Obama on foreign policy

So Barack Obama apparently said the following today:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds like a rather misleading representation of the current situation in Afghanistan today, and the statement is probably something that could play into the hands of those who oppose us.

In a recent debate, Obama made this statement: “I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges,” Obama said. “But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. … If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.” It’s probably not unreasonable in and of itself (depending, IMO, on the exact circumstances), but is not the kind of thing high-profile politicians typically voice out loud. Not surprisingly, Pakistan did not like Obama’s comment.

Before that, Obama was asked if he would “meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration… with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea” and stated that he would (source).

At best, these statements strike me as sloppy on Obama’s part. But sloppy statements have damaged political candidates in the past. Gerald Ford famously stated that “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” (source), which the press had a field day with.

FWIW, Obama has seen substantial slippage in the Intrade political futures market recently.

How do these statements affect your personal opinion of Obama, and your opinion of his presidential chances?

Civilian casualties have been a serious issue. Airstrikes allow units on the ground to hit much more heavily and it compensates for their fewer numbers. However intelligence is faulty, errors occur, and things go badly as a consequence. This has been a tense issue between the European and American forces as its well understood that a single death can spawn a dozen insurgents.

I wouldn’t say Obama’s comments were unfair.

I for one agree with almost every point that he made. In regards to his saying them publicly, I am happy to see him have integrity and not just stick to a cheesey political talking point.

Listen, there are dudes operating in Pakistan…across the border and further in. The Pakistanis are trying (a few are anyways) to stop them, but do not have the skills nor the power to do so. I think it is ironic and funny that the Pubs jumped all over him for saying that. I am sorry that they think that it is ridiculous. It is sad to think that they feel Iraq was hosting terrorists, and it is ok to say so, but it is bad to say that you will kill terrorists in Pakistan.

As far as Afghanistan…we need to get more people in there. Check out events in the south of that country. The UK (their AOR and we support) is undermanned, under-supplied and fighting for their lives…against the real terrorists.

Obama is one of the only candidates with any bit of integrity left.

The statement? Al Qaeda is going to magically transform words into Stinger missiles? There’s muslims out there who think the US is just fine, but Obama admitting that we are in fact killing some civilians as part of what we do will radicalize them into attacking us? Do tell.

On the actual meaning, so far Obama’s been the only serious candidate willing to consistently state the obvious and break the foreign policy logjam around anti-terrorism strategy.

Jason, do you think that the entire Muslim world has irrevocably made up its mind about the US?

That a statement by a major US politician that implies that we’re currently “just air-raiding villages and killing civilians” is not something that might be used for propaganda purposes against us?

Perhaps you think no one in Asia reacts to the comments of a man who is only a candidate at this point? (Oh wait, we already saw a strong reaction from Pakistan to Obama’s Pakistan comment, so perhaps you should avoid that line of thinking…)

I’d imagine that the fact that we basically are just air raiding villages and killing civilians makes for much more effective anti-US propaganda than anything Obama might say.

Ahh, so I guess the board is convinced. Is there strong evidence to the idea that we’re “just air-raiding villages and killing civilians”, or is that simply the idea that fits your world view best?

2nd google hit.

I like how you use quotes on something you wrote as if to suggest Obama said it. Or, to put it another way, I see what you did there.


EDIT: Doh, I see where you got that from. My bad. But, to be fair, his statement is pretty damning. And rightfully so, based on what I read.

From the bits and pieces I’ve seen make the news in Canada, I think the US forces in Afghanistan are a little too quick to call in the airstrike. There have been a few friendly fire incidents on Canadian forces and there seems to be a steady trickle of villages or weddings bombed out. So I can see where Obama is coming from.

However, the “just air-raiding villages and killing civilians” line sounds pretty flippant and not at all accurate. I mostly have problems with the ‘just’ part, as if the US forces are doing nothing else.

Air Strikes have killed more civilians than the Taliban have this year. Thats according to official UN tallies.

From July 1 2007

The bombardment, which witnesses said lasted up to three hours, in the Gereshk district late on Friday followed an attempted ambush by the Taliban on a joint US-Afghan military convoy. According to Mohammad Hussein, the provincial police chief, the militants fled into a nearby village for cover. Planes then targeted the village of Hyderabad. Mohammad Khan, a resident of the village, said seven members of his family, including his brother and five of his brother’s children, were killed.

In this case best counter insurgency practices would suggest going in with infantry and plucking out every single insurgent but that didn’t happen. Perhaps it was manpower, it could have been concerns about force preservation. It amounts to mass punishment for the crimes of a few and has historically been counterproductive. In Algeria the FLN found that such attacks boosted their recruitment efforts.

There are 3 separate contentions here:

  1. The effort in Afghanistan would benefit from more troops/resources.

No argument from me on that one.

  1. Some US airstrikes have killed Afghan civilians.

Again, no argument from me on that one.

  1. The US is “just air-raiding villages and killing civilians”

This is hyperbole, and on a literal level, is almost certainly false.

Yes, politicians often use hyperbole, but this is a very poor choice of words from a politician making a serious run for president, and who’s candidacy is based (IMO) more on his oratorical skills than his experience or other qualifications. Yes, Al-Qaeda does verbal gaffes of America’s leaders as propaganda tools. Bush’s “crusade” comment has been cited by Bin Laden himself. And again, Pakistan was offended by Obama’s previous comment.

If Obama wants to criticize our policy in either Iraq or Afghanistan, or call for a shift of resources from the former to the latter, so be it. But I think he’s making verbal missteps that have the potential to hurt the US’s positions overseas (to a small extent) and hurt his candidacy (to a larger extent).

I think the main misstep here is the way he’s not saving “SEND MORE TROOPS” for after the Democratic primary.

Yes, on a literal level it’s false, because as long as we do anything (like kill a single insurgent) we’re not “just killing civilians”. Yay, pedantics! Surely you have a better point than that?

I appreciate the fact that Obama calls it like it is. If your main complaint is “well, what he says is, in essence, correct, but it’s imprudent for him to state it in public” then I guess the voters will have to decide about that.

The airstrikes issue is probably a bigger deal outside the US (excluding Afghanistan), but it is starting to cause tension. Moreso from the Afghans on the receiving end of them, but also from UK/NATO forces undertaking more “standard” operations who feel they are being both undermined and put at risk by the practice.

I heard if we don’t talk about it, Muslims will send us flowers and apologize for any misunderstandings…

And yeah, because debate on a subject like Afghanistan during a presidential election? A politician accurately summing up the basic gist of our policy there? outrageous. What he should have said, “We need to station our troops best to fight the war on terror and if elected, i will move them to the perfect spot to fight the terrorists.” blah blah blah.

I do think that Obama has made a statement or two that he’d probably like to rephrase. But I also like that Obama seems to be talking without having every single word run through a machine of advisors and poll takers.

On the other hand, with good intel he could have set a beautiful trap for Hillary in one of the debates. When he said he would take nukes off the table in a certain situation, and Hillary lambasted him for ever publically saying that nukes should be “taken off the table” as an option, he could have come back with exact quotes where she said, in regard to Iran, that “nuclear weapons should be taken off the table as an option.” It would have been fun to see how she responded to that in a live debate.

I have my concerns about Obama, but I still percieve him to be the most intelligent and thoughful and less “managed” of the current candidates. Whether that translates into a good president, I don’t know. But I don’t see anyone on either side that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and excited about them running the country.

Do you actually think Obama literally meant all we’re doing in Afghanistan is blowing up civilians in air raids? Do you think anyone else will think this? Why? To be crass, do you think the muslim world is composed of total morons?

They already know we kill lots of civilians, and that our actions have led to apparently a million excess deaths in Iraq, according to a new Lancet study. Nothing Obama says in this area is news, other than him expressing some, you know, regret or actual concern about it and taking it seriously might actually help.

All of this reminds me of the article Jason posted earlier on the press and how they cover the news and campaigns. There is almost no hard questioning and pressing the candidates on issues and what they will do on the issues that effect the nation, but the headlines are filled with “Romney jumps on Obama for his comments on Afghanistan” and “Edward’s wife accuses Obama of being self righteous” etc. Why isn’t the coverage what Hillary or Romney or Guilani or Edwards would actually do about Iraq if they became president? Not in broad “I would engage the world in a global discussion on the situation in Iraq” which is about as meaningful as saying “I want to buy the world a Coke and hold hands and sing Kum-By-Ya.” Obama was attacked for saying he would meet with the leaders of North Korea and Iran - OK, so what would any candidate actually do to handle what could become a very dangerous situation in Iran? What would any candidate do differently about the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Why is the reporting more National Enquirer coverage of what Hillary said about Obama and what Romney’s sister thinks about Guiliani, etc. instead of “Obama says that our efforts in Afghanistan are ineffective, and proposes insertion of additional Special Forces teams tasked with tracking down terrorists camps, including incursions into Pakistan, but Hillary proposes instead massive training of special Pakistani forces by our Special Forces and joint task force teams, etc.”

Because free-market democracies get the leaders, culture, and reporting that they deserve. When Nancy Grace joined CNN Headline News, ratings more than doubled. More viewers want true crime and tabloid sleaze than issues that affect the entire nation/world. I hate to say this, but…get used to it.