What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I’m getting tired of John McCain’s petty attacks on Barack Obama’s foreign policy "inexperience." It’s particularly annoying to listen to him mock his current trip after urging him to make such a trip. So far, what seems apparent from Obama’s discussions with leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq is that he has been right in what he has been saying about those countries and actions that we should be taking and that those leaders agree with him. And all McCain can do is criticize the trip and keep harping on the fact that because Obama voted against the so called "surge" - it proves that his foreign policy judgment is lacking - while his of course is well honed and ready to be put to use on "day one" in the White House. No on the job training needed for John McCain.

Maybe Obama can’t do this directly but perhaps a surrogate can - and that is to challenge McCain to describe his foreign policy "expertise." Not just claim that he has it - but how does he have it? It surely can’t be time spent as a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Testimony in front of the Armed Services Committee of which he is the ranking Republican member might provide glimmers of information with which he would not otherwise be familiar and which might be classified as "foreign affairs." But that doesn’t add up to foreign affairs expertise no more than does visits to foreign countries where one is not engaged in negotiating on behalf of the United States.

So what would constitute "expertise" in foreign affairs - an expertise greater than that of Obama? I would think it would be specific knowledge and understanding of the history, culture, customs, economy and the politics of other countries. And familiarity with the leaders of foreign countries - and how they think, whether or not you can trust them , whether or not they trust you - and how they might react in a variety of circumstances. And it’s always a help if you can speak a foreign language or two.

It’s easy to claim foreign policy experience and to claim that your knowledge and experience is superior to that of your opponent - but it’s not that easy to explain how. McCain has criticized Obama for not visiting Iraq and Afghanistan and for advancing position papers on those countries without going there and seeing the "facts on the ground." Such as walking through an Iraqi market accompanied by 100American soldiers with helicopters hovering overhead to demonstrate how "safe" it was to stroll around in Baghdad. There’s no doubt that there is some small advantage to visiting countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and to meeting with politicians and with our senior military officers there. But it is indeed small. What a general can tell you on the ground in Baghdad can be conveyed to you while you are in your Senate office or in a Senate hearing. And what you will get to see while you are in a foreign county - especially in a war zone - is what the people running things there want you to see. Of course such visits provide all kinds of photo opportunities, but that hardly qualifies as gaining foreign policy experience.

McCain has crowed that the so called "surge" that he was urging months before it took place is "working" - and because Obama was opposed to a "surge" - that proves McCain’s superior judgment in matters of foreign affairs and security. First of all, let’s not talk about a "surge" as though it was a living, breathing thing. We seem to have an annoying habit of giving names to military actions that tend to glamorize or mask what they really are. "Shock and Awe" was a relentless military onslaught that killed thousands of Iraqis and toppled the Iraqi government in a matter of weeks. The "surge" was a temporary increase in troop numbers that was supposed to give the Iraqis a chance to sort themselves out politically. It very likely has made some contribution to the reduction in street violence in Iraq - though we are still getting the occasional suicide bomber resulting in mass murder and injury. But surge or no surge - much of the relative calm that has been achieved can be traced to several other things. The walling off of Baghdad neighborhoods - maybe something we picked up from the Israelis? The cooperation - if you want to call it that - of Muqtada al-Sadr, who has told his minions to stop attacking fellow Iraqis - at least for a while - though he still wants us out of the country a lot quicker than Malaki has indicated - and that might bug him enough to call off his cease fire.. And money. Lots of money. We’ve put a bunch of potential bad guys on the payroll. No one knows exactly how many Sunni militiamen we have "hired" at $10 a day . Depending on which source you rely on, it is anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000. That’s a lot of our taxpayer money being spent to keep the peace in Iraq - maybe as much as a million a day.

Take away the claim that the reduction in violence in Iraq is due solely to the "surge" - (the "surge" is "working") - and that it represents McCain’s superior expertise in matters of foreign and military affairs - and there is very little that McCain can point to to demonstrate that superior expertise. Any president worth his salt will surround himself with people who actually do have expertise in various matters - including foreign affairs - and the selection of such people will be a matter of judgment - and there is no evidence that McCain’s judgment is superior to that of Obama’s. I wouldn’t suggest the opposite - that Obama is more qualified to conduct foreign policy than McCain - but at least Barack knows the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites - and without the benefit of having strolled through a "safe" market in Baghdad. And I’d bet my bottom dollar that he also knows that Iraq doesn’t share a border with Pakistan.

While we’re on the subject of foreign affairs and who is best qualified to conduct them - perhaps an Obama surrogate can also ask what McCain means by "victory’ in Iraq. Obama has made it clear that he has a plan to end our military involvement in Iraq while he has described and decried the McCain "plan" as simply staying there. So the question for McCain is "until what?" and if the answer is "until we achieve victory," the question that must be answered if we are to seriously consider this man for the highest office in the land is - what constitutes "victory?" The New York Times has just rejected an op-ed submission by McCain that was supposed to be a response to an Obama piece. The Times rejected it as written because, among other things, they wanted it to include a McCain definition of "victory." Up to now, the only thing you can glean from McCain’s pronouncements is that leaving Iraq amounts to either defeat or surrender - the words seem to be interchangeable to RWRARS (right wing ranters and ravers) - and staying amounts to victory.

It’s a simplistic mantra designed to appeal to those who don’t bother to stop and ask the question that anyone with an IQ on the right side of moron would ask. Which is -

What in the hell is he talking about?