Obama’s Unsteady Hand

Update III: David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register has an article worth reading. Yepsen thinks the latest Iowa poll is good for Hillary. Yepsen also thinks Obama made a mistake with his O-bomb-a answer. Here are some Yepsen excerpts (cleaned of typos):

Barack Obama flubbed and answer on when he’d use nukes. A new poll shows a dead heat for first place in the state. All of which is good news to Hillary Clinton’s campaign… Obama’s stumbling answer as to when, or if, he’d use nuclear weapons to hunt down terrorists just underscored his inexperience in foreign policy and defense questions… Obama was roundly denounced by the other Democratic candidates and, once again, has said something that makes him look not ready for the White House. He’s been battling that image problem since the beginning of the race and this comment does nothing to instill confidence. While pacifist Democrats might like it, it’s doubtful it would play to a larger general election electorate that expects an American president to use all tools in the toolbox to defend the country… But now he’s created a cloud and he’ll have to spend time assuring Americans that he really would be a good defender of the country and diligent in hunting down our adversaries… (The poll came out of the field before Obama’s comment and so wouldnn’t account for any effect of the remark.)… Still, the survey is good news for Clinton and bad news for Edwards.

Update II: Edwards finally speaks: “Senator Edwards believes a candidate for president should, in general, avoid talking about the potential use of nuclear weapons. Getting into hypotheticals about the use of force—particularly in the case of nuclear weapons—decreases a president’s options and weakens his authority, and Edwards will not do that.”

Update:  The Obama campaign has just issued a desperate Bush-like memo defending Obama’s foreign policy views.   Just like Bush, Obama is advertised as “bold” in his foreign policy views.  Just like Bush, the Obama campaign declares it is time to gut even more of the international consensus and alliance structure – particularly in Pakistan.  Obama’s embrace of more international instability is naive. 

Calling Pakistan President Musharraf an “unreliable dictator” might or might not be true – But if these sustained attack by Obama weaken Musharraf and turn the already precarious political situation in Pakistan into a triumph for Islamic hardline fundamentalists –  Obama, and his entire campaign organization, will have crossed the line from irresponsible to dangerous. 

As we have written before, the problem for the last 7 years is the rejection by Bush of diplomacy.  Obama wants to continue the Bush type leadership.  Obama and his campaign are not bold, they are reckless. 


Long ago, back in mid-May we wrote an article called Barack O bomb a. Barack Obama (D-Rezko) had just appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC.

Stephanopoulos: But you’ve never served in the military, never been an executive. What’s the most difficult crisis you’ve ever had to manage in your public life?

Obama: Well the truth is, in my public life, as a legislator, most of the difficult tasks have been to build consensus around hard problems. And, what I think the country needs more than anything right now is somebody who has the capacity to identify areas of common interest, common good, build a consensus around it and get things done.

Stephanopoulos: That is part of the job, there is no question about it, but you know a big part of the job for president is what you would do in a crisis, the crisis you didn’t expect. And you never ever really had to deal with something like that, right?

Obama: Well, what I think is absolutely legitimate is that my political career has been on the legislative side and not on the executive branch. Now, that is true for a lot of my colleagues, who aren’t governors, and one of the things that I hope, over the course of this campaign I show, is the capacity to manage this pretty unwieldy process, um, of a political race and one of the great things about the press is they’re going to be watching very carefully…

Stephanopoulos: Every move you make.

Obama: Every move you make and to make sure that people have a sense of how I deal with adversity, how I deal with mistakes. Who do I have around me to make sure we are executing on the things that need to get done.

We wrote then about this exchange and Obama’s answer (remember, this is back in May):

Obama’s answer then is that as we witness his campaign fall apart, into crisis, we will at long last see his crisis management abilities demonstrated. Is this an unfair interpretation? We don’t know how else to make sense of this senseless, unprepared answer. Obama’s answer seems to be “I have the ability to be president because I’m running for president”. This is an eyebrow raising, eye popping answer. We, like Stephanopoulos, expected to hear some remarkable example of biography. Instead we got the equivalent of “my campaign will provide crisis after crisis from which I will then extricate myself and you will be duly impressed with me.” We were not.

[SideNote: Don’t miss the rest of “O bomb a” for Obama’s answers to this question: Stephanopoulos: Let’s talk about Iraq. President Clinton says “It’s ludicrous to characterize Hillary and Obama’s positions on the war as polar opposites.” Is he right? and this question too: Stephanopoulos: But, but, but, back in 2003 you were against supplemental funding for the war. You gave a speech where you said “I would vote against the 87 billion dollars.” and also to this question: Stephanopoulos: But you said then, that you have to say no to George Bush because we can’t get steamrolled. Yet you go in the senate, your critics say, and you vote for the funding every single time. And don’t miss Reverend Al Sharpton’s retort to Obama on the Iraq War.]

So, using Obama’s own metric, his measurement for leadership skills, his measurement for crisis management – How is Obama Doing?

Well, we have this latest blunder to follow up on the previous blunder.

Pakistan criticized U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday for saying that, if elected, he might order unilateral military strikes against terrorists hiding in this Islamic country. Top Pakistan officials said Obama’s comment was irresponsible and likely made for political gain in the race for the Democratic nomination. “It’s a very irresponsible statement, that’s all I can say,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khusheed Kasuri told AP Television News. “As the election campaign in America is heating up we would not like American candidates to fight their elections and contest elections at our expense.” [snip]

Obama said in a speech Wednesday that as president he would order military action against terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan if intelligence warranted it. The comment provoked anger in Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror. [snip]

The Associated Press of Pakistan reported Friday that Musharraf was asked at a dinner at Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s house on Thursday about the potential of U.S. military operations in Pakistan. Musharraf told guests that Pakistan was “fully capable” of tackling terrorists in the country and did not need foreign assistance.

Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said no foreign forces would be allowed to enter Pakistan, and called Obama irresponsible.

As to Obama’s remarkable claim that he understands the world better because he lived abroad as a 6 year old:

It was a matter of “grave concern that U.S. presidential candidates are using unethical and immoral tactics against Islam and Pakistan to win their election,” Afghan said.

The Pakistan reaction echoed in the United States:

For the second straight day and third time in recent weeks, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) made news for his controversial foreign policy pronouncements. And his Democratic rivals continued to denounce him for it.

Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) strongly criticized their Senate colleague and presidential primary opponent Thursday after Obama suggested nuclear weapons were off the table for use against Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to the Associated Press, Obama answered a question about nuclear force against those two countries thusly:

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama said, pausing before adding, “involving civilians.” He then tried to correct his statement: “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

Great crisis management Axelrod/Obama:

Dodd was joined by several other candidates in shunning Obama’s Pakistan remarks. Obama initially was criticized by Clinton for saying in a recent debate that he would meet with dictators without preconditions.

Dodd pounced again Thursday, suggesting Obama is unprepared to be commander in chief.

“Over the past several days, Sen. Obama’s assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused,” Dodd said. “He has made threats he should not make and made unwise categorical statements about military options.

“We are facing a dangerous and complicated world. The next president will require a level of understanding and judgment unprecedented in American history to address these challenges.”

Clinton, who largely sat out of the Pakistan kafuffle on Wednesday, chided Obama again Thursday. She told the Associated Press: “Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. … I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.”

The crisis managment adlibs and blunders by Obama were noted everywhere as were the question about what Obama meant. For a proud writer, words appear to be his enemy.

Yet for Obama, who opposed the Iraq invasion, the episode offered an opportunity for him to present his approach as entirely different from those of his colleagues. In a letter to supporters titled “The war we need to win,” he called for the country to “stop fighting the wrong war” and to focus on the al-Qaeda threat, which he said became a lower priority after the Iraq war began. [snip]

We do not know if Obama is proposing to use troops extracted from Iraq to invade Pakistan in some of its most geographically complex regions where Osama bin Laden is supposed to be hiding.

The Obama campaign was still responding to the uproar late in the afternoon. “If we had actionable intelligence about the existence of high-level al-Qaeda targets like Osama bin Laden, Senator Obama would act and is confident that conventional means would be sufficient to take the target down,” said Bill Burton, a campaign spokesman. “Frankly we’re surprised that others would disagree.”

The New York Times weighed in highlighting the continued confusion from the International Relations college major:

Senator Barack Obama found himself on the defensive again yesterday about his views on foreign policy, this time over a comment he made about the use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan or Pakistan. [snip]

His remarks about removing nuclear weapons as an option in the region drew fresh attacks from Democratic rivals who had already questioned his foreign policy experience.

American officials have generally been deliberately ambiguous about their nuclear strike policies. [snip]

Mr. Obama, who is seeking to buttress his credibility on foreign policy, delivered a hawkish address this week in which he said he would dispatch American troops to destroy terrorist camps in Pakistan if the country failed to act.

The speech came after a weeklong back and forth with Mrs. Clinton over whether they would agree to meet with the leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. Mr. Obama said he would, while Mrs. Clinton said she would not, causing ivals to question his readiness to become commander in chief.

The L.A. Times took note of Obama’s Unsteady Hand too:

Illinois Sen. Obama, who has been emphasizing his toughness on foreign policy in recent days, was caught off-guard when a reporter wanted to know whether he would use the ultimate weapon against Al Qaeda.

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance … involving civilians,” he said, appearing uncomfortable with the query.

A moment later, he seemed to retract the entire response, saying: “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.” [snip]

New York Sen. Clinton smiled Thursday when she was read Obama’s comments during a Capitol Hill news conference.

“I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons,” she said.

“And I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. But I think we’ll leave it at that, because I don’t know the circumstances in which he was responding.”

On Wednesday, Obama endorsed the idea of dispatching U.S. soldiers to Pakistan if there was “actionable” intelligence of an imminent terrorist strike, even if the country’s rulers objected.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a presidential candidate who is chairman of the foreign relations committee, called the approach “very naive,” echoing Clinton’s criticism of Obama last week.

Clinton also said she was uncomfortable with Obama’s decision to publicly discuss operational details of fighting Al Qaeda, suggesting it could compromise efforts to kill terrorists.

“I am concerned about talking about it,” she said. “I think everyone agrees that our goal should be to capture or kill [Osama] bin Laden and his lieutenants.

“How we do it should not be telegraphed and discussed, for obvious reasons,” Clinton said.

She went on to give Obama a bit of campaign advice, counseling against answering “hypothetical” questions.

The New York Daily News too note of the latest stumbles and blunders of the International Relations college major:

Barack Obama stumbled on another foreign policy issue when he tried – and then tried again – to answer a question on whether he would ever use nuclear weapons against terror targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama said at first.

After a pause, he added, “involving civilians.”

And then, “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

Obama boasted last month his foreign policy judgment is superior to that of the other candidates and often notes he opposed the the war in Iraq long before Hillary Clinton became a critic.

His struggle with the nuclear question gave Clinton another opening to portray her rival for the Democrats’ White House nod as inexperienced and naive on world affairs. The freshman Illinois senator’s views on nuclear weapons surfaced in response to a question from The Associated Press yesterday, one day after he delivered a major policy speech vowing to order strikes on terrorists in Pakistan if Gen. Pervez Musharraf failed to crack down.

His answers – especially the first version – flew in the face of longstanding U.S. policy, under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, to never say never when it comes to nuclear weapons.

“Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons,” Clinton said on Capitol Hill when asked about Obama’s comments. “Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace.”

She added, “Everyone agrees that our goal should be to capture or kill [Osama] Bin Laden and his lieutenants, but how we do it should not be telegraphed and discussed for obvious reasons.”

Clinton spokesman Blake Zeff said she believes it’s wrong for Presidents to brandish the nuclear option, or forgo the option, because it’s a “critical part of this nation’s defense and protection of this country and of our allies.”

Obama’s campaign said he meant what he said.

How is Obama doing? What kind of leadership and crisis management has he exhibited? How is Obama doing, according to his own standards? — Every day Obama demonstrates an Unsteady Hand.