Friday, March 07, 2008

Wherein I Worry More About Obama

By Cernig

Josh Marshall pegs it - Obama's campaign at the moment is suffering under the Clinton assault, tag-teamed as it is by the Republicans laughing gleefully at the Dems' discomfort.

Samantha Power's resignation is just one case in point - although I'm far more concerned about her claim in a BBC interview that Obama's Iraq withdrawal policy is just flimflam than about her calling Hillary Clinton a "monster".

As David Corn points out:
Non-News Flash: Aides to presidential candidates routinely refer to the competition in harsh terms, particularly when they talk to reporters off the record. More than once, a top Clinton person has told me that s/he believes Obama is a self-righteous fraud--or worse. It was, of course, always off the record. But if I had reported any of these remarks, I could have gotten the pop The Scotsman has received for disclosing Power's comment.
The Scotsman newspaper quoted Power as saying: "She is a monster, too - that is off the record - she is stooping to anything." I would not be at all surprised to learn that the conservative-supporting Scotsman newspaper deliberately burned Samantha Power when she thought she was speaking off the record. Only those who follow Scottish internal politics would know they're not above some very dirty anti-Left tricks in election season and that ethos may well have spilled over into their coverage of the American race. It's cost Obama not just an advisor but made him appear weak and manipulable. Not good for him.

But the Iraq matter is entirely more serious.
Power downplayed Obama's commitment to quick withdrawal from Iraq on Hard Talk, a program that often exceeds any of the U.S. talk shows in the rigor of its grillings. She was challenged on Obama's Iraq plan, as it appears on his website, which says that Obama "will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."

"What he’s actually said, after meting with the generals and meeting with intelligence professionals, is that you – at best case scenario – will be able to withdraw one to two combat brigades each month. That’s what they’re telling him. He will revisit it when he becomes president," Power says.

The host, Stephen Sackur, challenged her:"So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn't a commitment isn't it?"

"You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009," she said. "He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan – an operational plan – that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president. So to think – it would be the height of ideology to sort of say, 'Well, I said it, therefore I’m going to impose it on whatever reality greets me.'"

"It’s a best-case scenario," she said again.
Now, only the naive expect most politicians to keep their election promises. Heck, Dubya promised more diplomacy and less militarism during his presidency. But this one really does cut to the heart of Obama's current support base and to his own claim - which is far more than just a policy promise - to be different from the usual run of political hacks.

Yet again, I'm forcibly reminded of Tony 'all things to all people" Blair, and the disasterous misadventures of Iraqi occupation and surveillance state. America so doesn't need to be taken in by that kind of con job. Obama needs desperately to restore some credibility, at least for me, if he's not to be seen as what the Clinton campaign wants to paint him as - a snake-oil statesman.

There's a possibility that the other story of an Obama advisor going off the reservation might provide that. ABC's Justin Rood:
In a new interview with National Journal magazine, an intelligence adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign broke with his candidate’s position opposing retroactive legal protection for telecommunications companies being sued for cooperating with a dubious U.S. government domestic surveillance program.

"I do believe strongly that [telecoms] should be granted that immunity," former CIA official John Brennan told National Journal reporter Shane Harris in the interview. "They were told to [cooperate] by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context."

"I know people are concerned about that, but I do believe that's the right thing to do," added Brennan, who is an intelligence and foreign policy adviser to Obama.

That wasn't just a personal opinion, Brennan made clear to Harris. "My advice, to whoever is coming in [to the White House], is they need to spend some time learning, understanding what's out there, identifying those key issues," including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, he said -- the law at the heart of the immunity debate.

"They need to make sure they do their homework, and it's not just going to be knee-jerk responses," Brennan said of the presidential hopefuls.

Last month, Obama voted to strip language in an intelligence bill that would have granted to Verizon, AT&T and other companies the immunity Brennan favored. The firms have been identified in lawsuits as having cooperated with a National Security Agency program to intercept phone calls and other communications data within the United States.

What does Obama think? "Sen. Obama welcomes a variety of views, but his position on FISA is clear. He and Brennan differ," said campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Now, in the first instance Obama has only himself to blame for hiring a close associate of George "slam dunk" Tenet as his intel bod. Tenet handpicked Brennan as the Bush administration's director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center back in 2003 after "consulting with Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge." Brennan had previously been Tenet's chief of staff.

That's clearly the wrong man for Obama's campaign: someone who was approved by Tenet and the rest of the Bush administration as the man in charge of all terrorist intel analysis - which in the Bush administration was always going to be an appointment where the incumbent needed to be "right" politically too.

But Kevin Hayden sees the bright side:
It’s important to have commanders in chief who seek advice from experienced hands. But it’s also critical that they be capable of weighing that advice so they can make sound decisions - including rejecting advice they consider to be flawed. Obama is already demonstrating he can reason independently on the issue of retroactive telecom immunity, choosing Constitutional support over the thin argument that telecoms thought they were acting legally.

The only compromise available is if the government assumes the liabilities of the telecoms and takes the legal consequences that someone should bear for the illegal actions it instigated. And Obama has chosen to remain on the right side of the law, which is an attribute I applaud him for.
So one cave - to the opposition - and one internal tough and principled stand. You can see why I'm worried.

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