Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Democratic Primary Being Fought on Foreign Policy?

The Obama campaign is emailing the above video this afternoon -- taken from last night's AFL-CIO debate -- and arguing that:
Barack challenged the conventional thinking that allowed the Bush administration and its enablers to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation

At the start of the exchange, Obama makes not-so veiled reference to those who voted for the Iraq war, and then defends his statements earlier this week about circumstances under which he might chase al Queda in northwest Pakistan. Hillary responds by saying that those running for President have a duty not to engage in hypotheticals, especially those that might de-stabilize a putative ally like Pakistan. Dodd then follows up on the same point, and Obama tries to parry.

What is interesting is not just the interaction, but rather the tone; all three contenders are engaged in the details of foreign policy and possible projections of American power. In 2000, the foreign policy discussions seemed to be at the level of 'nation building' and, in the case of George W. Bush, knowing the names of foreign leaders (the (in)famous Andy Hiller pop quiz was held in November, 1999; ironically Pakistan's Gen. Musharraf (who had just seized power in a military coup) was one of the correct 'answers' to Hiller's quiz. In a comparable time in the campaign this year, candidates are discussing the various factions within the Pakistan ruling elite.)

The focus on foreign policy -- and even the knowledge exhibited by the candidates -- has to be a positive for Democrats as a whole, regardless of who wins the nomination, or even this week's dust-up. The future of American foreign policy has to be moved beyond the exit from Iraq, and the sooner the better.

Finally: the Hiller/Bush video is not easily accessible on the web. If the same exchange happened today, it would easily have been one of the most popular YouTube videos of the year.

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