The Real Washington Establishmentarians Speak
With the most dangerous country in the world (Pakistan) in deep turmoil after the dastardly assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I want to point out a perspective that is masked in the Obama campaign's ill-conceived, self-implicating and disgusting attack on Sen. Clinton. More than anything else, this reveals who represents the real Washington Establishment now when it comes to foreign policy - regardless of who might have taken establishmentarian stances back in Oct 2002. What I'm referring to is this (from Dec 12, 2007):
For the series “Primary Questions: Character, Leadership & The Candidates,” CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked the 10 leading presidential candidates 10 questions designed to go beyond politics and show what really makes them tick.
For the fourth part of the special series "Primary Questions," Couric asked the candidates: “What country frightens you the most?"
In a new CBS News / New York Times poll, Iran was named most often by Americans asked what country they fear most, followed by Iraq and China. Two percent said the United States is its own worst enemy.
Iran, is of course the (wrong) answer of the Washington Establishment - and has been the answer of the Establishment for years now. Which country did each of the leading Presidential candidates pick?
- Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton - Pakistan
- John Edwards - China
- Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson - Iran
Here's what Hillary Clinton (who picked Pakistan) and Barack Obama (who picked Iran, but also made some comments about Pakistan) had to say about their respective choices.
Couric: What country frightens you the most, and what would you do about it as president?
Clinton: Well, right now I am most worried about Pakistan. I think Pakistan is very unstable. I believe President Musharraf has failed to deliver on either democracy or a rising standard of living for his people. You know, democracy has to be carefully nurtured, it has to be understood, and he hasn't done that. And, unfortunately, now he's a sort of basically one person rule, and [has] imprisoned his opposition and, basically, I think, turned his back on democracy.
Couric: What would you do about Pakistan?
Clinton: Well, I think we've missed a lot of opportunities. So, starting where we are now, I would put the United States firmly on the side of the Pakistani people and on behalf of those who are agitating for democracy and for rights. I mean, it's almost touching to see lawyers, well-dressed lawyers in the streets, protesting and demonstrating for Democracy, for the rule of law. I think the United States should be supporting those kinds of voices inside Pakistan, the non-governmental organizations that they are part of. I would continue to press President Musharraf to end emergency rule, to step down as the head of the military, to create conditions for free and fair elections, but I would always recognize the reality that we need to continue working with him and his government, and particularly his military, on our joint threat from Islamic extremists.
Couric: Don't you think the Bush administration thinks [it has] done those things?
Clinton: No, I don't … I'll give you a quick story. I was in Pakistan in January, and I met first with President Karzai, who complained about Pakistan and President Musharraf, that they were not helping him with all the cross border incursions by the Taliban, al Qaeda and their sympathizers. Later that evening, I met with President Musharraf in Pakistan. He began by complaining about President Karzai, that he wasn't getting enough support. I asked them both, "Would you accept a high level presidential envoy who would be in the region on an ongoing basis shuttling back and forth, working with both leaders?" They both said, "Yes." And I returned to Washington. I called the White House. I described my conversations, and I recommended as forcefully as I could that the president find someone. And I recommend that perhaps a retired military leader because both of them are military men. Nothing happened. You know, a week ago the White House sent a high level presidential envoy. I mean, they just haven't engaged in the hard work, the consistent, persistent work of diplomacy where both with our friends and allies, as well as with our adversaries, we don't leave the playing field. We don't pick up our marbles and go home because people say bad things about it or because it's complicated. We stay engaged, and I don't think we've done that anywhere in the world and I think we're paying a big price for it.
Couric: What country frightens you the most and what would you do about it as president?
Obama: I think Iran … poses a significant threat to stability in the Middle East and they don't pose an existential threat to the United States but could be profoundly destabilizing over the long term in terms of our energy supplies and so forth. And I have repeatedly said that the way I would handle it is to apply both carrots and sticks. Right now, all we do is rattle our sabers and threaten military action. We saw, just yesterday, Vice President Cheney indicate that they would do whatever it takes in a way that doesn't offer the Iranians any way to save face, anything, any concessions that somehow might make it more attractive to them to stand down. And so I think we have to talk to Iran directly. And when we talk to Iran directly - even if there are profound disagreements there - that will send a signal to the world that we are not simply seeking to impose our will without paying attention to what other countries think, but that we are, in fact, willing to listen and to learn. And that will help strengthen our ability to form alliances around the world to apply tough economic sanctions, to apply the sticks. And part of that conversation has to be to say to Iran, "If you stand down on the nuclear weapons issue, if you are willing to stand back from the aid you've been providing to terrorist organizations, then you will see concrete benefits in terms of your participation in the World Trade Organization or your ability to engage in economic growth over the long term." And that kind of dialogue has not taken place. This president has refused to do it. I think it's a profound mistake.
JFK once said, "We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate." We are such a strong nation, and I think that if we have a strong president at the helm, we shouldn't ever be afraid to talk to our adversaries and tell them what we think and where we stand. Now, I know you asked about one, but I actually think the situation in Pakistan right now, in some ways, may be even more volatile. That's where Osama Bin Laden is and much of al Qaeda is hiding. We've got General Musharraf, who is in a weakened position. We have Benazir Bhutto, who's just gone back. There are a lot of divisions there, and they already possess a lot of nuclear weapons and so we've got to really do our best to strengthen the democratic impulses inside of Pakistan while at the same time insisting that they take seriously the al Qaeda operations inside Pakistan and at the same time that there are safeguards around those nuclear weapons and working with the Pakistan military to assure that those don't fall in the hands of terrorists. That is going to be a difficult and messy and complex task, but we will actually be aided in that process if we send a strong signal that we're getting out of Iraq. That is part of what has fanned anti-American sentiment inside Pakistan.
You can make of this what you will but for all his talk about not relying on the Washington Establishment, Sen. Obama's first instinct was to parrot the talking points of the Establishment when asked about the country that frightens him the most. To his credit, he also mentioned Pakistan. On the other hand, the candidate he accuses of being too tied to the Establishment is the one who picked the country that has been and continues to be the #1 danger to the U.S. and the world at large (Pakistan), even though the Washington Establishment has been focused on Iran.
P.S. Videos and transcripts of all the candidates' responses are here.