Getting Gored

Seven years after the fact, you still gotta have some sympathy for Vice President Gore.  Long before the Supreme Court weighed in and coronated George W. Bush as King of the United States, Al Gore had unwittingly fallen prey to the so called “Liberal Media.”

Love Canal, Love Story, James Lee Witt, the “invention” of the internest, all a part of the onslaught of mischaracterizations and misquoting that helped keep the race close enough for Bush to steal the election.

Now, seven years later a new Democratic candidate is on the scene and it seems as though there’s a vast construct out there just frothing to do the same thing to Senator Barack Obama that was done to Gore in the 2000 race.

It still must be understood that this all began at the YouTube debates when it became clear that Obama intended to make a move on foreign policy.  By now the well known exchange ended with Hillary Clinton calling Barak Obama naive because he said he would meet with foreign leaders without precondition.

But assumptions were made based off of the fast paced and truncated debate answer which went as thus:

According to a transcript of the debate, Obama was asked if he would be willing to meet “separately, without precondition, during the first year” of his presidency “with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?”

“I would,” Obama said. “And the reason is this — that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.”

The problem is that in the context of a debate performance, particularly in such a crowded field, it is often necessary to dispose of finer points and details in order to use your rare and valuable time to make the greater point.  In this case the greater point is, as proferred, refusing to talk to unfriendly states has not served us well as a foreign policy.

He did not, however, say that he wouldn’t lay groundwork, nor did he even go into specifics as per the tone of the talks he would have with foreign dictators.  Instead the focal point was simply that he was going to break the seal.

There is a sound logic in this.  Particularly with dictators of this ilk, holding them at gunpoint does little to minimize them as a threat and in fact only serves to make them more dangerous.  Conversely, by employing a nearly universal policy of diplomacy and head of state guided talks, such an action would be significantly more difficult to employ in a propaganda campaign, as does seems to be the fear of many of the detractors of Obama’s proposal.

But the attempted Goring didn’t end there.  Oh no.  Then it was on to Pakistan and nuclear weapons.

With regards to recent reports and knowledge that al Qaeda has established a stronghold in Pakistan, Obama said the following:

“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.”

Anyone wanna take a guess as to how this got mischaracterized?  If you are a regular reader here, you probably don’t have to.  This was twisted and turned into, “Obama will invade Pakistan! OMG HE’S DUMM LOLZ!”

Which of course had very little to do with what he said.  He recognized the problems facing the president of Pakistan, but he also did what many others profess to do, and took a tough stance on a known terrorist organization.  Right wing politicians, pundits, and bloggers alike love to hype up al Qaeda in Iraq where that organization actually provides only a small fraction of the violence, but particularly from this organization there seems to be a general malaise of making real inroads against the network.

Indeed, after outsourcing the job to capture Osama bin Laden to warlords in Afghanistan, it seems almost as though the administration only cares about al Qaeda if it’s in Iraq, allowing al Qaeda and the Taliban government that supports it to reenter Afghanistan, while at the same time keeping a relatively hands off approach to the significant presence in Pakistan.

The point being, if we really care about these guys so much, why do we seem so stubbornly opposed to going after them?

Further it is important to note that Obama again was not specific in regards to HOW he would act.  With a bombing run?  With troops on the ground?  This is not certain, and can’t be certain without more specific information or actionable intelligence; actually a rather well reasoned policy.  Get the knowledge first, and then make the plan.

Finally, it is important to note that at no point did Obama say he was going to go after the Pakistani government, something I thought might be implied by his expression of understanding in regards to the problems faced by the current president and government.  In fact, I would say that since that was the lead off of that particular statement, any action that Obama would execute in Pakistan would be done so with that knowledge in mind, and I think it reasonable to assume he would at the very very least give Musharraff a courtesy call.

Sometimes all it takes is, “Hey, there are bad guys in your country, I know you got a full plate, and I’m not going to step on your toes, but we’re gonna go get them, cool?  Thanks.”  Has anyone ever heard of the phrase “surgical strike”?  Or does our military not do that anymore?

The latest in the attempts to Gore Obama are particularly absurd and foul, harkening back to the MO of the Bush administration and the policy of divisive political debate wherein anything that you say that is countrary to the message of the neoconservative movement is unpatriotic and a slight against the troops.

Here’s the quote:

“We’ve got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there,”

This in regards to our efforts in Afghanistan.  Strangely enough, the right wing has taken this to mean that Obama is slandering the troops, a claim that kind of makes my brain hurt trying to understand it.

Now, if Obama came out and said that US troops were murderers, then yeah, I would understand the claim, but instead what looks to be the case is that he is instead leveling a serious criticism of the strategy that is being employed there, a strategy that gets far less coverage than that in Iraq, and one that Obama has been consistently critical towards for some time now.

In fact, the AP, surprisingly enough, actually leapt in to verify Obama’s principle claim, that our presence there is probably doing more harm than good, a curious mirror to our presence in Iraq.  According to the AP, our strategy in Afghanistan results in more civillian deaths than those of the militant opposition.

Maybe, just maybe, this means we should consider a strategy shift?  Perhaps this is not an indictment of our soldiers but instead of those who direct them and issue them their marching orders?  Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that the best way to honor our military service members is to ensure they have a strong strategy for success that minimizes the occurrence of collateral damage?

But some just won’t let go.

Well, no one said civilians had not gotten killed. No one disputes that collateral damage occurs in war. The American military (and NATO as well) try to minimize that collateral damage where possible — because to kill civilians indiscriminately would be a war crime.

Besides, Obama and his campaign didn’t just say that civilians had been killed in Afghanistan. He claimed that it was Bush policy to kill civilians and that his strategy consisted “solely of air raids and bombing of civilians.” What’s the best way to fact-check that statement?

How about seeing whether ground forces have been deployed in Afghanistan? That seems to be a rather good indicator as to whether the strategy solely relies on dropping bombs indiscriminately on civilians — and as it turns out, the data is easy to find. The Congressional Research Office did a breakout of deployed American forces in Afghanistan. It shows that of the roughly 22,000 American troops in the country, only 3100 come from the Air Force. Over 17,000 come from the Army. You know — ground troops.

Unwilling to cede that perhaps Obama might have a point, “Captain” Ed Morrissey instead engages in a war of semantics, and a bad one at that.  No where in his quote did I find that Obama accused Bush of intentionally killing civillians, though he seems to read into it that he did.

Nor is it reasonable to assume that Obama even implied that the only thing we were doing was air raids.  It was a sentence, folks, a single sentence that was employed broad general strokes to highlight the folly of a strategy.  But some are just so determined to paint Obama in as much negative light as possible that they will ground down every single thing he says until they can spin it as though he is either naive, or hates the troops.

I cringe in anticipation for the day where the man can’t say, “I like corn,” without someone interpreting it to mean that he likes killing babies.

To be fair, Obama does bring some of this down on himself.  This is particularly true with his campaign staff which seem prone to blunders, many of which you’ll find documented in our archives.

But at the same time, much of what Obama has proposed as of late actually makes sense.  Given this current administrations disdain for anything resembling a reasonable foreign policy, Obama’s thinking is positively out of the box.  Meeting with foreign dictators after we have a long history that shows that not doing so doesn’t work.  Actually pursuing al Qaeda where they are holed up.  Pointing out a strategy that doesn’t work and calling for a shift in strategy so it does.

How radical can you get?

But here’s where Obama might differ from Gore.  Obama doesn’t lie down.  If we learned anything as a party or as students of the political sphere from the 2004 election, it is that keeping your mouth shut and hoping the attacks go away does not work.  It didn’t work with the Swifties, and it didn’t work with the media and the GOP’s assault on Gore’s syntax.

Obama knows this.  In truth, often he is a lackluster candidate, but in one area he excels and is slowly building up a reputation in proving this; he is at his very best when he is being attacked.  From the first debate coming under fire from Gravel and Kucinich, to the AFL-CIO debate where he came under fire of Dodd, Biden, and Clinton, and fended them all off in rare form.

In truth, while in the party it’s simply a matter of other candidates wanting to win the nomination, from the GOP I find it particularly curious.  In recent weeks neoconservative writers and bloggers have intermittently come to Hillary Clinton’s defense, and in the words of one blogger (whom I can’t remember specifically, so afford me the lack of a link), “I actually think she’s not being totally unreasonable.”

There has been a tentative acceptance of Clinton among a scant few from the right, and most definitely a lack of attack, while as documented above, folks are going out of their way to deconstruct Obama.  My personal belief?  It’s because while Hillary consistently holds a double digit lead over Obama in the polls, in hypothetical General Election match ups, Obama far outstrips her performance against any of the potential Republican nominees.

Despite being called naive, despite the attacks, Obama stands up against them, and stands up against them well, and while he’s fixing his machine in the primaries, assuming things smooth out by General Election time, any chance of a Republican retaining the White House in the 2008 election would be greatly reduced.

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