Some notes on the Wilson Center speech and media coverage

So, as I posted recently, Barack Obama made a very important foreign policy speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  The Obama campaign leaked some excerpts of the speech to the press shortly before the speech itself.  Many news outlets and blogs pushed out a quick sensational story that ignored all but a few lines of the speech.  A quick search on Technorati reveals the following blogs with this sort of bad reporting/representation:

Illinois Review:

Obama: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

by John Ruskin

So, let me get this straight. If Obama becomes President, his foreign policy will be to immediately invite every third-world dictator to tea and a night in the Lincoln bedroom, pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq, and invade Pakistan?

Does this guy have a clue? He certainly doesn’t have a plan. Is there any doubt left that he’s now become an embarrassment to Illinois? No wonder Dillard supported him. They have the same IQ.

This was the first one that came up and it harbors more than one misconception.  Obama specifically denied in an interview with NBC in response an attack by Hillary Clinton:

The diplomatic spadework has to be done ahead of time.  The notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having had initial envoys meet is ridiculous.

Obama does not say he will invade Pakistan.  Here is the part of the speech in question with the snippet that has been used to portray him as planning to invade Pakistan in bold:

But that is no excuse. There must be no safe-haven for terrorists who threaten America. We cannot fail to act because action is hard.
As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.

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 Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America’s commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists’ program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair — our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.

One should not take this as a call to invade Pakistan.  He leaves few important conditions in the equation before calling for US action in Pakistan:

  • actionable intelligence
  • high-value terrorist targets

And most importantly:

  • President Musharraf won’t act

What this is really about is putting stronger pressure on Pakistan.  He is saying that Pakistan cannot avoid action that it has committed to with impunity.

Now, there is room for criticism here, and this has been seen, for instance, in the comments of the CNN article on the subject.  Pakistan is a nuclear power with some instability coming from the extremist elements in the country.  By putting more pressure on Pakistan, we could destabilize a nuclear power, which could have dire consequences.  I want to see Barack address this criticism.

This speech also dispelled some myths that were held by some of his supporters.  Because of Obama’s stance against the War in Iraq since its inception, he has elicited a sizable amount of support from those who are firmly anti-war.  However, I do not think that those who thought so had carefully looked over Obama’s positions.  If you watch his campaign’s YouTube video touting his pre-war views on Iraq:

You will notice something interesting in what he says at the 2002 rally:

I don’t oppose war in all circumstances, and when I look out over this crowd today, I know there is no shortage of patriots or patriotism.  What I do oppose is a dumb war.

But even more telling was the segment from 2004:

I’ve looked at the evidence.  I’m a hawk when it comes to defeating terrorism.  I was strongly supportive of Afghanistan.  I would have picked up arms myself to prevent 9-11 again.  I don’t think the President has made the case on Iraq because I don’t see weapons of mass destruction…

Barack Obama is not an all-around dove candidate.  But, on the other hand, if you want a candidate that is opposed to Afghanistan, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one.

My advice to anyone who is considering voting in the Presidential primaries in 2008 is to read this speech carefully and in its entirety.  I’ve seen far too many distorted readings of  this speech, or more often, summaries and snippets of the speech from other sources.


About Meng Bomin

Real name Benjamin Main, I am a graduate of Grinnell College with a degree in Biological Chemistry.
This entry was posted in Current events, Opinions, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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