Barack Obama argues that he deserves the Democratic nomination and Hillary Clinton doesn’t because he possesses superior “judgment,” as he calls it, on the key issues we face as a nation. As definitive proof he offers one speech he made in 2002 during a reelection campaign for an Illinois senate seat in the most liberal district in the state, so liberal that no other position would have been viable. When he made that speech, Obama was not privy to the briefings by, among others, Secretary of State Colin Powell, in support of the Authorization of Use of Military Force as a diplomatic tool to push the international community to impose intrusive inspections on Saddam Hussein.
Would Obama have acted differently had he been in Washington or had he had the benefit of the arguments and the intelligence that the administration was offering to the Congress debating that resolution? During the 2002-2003 timeframe, he was a minor local official uninvolved in the national debate on the war so we can only judge from his own statements prior to the 2008 campaign. Obama repeated these points in a whole host of interviews prior to announcing his candidacy. On July 27, 2004, he told the Chicago Tribune on Iraq: “There’s not much of a difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage.” In his book, The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, he wrote, “…on the merits I didn’t consider the case against war to be cut-and- dried.” And, in 2006, he clearly said, “I’m always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought it was such a bad idea was that I didn’t have the benefit of US intelligence. And for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices.”
I was involved in that debate in every step of the effort to prevent this senseless war and I profoundly resent Obama’s distortion of George Bush’s folly into Hillary Clinton’s responsibility. I was in the middle of the debate in Washington. Obama wasn’t there. I remember what was said and done. In fact, the administration lied in order to secure support for its war of choice, including cooking the intelligence and misleading Congress about the intent of the authorization. Senator Clinton’s position, stated in her floor speech, was in favor of allowing the United Nations weapons inspectors to complete their mission and to build a broad international coalition. Bush rejected her path. It was his war of choice.
There is no credible reason to conclude that Obama would have acted any differently in voting for the authorization had he been in the Senate at that time. Indeed, he has said as much. The supposed intuitive judgment he exercised in his 2002 speech was nothing more than the pander of a local election campaign, just as his current assertions of superior judgment and scurrilous attacks on Hillary Clinton are a pander to those who now retroactively think the war was a mistake without bothering to acknowledge Senator Clinton’s actual position at the time and instead fantasizing that she was nothing but a Bush clone. Obama willfully encourages and plays off this falsehood.
What should we make of Obama’s other judgments in foreign affairs? Take Afghanistan, for example. It has been evident for some time that our efforts there are going badly and that cooperation and support from our NATO allies would be helpful. As chairman of the subcommittee on Senate Foreign Relations responsible for NATO and Europe, Obama could have used his lofty position actually to engage the issue and pressure the administration to take some action to improve our chance of success in that conflict against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Of course, that would have involved holding hearings, questioning administration witnesses, and taking a position and offering alternatives. That is what we expect that from senators in a democracy. It is called oversight.
But, instead, Obama, by his own admission, offers the excuse that he has been too busy running for president to do anything substantive, such as direct his staff to organize a single hearing. “Well, first of all,” Obama was forced to confess in the Democratic debate in Ohio on February 26, “I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven’t had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.” To date, his subcommittee has held no policy hearings at all — none. At the same time that Obama claimed he was too busy campaigning to do anything substantive, racking up one of the worst attendance records in the Senate, Senator Clinton chaired extensive hearings of the Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health and attended many others as a member of the Armed Service Committee.
As a consequence of Obama’s dereliction of duty on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a feckless administration has had absolutely no oversight as it careens from disaster to disaster in Afghanistan, including the central governments loss of control over 70 percent of the country and yet another bumper crop of opium to fuel the efforts of the Taliban and their terrorist allies. Of course, if you don’t hold hearings, conduct oversight, make recommendations or sponsor legislation, then you have no record to explain or defend and you are free to take whatever position is convenient when attacking those who actually did address issues. Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Obama holds forth on Afghanistan, chiding the administration and our allies as though he’s a profile in courage and not someone who has abandoned his post in establishing accountability.
On Iran and the question of designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, the junior senator from Illinois was not quite so clever at avoiding taking a position. He first co-sponsored the “Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007,” which contained explicit language identifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. He subsequently claimed to oppose the Kyl-Lieberman sense of the Senate resolution proposing the same thing. Obama’s accountability problem here is that he didn’t show up for the vote on that resolution — a vote that would have put him on record. Then he declined to sign on to a letter put forward by Senator Clinton making explicit that the resolution could not be used as authority to take military action. All we have is Obama’s rhetoric juxtaposed with his co-sponsorship of a piece of legislation that proposed what he says he opposed.
Obama’s gyrations on Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran are not the actions of one imbued with superior intuitive judgment, but rather the machinations of a political opportunist looking to avoid having his fingerprints on any issue that might be controversial, and require real judgment, while preserving his freedom to bludgeon his adversary for actually taking positions as elected office demands. It is hard to discern whether Senator Obama is a man of principle, but it is clear that he is not a man of substance. And that judgment, based on his hollow record, is inescapable.