Foreign Policy: Is Obama a Puppet? (Updated)

After reading the article on Barack Obama's foreign policy team in the New York Times this morning (A Cast of 300 Advises Obama on Foreign Policy by Elisabeth Bumiller), I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. The first paragraph is fine, as I would hope that anyone who is a Senator, let alone anyone who is running for President, would have a staff that's responsible for advising him on foreign policy. 300 individuals seem a bit much, but if that's what he needs, so be it:

WASHINGTON - Every day around 8 a.m., foreign policy aides at Senator Barack Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters send him two e-mails: a briefing on major world developments over the previous 24 hours and a set of questions, accompanied by suggested answers, that the candidate is likely to be asked about international relations during the day.

It's the next paragraph that really startles me, however:

One recent Q. & A. asked, for example, whether Mr. Obama supported the decision by Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to include a timetable for American troop withdrawal in any new security agreements with the United States. The answer, provided to Mr. Obama with bullet points, was yes - or "a genuine opportunity," as he put it in a speech on Iraq this week.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the statement Obama is questioned about, "include a timetable for American troop withdrawal in any new security agreements with the United States", is demonstrably false - as shown here in this post: Obama's Op-Ed on Iraq - Premise Untrue, And a History Lesson. It was a mistranslation - al-Maliki never said "withdrawal". So the Times reporter, by using this particular example, is perpetuating a known and substantial error as the new conventional wisdom.

But the fact that a NYT reporter would use an outdated and incorrect 'fact' to buttress an article is almost beside the point. More troublesome is that Obama needs to be handed "bullet points" to tell him how to answer the most basic foreign policy questions. It's not as if troop withdrawal from Iraq is an unfamiliar subject to this candidate. It would be understandable if Obama needs help answering a question about the internal politics of, say, the Republic of Seychelles - but not on a country with which we're allied in a "hot" war.  He should know the Iraq subject inside and out, and this article makes it clear that he doesn't - or that he can't remember what his current position is, which is probably worse.

The reporter also inadvertently slams Obama and his foreign policy expertise while attempting to compare him favorably to President Bush:

Unlike George W. Bush, who entered the presidential race in 2000 with scant exposure to national security issues, Mr. Obama has served since his election to the Senate in 2004 on the Foreign Relations Committee and has had a running tutorial from aides steeped in the issues. His campaign says that he is well prepared and that he often alters and expands on the talking points provided to him by his foreign policy advisers.

If that's the case, with such foreign policy background and "experience", why does Barack Obama need to be told what to say on the subject? It's almost as if someone else is controlling his message. And as for the attempted slam against Bush, national security wasn't a big issue in the 2000 election. Vice President Al Gore hardly mentioned it, nor did the press bring it up often at the time, if at all. Times are different today. We're at war now, and foreign policy is vitally important. This article makes it apparent that Obama already had aides assisting him at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for years, so why does he need additional help now? By virtue of his position on that committee, he should be an expert by now. One has to wonder with that kind of recent background, why Obama needs to be told what to say on the major foreign policy issues confronting us today at all?

Furthermore, for someone who is constantly claiming sole ownership of the "change" message, the names that the reporter includes in her article as members of Obama's core group of foreign policy advisers seem awfully familiar: Madeleine K. Albright, Warren Christopher, Susan E. Rice, Anthony Lake, Gregory B. Craig, Richard J. Danzig, and Dennis Ross. In fact, they're all recycled Clinton Administration officials. Richard Holbrooke is also mentioned at the end of the article as a member of the team, although because of his previous strong support and defense of Senator Clinton during the Democratic primaries, it seems as if he has yet to be embraced fully by the Obama campaign. Thank goodness for small favors.

To take the "Obama's Foreign Policy = Bill Clinton's Foreign Policy" theory even further, when you go and look up the "13-member senior working group" of Obama's campaign that the article refers to, you'll find the names listed above (except for Ross) with the following additions: David Boren, Lee Hamilton, Eric Holder (my, he gets around), Sam Nunn, William Perry, Tim Roemer and James Steinberg. Of those thirteen, nine of them are former high-ranking members of the Clinton Administration - the others being important allies of Clinton during his Administration.

It seems as if Obama is being given talking points on foreign policy by the same officials who prepared the way for the 9/11 attacks (only name missing is Jamie Gorelick), pushed frantically for the failed Middle-East peace process with the terrorist Yasser Arafat, allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons on their watch, allowed the Oil for Food scandal to occur right under their noses, made no effort to stop A. Q. Khan's nuclear weapons proliferation activities in the Middle East and North Korea, oversaw the disintegration of the sanctions program against Iraq, allowed the expansion of Al Qaeda ... the list can go on and on. Even Colin Powell, who's mentioned in the article as advising Obama on some level, was a disaster as President Bush's Secretary of State - allowing State Department "lifers" to run the show.

It's becoming more and more apparent that with Obama's foreign policy, we'll be moving backwards, not forwards. Almost as if someone else is calling the shots...

Update:  Obama's Iraq Trip Just Got More Interesting

The drive-by media is still trying to give the impression that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated last week that any agreement with the United States on a continued troop presence in Iraq must include a timetable for withdrawal. In fact, as was reported by the BBC and on American Thinker, the Prime Minister never used the word "withdrawal" -- it was a mistranslation of his recorded remarks that the media jumped on and distributed, primarily for the benefit of Barack Obama.

Even this morning's front page New York Times article on Barack Obama's foreign policy team (A Cast of 300 Advises Obama on Foreign Policy) perpetuated the impression that al-Maliki wanted a timetable for an American troop withdrawal, when in reality no such demand was made.

Well, al-Maliki finally did use the word "withdrawal", and it's going to make Obama's trip to visit him a bit more interesting. The Hill is reporting on an agreement that the Iraqi Prime Minister and President Bush just reached, and it's exactly the opposite of what Obama thought he was getting: Bush, Maliki agree on not setting withdrawal timeline.

The White House announced Friday that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that troop reductions should be "based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal."

Al-Maliki had made news last week when remarks he made were interpreted to indicate that he would like to see some sort of a timetable included in the bilateral agreement the two countries are in the process of hammering out.

Notice how the journalist slyly, yet incorrectly, refers to the mistranslation of al-Maliki's remarks last week. It was a factual error -- a translation that was incorrect - not a faulty understanding of al-Maliki's remarks. To my knowledge, the correction of that mistranslation has only appeared on the BBC website and a few conservative blogs. I certainly haven't seen it emphasized (or even mentioned) by any major domestic news outlet or political newspaper, even though it was a very serious mistake.

The drive-by media ran with this story because they felt that it would help Barack Obama and hurt John McCain and George Bush. When it turns out that the fact that they relied on was false, they didn't even bother issuing a correction.

But with this new agreement, both the media and Barack Obama have some explaining to do. Let's see what excuses they make, or if they just try to ignore it and sweep it under the table.

Oh, and another thing. With a foreign policy advisory staff of 300 or so, is it too much to ask that Obama's team have at least one person available who can speak the language of an ally that we're fighting a war alongside? You know, to translate important documents or speeches, so that he doesn't have to rely on the drive-by media to do it for him?

Update: AP Does Obama a Favor, Replaces the Terms "Withdrawal" and "Timetable" with "Time Horizons"

This is pretty remarkable. A short while ago, The Hill newspaper came out with the breaking story that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Bush had both agreed that there would be no timetable on troop withdrawals from Iraq (Bush, Maliki agree on not setting withdrawal timeline). Any reduction or redeployment of U.S. led troops in or from Iraq was going to be based solely on the security situation on the ground. That's exactly the same position that President Bush and Senator John McCain have had on the security situation in Iraq for the past several years.

Last week, it seemed as if there was going to be a problem with Bush and McCain's position because it was reported by the media that Prime Minister al-Maliki had come out and said that any agreement on forces in Iraq had to include a timetable for withdrawal (NPR: Al-Maliki Demands Timetable For Iraq Withdrawal). That seemed to be a clear switch by al-Maliki from the position favored by Bush and McCain to the position favored by Barack Obama and the Democrats. On Monday, we found out from the BBC that the accounts of al-Maliki's comments were erroneous. The BBC reported that it was a mistranslation - that al-Maliki never even used the term "withdrawal". Instead, the correct translation shows that al-Maliki had said that negotiations were ongoing that would result in either a troop evacuation or an agreement on a continued troop presence in Iraq. The Iraqi Prime Minister was simply stating the parameters of the discussions being held with the United States - as in "it could be "X', or it could be "Y"". There was no ultimatum - al-Maliki did not demand a troop withdrawal timeline or timetable, as NPR and others had so clearly reported.

It seems as if the BBC correction, coupled with the latest article from The Hill, has put the argument about what al-Maliki and the Iraqi government actually meant to rest. I was curious how the Obama campaign was going to deal with this new development, since they had claimed loudly last week that al-Maliki had definitively moved away from McCain's position and over to their own.

Well, in a development that really shouldn't surprise anyone, the Associated Press has taken the problem out of Obama's hands by releasing an article of their own on today's announcement. In it, they don't even acknowledge the problem with the translation of al-Maliki's statement from last week. Instead, they've changed the terminology of the debate for Obama: White House Says U.S., Iraq Agree to Seek 'General Time Horizon' on Troop Withdrawals.

WASHINGTON -  The United States and Iraq have agreed to seek "a general time horizon" for deeper reductions in American combat troops in Iraq despite President Bush's once-inflexible opposition to talking about deadlines and timetables.

Iraqi officials, in a sign of growing confidence as violence decreases, have been pressuring the United States to agree to a specific timeline to withdraw U.S. forces. The White House said Friday that the timeframe being discussed would not be "an arbitrary date for withdrawal."

So a clear embrace by the government of Iraq of President Bush and Senator McCain's long-held position and the equally clear and simultaneous repudiation of Obama's is turned by the Associated Press into a new term, "Time Horizons", that the Obama campaign and the media are now going to use as proof of al-Maliki's agreement with Senator Obama, or some such nonsense.

The "mistranslation" of al-Maliki's words that raised the Obama campaign's hopes in the first place? It isn't even mentioned in the AP piece. Instead, the article recalls the claim by Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, that "Baghdad would not accept any security deal unless it contains specific dates for the withdrawal of U.S led forces". One problem with that, however. There is no indication within the AP article that this security deal has any specific dates whatsoever. Another interesting side note - al-Rubaie is closely associated with the "widely discredited opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi". Since when does the Associated Press take the word of anyone close to Chalabi?

It's very hard to have a fair debate about the policies and viewpoints of Barack Obama and his campaign when entities such as the Associated Press are doing everything in their power (short of rewriting the English dictionary) to do Obama's dirty work for him. Remarkable.