing it without Pakistan

Maybe that pisses off Pakistan and maybe that's bad thing. But he didn't say it as part of some attack on Hillary and he isn't going around calling other democrats weak on terror. I think Obama thinks its the right policy and not just the right policy to get votes.

Posted by: ChristopherColaninnno | Aug 8, 2007 5:00:14 PM

Howard Wolfson is Satan. When you watch him on TV, you can whether or not he's lying by checking to see if his lips are moving.

I'm frankly surprised that no one during the campaign has brought up that Wolfson's done consulting work for Rupert Murdoch

Posted by: Petey | Aug 8, 2007 5:02:41 PM

actionable intelligence?

did we have actionable intelligence concerning WMDs?
we sure acted.

Posted by: x | Aug 8, 2007 5:24:31 PM

The difference is Obama thinks this is something that should be discussed with the American people and Clinton thinks that is a mistake. That's a huge difference. Actions in a democracy have legitimacy to the extent that they are not only supported by the people but UNDERSTOOD by the people. You and Matt and Michael O'Hanlon and Samantha Power can all agree that the substance is largely the same but most people don't have your detailed grasp of the underlying policies. They view this exchange in the context of their own knowledge -- in a country where most people can't find Pakistan on a map and more people believe today that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attacks then at the time that Congress passed the AUMF/Iraq.

Obama is arguing that the establishment Dems took their eye off the ball by supporting the Iraq War. In order to argue that point he needs to explain what 'the ball' means -- it's those directly responsible for 9/11 -- not 'ideological affiliates' or 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq'. It's Bin Laden and Zawahiri. I'm certain Sen. Clinton also wants to get Bin Laden and Zawahiri but she does NOT want to talk about what we have been doing in the interim.

It's a much larger difference than you point out. If the Iraq War was discussed honestly in advance and the country agreed that the threats posed merited the kind of sustained costs we are seeing then I imagine it would still have support. Because Iraq WASN'T discussed in honest terms people have abandoned the mission as dishonest and not worth it. Sen. Obama thinks the maintaining the educated will of the people is essential to conducting foreign policy. Sen. Clinton thinks it's job of the President to do make that decision and the people don't need to know. How is that not a huge difference in how the two would govern?

Posted by: joejoejoe | Aug 8, 2007 5:40:00 PM

An attempt to stop the madness.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 8, 2007 5:43:39 PM

Attempt 2

Posted by: Petey | Aug 8, 2007 5:44:03 PM

Final attempt.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 8, 2007 5:44:45 PM


Posted by: Petey | Aug 8, 2007 5:45:05 PM

So Petey, how do you actually fix the runaway italics? I've tried before but failed. Share the secret, please!

Posted by: Korha | Aug 8, 2007 6:56:48 PM

3joe, Obama isn't discussing it any more than Clinton is. He's just staking out a different position.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 6:59:49 PM

Just use enough close italics tags, that's my method. Sometimes takes several.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 7:00:52 PM

But isn't Ezra the one who insisted they were different in the first place? :)

Posted by: weboy | Aug 8, 2007 7:07:26 PM

Well, Obama did lay his cards on the table - and his hand wasn't very good. He threatened the sovereignty of a nuclear power - that is certainly how Musharraf heard it, and now Musharraf is using the comment to justify actions of his own.

Maybe this was a smart move if all Obama wanted to do was show he is in the big leagues because he would use big weapons and can get one of the big (bad) boys to notice him. But if the man is trying to make the case that he has a sophisticated understanding of security issues - well, let's just say he hasn't been entirely successful.

Posted by: Ciccina | Aug 8, 2007 7:13:06 PM

"So Petey, how do you actually fix the runaway italics? I've tried before but failed. Share the secret, please!"

One open tag followed by two close tags.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 8, 2007 7:30:24 PM

Hillary isn't staking out a position. Once again, she's staking out a non-position that allows people to read into it whatever they want. Person X wants to see that she'd go into Pakistan too, so that's what they read. Person Y wants to see that she's willing to muscular in her pursuit of Osama but not threaten Pakistan's sovereign status, so they read that. Person Z doesn't want her to go into Pakistan, so they read that.

And I'm sure you're all convinced that you are actually interpreting her comments correctly, and others are misinterpreting it.

But you're all being manipulated by a politician who's main goal is to confuse as to what her position is.


On this point Obama has staked out a position more hawkish than Bush, which ought to make people wonder about its wisdom.

Actually, that's factually incorrect. Not only has the Bush admin publicly stated they reserve the right to act unilaterally in Pakistan without mentioning narrow conditions like "high valued target" and "actionable intelligence", but they've also suggested that they're already carrying out those attacks.

Keep on peddling that misinformation:

The recent back and forth from Washington and Islamabad--sparked by White House statements that it would unilaterally strike Al Qaeda in Pakistan's territory if necessary--has been one whirlwind of a show. A string of spokesmen have made each side's position absolutely clear (depending, of course, upon which audience that particular message is intended for...) Frances Townsend, a White House homeland security adviser, summed it up when she fielded a question on FOX about why the US wasn't already engaged in operations in Pakistan: "Just because we don't speak about things publicly doesn't mean we're not doing things you talk about."

Pakistan responded that such operations would be an inconceivable infringement of sovereignty (wink, wink) and that it's in a better position to shut down AQ--if only the US would pass along its intel.

from july 26th, before Obama's speech

Its funny, but somehow, Musharraf's regime managed to not collapse immediately. Hmmm...maybe its not the house of cards some are suggesting.

Or maybe that's just crazy talk, you know, discussing things that happened in the real world. Let's continue to theorize about this stuff.

Posted by: mrl | Aug 8, 2007 9:36:50 PM

Okay, Obama's "policy" gets sillier by the second. Now he's essentially refuted the entire Pakistan section of his speech. From TPM:

"Barack Obama expressed sympathy today for Pervez Musharraf, one week after saying he would authorize attacks on his soil even without the Pakistani president's permission. "President Musharraf has a very difficult job, and it is important that we are a constructive ally with them in dealing with al-Qaida," Obama said, echoing his statements that he would first try to engage Pakistan in any anti-terror mission. Obama wouldn't answer a question about how his approach would be different than that of President Bush, however, saying he didn't know the details of the President's actions and then that he couldn't speak for the White House."

This last part is interesting too, coming after Obama's advisor's claim that Obama's approach represented a departure from Bush's approach--an approach Obama now says he didn't know much about.

Posted by: david mizner | Aug 8, 2007 9:51:34 PM

And I'm sure you're all convinced that you are actually interpreting her comments correctly, and others are misinterpreting it.

Indeed, MRL. Your persons X, Y and Z are all misreading what she said. Her position is that she will get it done, but that she isn't stupid enough to say how she'd do it now, and she's explained that. That's actually the correct position to take. She doesn't take it to confuse voters. She takes it to avoid the kind of shit Obama is already stirring up in Pakistan.

Obama has been far less discreet than Bush and the White House about this. Contrary to what your source says, Bush and the White House only say he wouldn't rule out acting unilaterally in Pakistan, and refuse to say whether he would do so without Musharraf's permission. (I believe the second links refers to the same statements you source does.) So Obama, in promising to go ahead without Musharraf's permission if necessary, is in fact outhawking Bush. And in this case, that just isn't very bright. I hope Obama will recover his wits about these things soon, because the tactic of backing his foreign policy gaffs will backfire. Maybe what david posted is an indication that he's seeing the light.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 8, 2007 10:24:40 PM

The main difference is that Barack Obama is communicating clearly and decisively. In fact, Barack's position of making it clear that he will go after bin Laden will work just like it worked for John Tester. Meanwhile Hillary and her hacks (Dodd and Biden) are continuing to muddle the waters. What is more appalling is the Clinton, Dodd, and Biden want to lecture the rest of us on foreign policy. Hillary wants to pretend she is the adult, yet, she admits to not reading the intelligence report recommended by Senator Bob Graham. That is childish. Really, on this topic all of these clowns should get lost.

Posted by: jncam | Aug 9, 2007 12:01:49 AM

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