Obama’s battlefield comments cause controversy

By Dan Streiv

“If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” -Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama at a foreign policy speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center on August 1.

Such was the statement by the freshman lawmaker that has stirred up such controversy in the past month. At that debate last Sunday, the assaults on Obama were still flying. They came from Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd when he termed Obama’s prepared speech at the Wilson Center “irresponsible” and from Delaware’s Joe Biden when he politely stood by his statement that Obama isn’t ready for the presidency.

Back when Obama’s statement was still newly christened, the Washington Post stated its curiosity as to why everyone was “beating up” on Obama its August 9th editorial. The most recent Democratic debate must have left the esteemed news outlet in a continued state of wonderment.

Despite the fact that the Washington Post produces some of the finest political journalism in the country, its befuddlement is nearly laughable. Nearly.

On one hand, a respected news outlet’s inability to understand a mistake Obama made represents such a startling lack of comprehension that it should indeed be marked by hilarity. On the other hand, we should all be befuddled. The real puzzler is that no media outlet or politician actually paid attention to the important part of Obama’s speech. To those who remain uninitiated to either the controversy surrounding Obama’s remarks or the truly key message of his speech itself, read on.

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    At face value, any remark referring to a determination to use force against an enemy is generally seen as the sign of a tough character lurking beneath a politician’s kind face. When this sort of steely resolve is found in a presidential candidate, the candidate is often rewarded and commended for his brave and bold ‘statement of intent.’

    Reaping the benefits of such tough talk was obviously the goal the young congressman had in mind when he made his oft-cited and highly controversial remark. And this normally would have helped Obama’s reputation on national security. But complexity, always a young politician’s enemy, decided to give Obama a surprise when other politicians unleashed the ferocious beast.

    Complexity reared its ugly head this time in the shape of Pakistani politics. The fact of the matter is, to strike terrorist targets in Pakistan if Pakistan won’t has been a long-considered U.S. option. However, it remains unstated by most politicians due to a desire not to fuel anti-Americanism there. This is because dictator Pervez Musharraf’s hold on power might soon end. If anti-Americanism is on the rise in Pakistan, U.S. friendly Musharraf could give way to someone much worse: radical Islamist extremists. It wouldn’t be overly prudent to give Pakistani nukes to Taliban-esque rulers who might be willing to share the goods with al-Qaida.

    Yet all in all, Obama is not the president and should feel free to say what he thinks will enhance the presidential debate. The just-explained controversy getting all the hype really overlooks the important part of Obama’s speech. The senator claims the need to leave “the wrong battlefield in Iraq,” and to be “taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He says this is meant to be a shift in where the War on Terror is fought. That is the all-important context in which he made his statement about Musharraf.

    Unfortunately for our senator, Obama may not find much support for his stand in either pro-Iraqi war or anti-Iraqi war camps. The former does not want to leave Iraq, while the latter would prefer a candidate who does not make bold statements in regard to military action on an unstable ally.

    The senator will most likely have a tough time finding a niche for his unusual foreign policy theme. In spite of this challenge, Mr. Obama seems to impress voters with his candor and charisma. If he continues to capitalize on this, policy specifics may matter little to an electorate that yearns for a positive change in our government’s political conduct.