Is the Bush administration using Obama to send up trial balloons?

This title is, of course, a rather weak attempt at humor.  The Bush administration no doubt shares the view of the McCain campaign that Senator Obama is just not ready to take on the foreign policy responsibilities of the U.S. president.  Unlike McCain, he can not say “I know how to win wars.”  Bush would probably also echo McCain’s view that Senator Obama is just too inexperienced to protect the American people from terrorists.   Interestingly, during the primary season, these views of Senator Obama’s foreign policy expertise were shared by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as well.

Before we write off the young Senator from Illinois as the best qualified Presidential candidate to lead American foreign policy, we should take note of a rather strange phenomenon.  It appears that the Bush administration is now using Senator Obama to send up trial balloons to guide it in changing its foreign policy positions.  Consider the following:

Iraq:  Obama has called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.  At the same time, he said that the US would have to get out of Iraq as carefully as it carelessly entered the war.  During the primary season this was labelled as a “cut and run” strategy.  It was characterized as accepting defeat.  But lo and behold, as Prime MInister Nuri al-Malaki is calling for a time table for the removal of US troops, the Bush administration is agreeing to at least a time horizon for their removal.

Going after al quaeda targets in Pakistan: During the primary season Obama suggested that if there were actionable intelligence regarding the presence of al quaeda leadership in Pakistan and if the government of Pakistan were unwilling to act on that intelligence, then the US should carry out attacks in Pakistan on its own initiative.  This was greeted as sheer irresponsibility and madness.  But since taking that position, the US military has used a drone plane to carry out an attack on a suspected al quaeda position in Pakistan.

Afghanistan:  Obama has insisted that the primary war against terror needs to be conducted in Afghanistan.  To carry out that war he has said that troops need to be transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan.  This was at odds with the Bush administration’s consistent position that the most important front for the war against terror was Iraq.  Now the Pentagon, President Bush, and presumptive Republican nominee McCain are all willing to recognize that the situation in Afghanistan is “serious” (McCain’s descriptor), and that additional US troops are needed to keep the situation from turning into a disaster.  Obama and the Pentagon recognize that this can occur only by reducing troop levels in Iraq.  It appears that the President may be aware of this.  It is not clear that McCain has realized this as yet.

Iran: During the primary season Senator Obama strongly advocated direct diplomatic talks with Iran.  This, too, was viewed as an evidence of total inexperience.  A nation can not hold direct talks with another nation that it regards as an enemy, or at least as a rogue nation.  Besides until Iran pursued a policy consistent with our wishes, that they cease and desist from a program of enriching uranium, there would be no direct talks with them.  Recently, Assistant Secretary of State Burns was sent to join the talks with Iran.  There was even talk of opening a diplomatic mission in Iran. 

Maybe I am missing something here, but is Senator Obama currently the leading developer of United States foreign policy?  Is the Bush administration so impressed with the Senator’s credentials that it looks to him for guidance in US foreign policy?  Why is it not looking to Senator McCain who has suggested that we will see war upon war, even as we spend a century in Iraq?



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