The Obama Campaign: Consent of, or Contempt for, the People

The Huffington Post; by Joseph C. Wilson; April 16, 2008

Senator Obama’s ill-conceived remarks likening small town Americans to embittered guns-and-God bigots have triggered a justifiable furor. Not only are the remarks insulting, but also factually incorrect.

As it happens, at the same event in San Francisco, Senator Obama made other remarks, equally startling, insulting our Foreign Service, Intelligence Officers, members of Congress who provide oversight, and friendly governments. Like his comments about small town Americans, Obama demonstrated a cavalier disregard for Americans who every day get up determined to make this a better country, whether running the general store in a small town, or representing our national security interests in a foreign country.

This is what Obama said:

“Experience in Washington in not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags, ‘I’ve met leaders from 80 countries,’ I know what those trips are like. I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do a native dance. You meet with the C.I.A. station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that with the assistance of USAID has started something. And then you go.”

Obama’s arrogance and contempt for career professionals in the national security community is palpable. His contempt reminds me of something Bill Kristol, the editor of the right wing war mongering Weekly Standard, said in a debate with me shortly after the launching of the Iraq War in 2003. We were in Midland, Texas, Laura Bush’s home town, and Kristol was asked if he had ever spent time in the Middle East region, to which he responded “I’ve always believed on the ground experience is highly overrated.” That callous disregard for professional expertise and experience is, of course, one of the reasons we so badly miscalculated the consequences of our actions in Iraq. That arrogance is no less offensive coming from Senator Obama. And it is no less wrongheaded.

Foreign Service Officers, Intelligence operatives, and USAID development experts carry out the mandate of our government to represent the interests of the United States, to understand the dynamics in a foreign society so as to better advise our own government on policies to be pursued, and work to improve relations between the United States and the country in question. The world is a dangerous and precarious place, and there are serious issues that constantly need to be engaged with foreign governments. It requires hard work and diligence. We ignore or denigrate that work at our peril.

Senator Obama should know better. After all, in his professional capacity as Chairman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for Europe and NATO, he was in charge of ensuring Congressional oversight of the administration’s efforts to generate greater NATO support for operations in Afghanistan. The fact that, by his own admission, he was too busy running for president to convene a single meeting of that subcommittee, should not absolve him of responsibility for acquiring at least some understanding of and respect for the work of career professionals who dedicate their lives to the service of their country.

I was one of those public servants for twenty-three years. My colleagues and I, whether in the Foreign Service, the Military or the Central Intelligence Agency, were and are motivated by a commitment to serve the values that have made this country free and secure, values that are enshrined in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In exercising our responsibilities, we were careful to ensure that members of Congress were kept abreast and made partners in our efforts to keep America safe. When they visited our posts, we went out of our way to provide substantive briefings, meetings with senior host government officials, trips to USAID projects so elected representatives could see for themselves what the United States was doing to assist citizens of the recipient country improve their lot in life. And yes, there were cultural events, to broaden the perspectives of the visitors and to show respect for the indigenous culture they were being introduced to. Our goal in this was to ensure that those who represent the American people in Congress better understood what we were doing because more knowledge leads to better decisions. Judgment is not intuitive, as Senator Obama asserts; from my hard-won experience as a Foreign Service Officer, that judgment is learned.

Obama has made plain that he is not bothered in the slightest about belittling the work of Foreign Service and CIA Officers serving overseas, often in dangerous circumstances, any more than he is about denigrating Americans from small towns or blaming democrats in Congress, and especially Hillary Clinton, for George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. It was not ironic that he made both comments at the same fundraiser in San Francisco. The contempt is consistent.

Trashing Congress, small town Americans, and career national security professionals, while befriending Jeremiah Wright and Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers may be a winning electoral strategy. Who knows? Time will tell. But I suspect that many small town Americans are as offended as my professional colleagues and I by this display of contempt from one who seeks our consent to govern.


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