Showing posts with label foreign policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foreign policy. Show all posts

8/11/2008

Russia and Georgia: What Really Matters

Don Conley, a former speechwriter for Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, wrote an excellent column about the crisis in Georgia and how that should remind voters of what truly matters in this fall's election.

He cites Obama's responses to the conflict, which have been inconsistent at best:

"Obama's response has been all over the map, matching consensus global opinion. At first, he blamed both Georgia and Russia, then called for Russia to withdraw, now he's demanding an immediate cease fire. Events are in the saddle and Obama is going along for the ride--this matches President Bush's approach to the crisis, and that's not a good thing."
John McCain is not immune from Conley's wrath, citing his "bellicosity:"
"Unless McCain is willing to get the US in the middle of every armed conflict on earth--giving new definition to his promise of 'more wars'--a McCain Presidency would mean that we're at least going to enter a new age of foreign policy brinkmanship that will demand a military sufficient to fight these battles. That means either getting out of Iraq or reinstating a draft, because the military today is incapable of matching McCain's rhetoric."
These two passages underscore the importance of the office for which McCain and Obama are running. Elections have consequences, and these consequences concern matters of life and death. McCain, Obama, their surrogates, and partisan defenders may throw around misleading and petty terms like elitist, warmonger, Washington insider, risky, old, and celebrity. But there comes a point when voters must realize that the Presidency of the United States is perhaps the single most important political office in the world and that whoever occupies it should be competent, resourceful, pragmatic, talented, reliable, and strong.

It is easy to call both Obama and McCain out on their rhetoric regarding Georgia and Russia. In the case of Obama, if he is unable to stick to a position or changes it blindly to suit the moment, he will convey to the world that he is a weak and indecisive leader who does not command the respect of our allies or our adversaries. That is not good for our national security.

And in the case of McCain, belligerent rhetoric and sabre rattling must be matched by a military that is large enough and strong enough back him up. Warning Russia about "serious consequences" only to have Russia call our bluff because Vladimir Putin knows we don't have enough troops available to fight on a third front as a result of our continued operations in Iraq and possible military confrontation with Iran would send an equally disconcerting message that the United States is overextended and is vulnerable as a result.

The political impact of the Russian incursion into Georgia may be to place international relations back in the forefront. It helps push Paris Hilton and John Edwards out of the headlines and forces both presidential candidates to talk about foreign policy. This could be a jump ball in that McCain is more likely to be seen as a strong commander in chief while Obama is seen as more likely to improve relationships between the United States and the international community. Fresh off of his world tour last month, Obama has a little more street cred when it comes to the international arena than he had earlier. Even though he received very little bounce in the polls, the imagery of him shaking hands with foreign leaders may provide a latent benefit for him later on. And John McCain can contrast the celebrity caricature of Obama with the need for there to be a serious candidate for serious times. But Obama could counter that one reason why the United States' options are so constricted is because of McCain's "judgment" on Iraq.

Also, as both candidates consider their vice presidential running mates, this would seem to benefit Joe Biden and Tom Ridge. The former is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the latter is the former secretary of Homeland Security. Conversely, this international flare-up does not bode well for Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty--all of whom are more domestic picks. Of course, the Benazir Bhutto assassination shortly before the Iowa caucuses did not provide any political advantage for candidates like Chris Dodd or Bill Richardson, so perhaps because Georgia is a far away place that most voters have never heard of, many voters simply won't care.

But let's hope not.

It may be August, which is typically a dead month for politics. Voters are having backyard barbecues, family vacations, and nights in front of the television watching the Olympics in Beijing. Hopefully they are paying attention to what is happening in the world right now too though because they need to challenge their presidential candidates to move past their generic vague talking points ("change" and "victory") and flesh out where they stand on issues that actually affect people's lives. What does it say when a YouTube video of Paris Hilton can get more than a million hits, but a video of a meaningful policy discussion concerning war and peace can barely get 10% of that?

Right now, this campaign seems to be reduced to a mere popularity contest in which both candidates are trying their hardest to say as little as possible without getting called out on it. If that's what November comes down to, then either candidate could conceivably win the election. But the nation and perhaps the world will lose as a result of it.

12/27/2007

Bhutto's Assassination: The Political Impact

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated just hours ago after a campaign rally in the town of Rawalpindi. This attack will have a significant impact not just on American foreign policy, but also on the American political scene.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza argued a few minutes ago that Rudy Giuliani will benefit from Bhutto's assassination because it would shift the political dialogue back to terrorism and national security. Cillizza was roundly criticized in the comments section after his post for appearing insensitive to the tragedy and placing politics above mourning.

Before I go any further, I must stress that I strongly disagree with those who criticized Cillizza for assessing the political impact of this tragedy. The fact is, politics never sleeps. And while it may appear unseemly at times, politics is always in play whenever a tragedy happens. It happened with the JFK assassination and LBJ's succession. It happened with the Columbine shootings and gun control. It happened with the 9-11 attacks and war. It happened with Hurricane Katrina and the inefficiency of government. And it's going to happen again with this.

The job of a political analyst is to assess the political impact of news that affects this nation. Again, while that may seem crass, that is what we are charged with doing. In light of this terrible assassination, our thoughts and prayers are most certainly with Bhutto's family and the Pakistani people. But we must not forget that there will be consequences for this, and that we should seek to assess these consequences. That's what we as political analysts do.

As for the impact of this attack on our politics, there will be some serious questions about the financial assistance the Untied States sends to Pakistan. And there will be renewed skepticism about President Pervez Musharraf's ability to govern Pakistan effectively and his commitment to holding free and fair elections next month.

Regarding the presidential race, I disagree with Cillizza. I believe the renewed focus on national security and terrorism will benefit John McCain more than Giuliani even though Giuliani will certainly benefit more than most other candidates. The reason why is because John McCain is well-positioned to win New Hampshire. Rudy Giuliani is not going to win Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Michigan. He will have to wait until Florida to possibly win a state. McCain could snatch Giuliani's national security mantle and start racking up victories before Giuliani even gets on the scoreboard. Independent voters in New Hampshire who were planning to vote for Obama may decide to vote for McCain instead. (More on Obama later.)

McCain is also a much more credible on national security and military affairs than Giuliani is. And McCain still has a lot of appeal among independent and Democratic voters just like Giuliani does. But McCain has the better resume and also has the experience of having run for president in 2000. And finally, McCain is closer to the Republican base than Giuliani on abortion and gun rights.

This news could not have come at a worse time for Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Neither Mike Huckabee nor Mitt Romney has much foreign policy experience. However, Mitt Romney is in serious danger of being overtaken by McCain in New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee could be eclipsed by Romney in Iowa, but because both of them are weak in terms of foreign policy experience, it's a wash. And because this news changes the subject from moral values and Christianity, that further disadvantages Huckabee but is a net positive for Romney because the questions about Mormonism will be shoved off the front pages and Romney seems to have more going for him in the eyes of voters than simply social issues.

As for the Democrats, this news may prove fatal for the campaigns of John Edwards and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton is going to make a strong case that now is the time to have a firm, experienced, steady hand in the White House. Even voters who don't agree with Clinton's overall platform will have to acknowledge the merits of this argument. My thinking is that voters only respond to messages of "change" and "inspiration" when they feel safe. But when they feel threatened, they will be more likely to err on the side of caution and stay with what's familiar. Aside from his poor campaign skills, that's one of the main reasons why John Kerry lost to George Bush in 2004. The "change" Kerry was offering was a bit too risky to too many voters "during a time of war," as Bush cleverly framed it.

Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, and Joe Biden will also look more attractive in light of this tragedy, as each of them is highly experienced. However, I believe Joe Biden is the best positioned to truly make some noise in the Iowa caucuses. Richardson's credibility is suspect because his Iraq policy is often seen as overly simplistic or unreasonable (getting all the troops out, "no residual forces") and Dodd is so far at the back of the pack that not many people are really listening to his message even though he is obviously quite intelligent. Biden has been prescient about issues of foreign policy in the past and his Iraq plan was widely praised. He also correctly identified the threat posed by Pakistan at a recent debate. He is polling fourth in most Iowa polls. Voters who are seeking experience, but don't like Clinton may view Biden as an alternative.

Iraq has been off the front pages for the past few weeks, which has benefited Congressional Republicans. For the presidential race, when domestic policy is off the front pages, that benefits the candidates who are seen as having foreign policy heft. These candidates are McCain, Giuliani, Clinton, Biden, Richardson, and Dodd. Talk about Christmas, changing our politics, family values, and corruption in Washington will have to take a back seat to talk about foreign affairs and strength for the next few days. For the sake of Obama and Edwards in particular, they had better hope that the political dialogue returns to domestic policy before the Iowa caucuses next week because voters want to feel secure before they want to feel inspired.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.