Questioning the Judgment of Barack Obama

“In the absence of information unknown to either of them at the time, the fact that he didn’t agree with Senator Clinton doesn’t make him right, it makes him dangerously, recklessly presumptuous, and offers proof of his lack of preparedness and poor judgment.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good morning. This piece was originally published under the title “Reckless Endangerment” months ago, on Saturday, February 23, 2008. I wrote it in reaction to Senator Obama’s repeated claims that he was opposed to the war in Iraq from the very beginning. At some point, I took the time to read the speech to which he was referring and realized two things: That he was, in fact, against the war from the beginning, but that in saying so he was pandering to his audience and, most importantly, showing poor, I thought decidedly un-Presidential judgment in light of the circumstances of his opinion as defined by his own words in that same speech.

Given that tonight’s first Presidential debate is on the subject of foreign policy and national security, I thought it appropriate that I post this piece again for fresh eyes who may be visiting the WordFeeder now, but weren’t then when I was just getting started. It’s a longer piece, but interesting history that’s worth reading. Here it is. As always, your comments will be greatly appreciated.

Reckless Endangerment
Saturday, February 23, 2008

Enough already.

Senator Obama makes a big deal about how his early opposition to the war in Iraq is proof positive of his judgment and readiness to be President – in sharp contrast to Senator Clinton who, at the same time, voted to endorse the use of military force. Never missing an opportunity to remind us of this point, Senator Obama made the following statement during Thursday’s Democratic debate in Austin:

But [being Commander-in-Chief] also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander-in-chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgment on that.

Let’s overlook the excessively dramatic and technically meaningless reference to the “single most important foreign policy decision of this generation.” (Precisely what generation would that be, and are those people done making history?) Forget about the fact that he didn’t demonstrate his judgment back then by voting for anything. What he “showed” us was a speech of perhaps two typewritten pages. Let’s focus instead upon the meat of the decision to which the Senator is referring.

On October 2, 2002, now US Senator, then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama delivered a brief speech entitled “Against Going to War with Iraq.” The speech was presented at an anti-Iraq war rally in Chicago. It was short, and to the point. My apologies for including such an extensive quote, but I want both to do the Senator justice as well as make my point with his own words.

I don’t oppose all wars. …[What I oppose is a] dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad buy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

As always, his oratory is impressive, but is it meaningful? It’s prophetic, to say the least, but was it wise, or lucky? Is it indicative of responsible judgment befitting a President of the United States, or does it just sound good?

Eight days later, on October 10, 2002, Senator Clinton stood on the floor of the US Senate and delivered her speech in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 45, “A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq.” It was a much longer speech which described the history of events which led to the resolution, and which explained the basis for her support. “Today,” she began, “we are asked whether to give the President of the United States authority to use force in Iraq should diplomatic efforts fail to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons and his nuclear program.” As it turned out, this Senate resolution was tabled in favor of House Joint Resolution 114 (“Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq”). HJ Resolution 114 passed the House 296-133, and the Senate 77-23 on October 11, 2002, with Senator Clinton voting, “Yes.” This was the vote she refuses to admit was a mistake. I don’t think it was, nor do I believe that State Senator Obama, had he been US Senator Obama at the time, would have voted differently. To believe otherwise is to suggest that Senator Obama lacks the maturity and judgment to be President.

It’s all about the famously non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” The point is, they weren’t known to be non-existent at the time. Take another look the second paragraph in my excerpt from Senator Obama’s speech. In his own words, he acknowledges these weapons, believing, as did Senator Clinton, that they were real. The difference is that, just a few words later in the same speech, he asserts “But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States.” On that basis, all attempts to negotiate having failed, Senator Obama believed then and still argues that the use of military force to protect the United States against these weapons, via their direct use and/or dissemination among those elsewhere who would use them against us, is “dumb” and unwarranted.

How is it that State Senator Obama had better information about Iraq and other people threatening our country than the majority of US Senators and Representatives who supported HJ Resolution 114? Or was he just winging it? In the absence of information unknown to either of them at the time, the fact that he didn’t agree with Senator Clinton doesn’t make him right, it makes him dangerously, recklessly presumptuous, and offers proof of his lack of preparedness and poor judgment.

Don’t trust my opinion? Of course not, what do I know? Why should you? So ask yourself. To everyone of you who might read this, especially those of you considering voting for Senator Obama in the upcoming primaries in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, if you believed as did Senators Obama and Clinton that there were weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear, in the hands of, or being developed by the likes of Saddam Hussein, how would you have voted? Do you really want to nominate a candidate for President who would have voted differently? A candidate who would have voted not to use military force as a last resort, but who would have chosen instead to hope for the best until Saddam Hussein “falls into the dustbin of history”?

Don’t like this line of questioning? Get used to it. I’m fairly certain it’s Chapter 1 in John McCain’s campaign strategy notebook, the one with the cover title: “How to Defeat Barack Obama in the fall.”

Did things turn out pretty much the way Senator Obama predicted? Absolutely, but what happened after HJ Resolution 114 was passed, the way our current President abused and botched the limited authority given to him by Congress, isn’t the issue. It’s hindsight.

Focus on the speeches by Senator Obama on October 2, 2002, and by Senator Clinton, just 8 days later. Forget about the excitement of the rallies, and the passion of your favorite candidate’s rhetoric. It’s just you. Ask yourself, given that both candidates, as well as everyone else, believed in the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a despot which Senator Obama himself described as a “brutal,” “ruthless man,” how would you have voted? Do you really want to risk the country, the lives of your family and friends, not to mention your own, on a candidate for President who would have voted differently?

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4 responses to “Questioning the Judgment of Barack Obama

  1. I felt the same as Barack at that time. I never believed Iraq had the actual capabilities to seriously attack us. And what exactly was the big rush? Can’t our spy planes and satellites and drones detect movements that indicate missiles getting ready to be launched?

    Were we that scared here in the home of the brave? It will stop being the land of the free if we toss aside reason in the face of fear.

    Other countries’ leaders looked at the evidence and dismissed it and anonymous sources from within the government had problems with the creative justifications flying around. I had these notions from reading magazine articles. Despite taking that info with a grain of salt It wasn’t like I was ‘winging it’. Any member of the legislative branch also had independent sources of information to draw upon that cast serous doubt on the evidence the administration presented. Other countries’ leaders rejected the case. Nobody in our government had doubts?

    I felt at the time that it was politically unsafe to vote against the resolution based on public opinion whipped up by Bush and the general warlike atmosphere after 9/11. For that reason I cursed the Dems who voted for it and I think Barack showed good judgment in opposing it.

  2. Hi. Well said, and I agree with you.

    I was never convinced there was a clear and present danger that justified an invasion, but that wasn’t the vote. The issue on the table was to authorize the use of military force under circumstances which President Bush subsequently interpreted as giving him unlimited authority to wage war.

    I also doubt that then State Senator Obama was well enough informed to have adequately understood the gravity of the threat which, by his own words, he characterized in the most serious terms.

    Certainly there are circumstances when a country has to take preemptive action to protect itself, but I wonder if Senator Obama would recognize such a situation when it occured. More to the point, I think he was, as I said, pandering to his audience.

    It sounds harsh, but I consider him one of the purest politicians I’ve run across, “pure” in the negative sense that there’s nothing else to him other than politics. No experience, and minimal substance beneath the superficialty of his rhetoric. It’s not what I was hoping for after 8 years of the Bush Administration.

    Speaking of the latter and your comment, am I the only one who sees an analogy between the Bush Administration’s weapons of mass destruction ploy that got us into Iraq and the current talk of financial collapse if we don’t spend $700 billion to fix a problem that may not actually be there?

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve got to stop typing before my response gets to be longer than the original piece. Stop back again when you have time.


  3. I understand everything but the lack of substance thing. It’s not like the way we would hire a clerk and look over resumes, checking off proficiency in Word, Excel, etc.

    A good president needs a clear vision, self-confidence, the ability to motivate and educate the public toward a common goal, calm demeanor in the face of chaos around him or her, adaptability, stuff like that. His cabinet brings expertise on details.

    I’m reading Team of Rivals right now. I’m not calling Barack a Lincoln, but McCain is too close to a Chase, Douglas, or Seward for my liking.

    Have a nice weekend!

    Oh, and This American Life on NPR has a great explanation about how the Wall Street meltdown actually works. They played some of it on today’s All Things Considered and I think it changed my opinion from “let them suffer” to something closer to “oh dang maybe we better pull out all the stops”. Scary stuff from the guys who sit there and watch the wheels slowing to a stop.

  4. Hi. I’m back from watching the debate.

    Thanks for the NPR reference. I’ll see if I can find it. As you may have noted from recent pieces I’ve written on the subject, I don’t believe this is a crisis that requires massive government intervention. It may be a painful process, but the economy seems to be making the necessary adjustments without assistance.

    I’ll get back to you if what I hear on “This American Life” changes my mind.

    Thanks again for stopping by.


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