Do you remember the assault against NAFTA leveled by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as they campaigned for votes in Ohio? Remember how one tried to outdo the other with promises to Ohio's blue collar workers to revisit, perhaps reopen, that trade agreement, in order to make changes that would level the playing field for American workers and farmers?
Well, Hillary's rhetoric helped her to win the Buckeye State, although it rang opportunistic to many who remembered her support for NAFTA during her husband's presidency. But, now - after defeating Hillary and after becoming the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for President - we've learned that Senator Obama's rhetoric on NAFTA was just as insincere as Hillary's.
In his recent interview with Fortune magazine Senator Obama admitted, "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified…Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself." He then went on to say that he "no longer believes in unilaterally reopening NAFTA." [John Nichols, "Noted," The Nation, June 19, 2008]
What's worse, NAFTA is not the only issue on which Senator Obama has reversed himself. NAFTA must be coupled with his recent decision to reject public financing of his presidential campaign (after previously pledging to "pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election") as well as the reversal of his vow to "support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."
Although Obama has far to go, if he wants to match the bald-faced flip-flops that have besmirched the somnolent and incoherent campaign of John McCain (see http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21470 ), his recent reversals raise new doubts about his signature issue -- his commitment to "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq…and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months" of his inaugeration.
Until his recent policy reversals, few doubted Obama on Iraq. After all, in the face of a massive propaganda campaign of exaggerations, lies and bogus intelligence about Saddam Hussein's so-called weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda - launched by the Bush administration and uncritically trumpeted by most of America's foreign policy (interventionist) elite, the mainstream news media and the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress - Obama possessed the courage to oppose the invasion of Iraq before it began.
Indeed, if such early opposition to the war continues to be the most significant example of moral and politically judicious decision-making in the first decade of the 21st century, then Barack Obama not only deserves to become President of the United States, but Hillary also deserves her primary campaign defeat, the Bush administration also deserves the wealth of political and moral opprobrium that the world has heaped upon it (in the absence of impeachment and subsequent jail sentences), the foreign policy elite also deserves its current disrepute, the mainstream news media also deserves its declining readership/viewership, the filibustering Republicans also deserve a 2008 replay of their smashing electoral defeat in November 2006, and John McCain also will deserve the landslide defeat, presumably awaiting him this coming November. After all, not only was McCain one of the most thoughtless and reckless of the cheerleaders urging the invasion of Iraq, today he remains one of the most unrepentant.
(What about all the Americans who supported the war? What do they deserve? Having publicly opposed Bush's announced National Security Strategy of "preemptive" war, as well as its application to Iraq, months before the actual invasion occurred - see http://www.walter-c-uhler.com/Reviews/preemption.html -- I'm still unable to view the war's supporters as anything but stupid or evil. Judging by the polls, much of the world seems to share my view. Perhaps such contempt constitutes their just deserts.)
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the wisdom and superior judgment Barack Obama exercised in opposing the war before it began, Time's Joe Klein might be on to something when he asserts: "I suspect that just as Obama has…adjusted his position on NAFTA, he considers his foolish 16-month withdrawal scheme as his former advisor Samantha Power did, as a 'best case' scenario."
Lending substance to Klein's suspicion is the ongoing debate about Iraq within Senator Obama's own foreign policy team. For example, in the July/August 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, Colin H. Kahl (the leader of Obama's Iraq working group) articulates a policy of "conditional engagement," which "would couple a phased redeployment of combat forces with a commitment to provide residual support for the Iraqi government if and only if it moves toward genuine reconciliation."
Although "conditional engagement" need not necessarily contradict the letter of Barack's 16-month promise, it may very well contradict its spirit, especially when one considers that, according to a recent poll, 65 percent of Americans said they want to see the U.S. out of Iraq within 12 months.
Professor Kahl excoriates the "unconditional engagement" of President Bush and John McCain. "Unconditional engagement will not work, because there are no consequences for Iraq's leaders if they fail to accommodate one another," which, after all, was the very objective of the Bush/McCain "surge." As Kahl correctly observes, McCain "speaks of staying in Iraq for a hundred years, no strings attached."
But Professor Kahl also has problems with the "unconditional disengagement," favored by many Democrats. "Unconditional disengagement" calls for "a unilateral timetable for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces, regardless of the conditions on the ground."
But, if one considers the analysis of Steven Simon, the "conditions on the ground" --created by Bush's "surge" and his "bottom-up" strategy of exploiting and already existing grass-roots anti-al Qaeda movement - are nothing more than an "illusory short-term stability" that will leave Iraq "a country more divided than the one it invaded."
Why? According to Simon, the "surge" and "bottom-up" strategy implemented by President Bush (at the urging and cheers of John McCain) "is hastening Iraq's demise" because it has stoked "the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism." In essence, the U.S. has "systematically nourished domestic rivalries." [See "The Price of the Surge: How U.S. Strategy is Hastening Iraq's Demise," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008]. Thus, if Simon is correct, political accommodation will become harder to achieve, not easier.
According to the late William E. Odom -- who was more astute and realistic about Iraq than any other security analyst I've encountered - "the domestic dialogue [about Iraq] has not been serious…until the appearance of Simon's analysis.