Obama’s Shadow Diplomacy

September 16, 2008

The New York Post ran an article by Amir Taheri yesterday alleging that Obama tried to stall any withdrawl of U.S. forces from Iraq while visiting the country in July, putting political considerations ahead of military ones:

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.

On the face of it, this sounds very bad. Aside from the obvious ethical problems, secret negotiations with a foreign power are unquestionably illegal. If true, this would be a disaster for Obama. Indeed, the fact that campaign coverage today has discussed anything else is itself reason to doubt the seriousness of this story – as, of course, is the paper in which it was run. So, what gives? TPM Muckraker has the explanation:

The Obama camp yesterday put out a statement of its own asserting that the story “bears as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial,” and charging that Taheri has confused a long-term Status of Forces agreement with negotations over a shorter-term drawdown.

It’s worth looking at that distinction more closely to get a sense of what the Obama camp means here and where Taheri may have erred. In terms of a Status of Forces agreement, Obama has consistently made clear that he believes any such agreement should be delayed until after the election — so that a President Obama or McCain would not be bound by an agreement negotiated by a weakened Bush administration. The McCain camp did not object when, in June, Obama told reporters at a press conference that he had made exactly this argument to Zebari in a phone call.

Obama’s position that a new Status of Forces agreement should wait until after the election is not uncontroversial, as evidenced by the fact that his campaign’s press release yesterday avoided mentioning it. But, as it has been his explicit position for some time now, there is really no news here, and no grounds for accusing Obama of conducting improper negotiations. This explains why the right blogosphere has been so quiet about this – you can count on one hand the number of times Obama has been accused of treason in the matter over at the Corner.

Of course, if Obama really did push for a delay in a short term reduction of troop levels, that would be extremely bad. But none of the Zebari quotes support that conclusion, so we have only Taheri’s word for it. Given his obfuscation on the distinction between these two issues, his word doesn’t seem to be worth all that much. The article is not, however, without merit. It teaches us, for instance, that “the 2010 deadline fixed by Obama is a meaningless concept, thrown in as a sop to his anti-war base”, that Iraqi leaders are divided over just how much they fear an Obama presidency, and that Taheri doesn’t know what the word ‘adjective’ means:

Despite some usual equivocations on the subject, Obama rejects pre-emption as a legitimate form of self -defense. To be credible, his foreign-policy philosophy requires Iraq to be seen as a failure, a disaster, a quagmire, a pig with lipstick or any of the other apocalyptic adjectives used by the American defeat industry in the past five years.

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