Jul 22, 2008

Obama In The Epicenter

By Joel C. Rosenberg

The race for President of the United States is currently in a dead heat. I have absolutely no idea who is going to win this thing, and anyone who tells you they do is just guessing. Remember: a year ago, the pundits said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was a "sure thing" to win the Democratic nomination, and Sen. John McCain was a "sure thing" not to win the GOP nomination. The pundits were wrong then. I wouldn't put much stock in them now.

That said, Sen. Barack Obama faces a very real and daunting hurdle to victory in November. Only 48% of Americans think he would be a strong and decisive enough Commander-in-Chief to lead the U.S. through what could be a tumultuous next four years, according to a poll released last week by ABC News. Another 48% are convinced Sen. Obama would specifically not be a good Commander-in-Chief. By contrast, 72% of Americans believe Sen. John McCain would lead our military forces well, while only 25% say he would not. Understand that gap and you'll understand precisely why Obama this week is in the epicenter.

With all eyes fixed on Israel and her neighbors and the conflicts that consume them, the junior Senator from Illinois realizes his international record does not inspire confidence. He has no military experience and precious little foreign policy experience, certainly none to compare with to Sen. McCain, a bonafide war hero who has been engaged in every major foreign policy debate of the last quarter century. To win in November, Obama has to close that perception gap. He has to convince more Americans that he is ready for whatever comes next, be it more terrorism from al Qaeda, or an orderly transition of power in Iraq, or -- heaven forbid -- a full blown war with Iran. So he is meeting with foreign leaders as well as U.S. military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Israel and hoping at the very least that the pictures Americans see on TV and in the newspapers from his whirlwind tour will cause them to begin to see him as a world leader and ease their many doubts.

While it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, even a week's worth of photos may not be enough. After all, the Senator's core problem is not simply that he lacks the requisite experience. It's the widespread perception that he lacks the necessary judgment when it comes to the most troubling issues of the Middle East. Consider two examples, Iraq and Iran.
IRAQ -- From the moment President Bush announced that he was taking Sen. McCain's advice to send more U.S. troops to Iraq to crush the insurgency and restore order, Sen. Obama has been a fierce critic of the "surge," arguing not only that it would not help, but that it would actually make the situation worse. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there," Obama said on January 17, 2007. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Eighteen months later, the results are in: the "surge" has been an astounding success. Things didn't get worse. They got better. Much better. Violent attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians are down 80%. More than 90% of Iraqi territory is now quite safe. More than 70% of combat operations in Iraq are now led by Iraqi forces, with U.S. assistance. Yet Sen. Obama struggles to acknowledge the success and refuses to describe his decision to vote against the "surge" as a mistake.

Consider this exchange yesterday with Terry Moran of ABC News.

Moran: "'[T]he surge of U.S. troops, combined with ordinary Iraqis' rejection of both al Qaeda and Shiite extremists have transformed the country. Attacks are down more than 80% nationwide. U.S. combat casualties have plummeted, five this month so far, compared with 78 last July, and Baghdad has a pulse again.' If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you -- would you support the surge?"

Obama: "No, because -- keep in mind that -"

Moran: "You wouldn't?"

Obama: "Well, no, keep -- these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult. Hindsight is 20/20. I think what I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate, because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with."

Moran: "And so, when pressed, Barack Obama says he still would have opposed the surge."
IRAN -- In May of this year, Sen. Obama told a town hall meeting that he thought of Iran as small and relatively harmless country, hardly a major threat to the United States, Israel or our allies in the Middle East. “I mean think about it.," he told a group of supporters. "Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us....You know, Iran, they spend one-one hundredth of what we spend on the military."

His aides and advisers were horrified. Even Sen. Clinton conceded Iran was a major threat -- particularly given the regime's lust for nuclear weapons --though she refused to offer a plan to neutralize the threat.

So the next day, the Senator flip-flopped. He told a new audience a new story, that he actually does believe Iran is a threat.

But Obama's original, unscripted remarks were telling. In his heart, Sen. Obama does not actually believe the regime led by the Ayatollah Khameini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are deeply and inherently dangerous. He sees Iran as a nuisance, not a forthcoming nuclear-armed power. That is why he is so adamant about wanting to sit down and negotiate personally with Ahmadinejad, without preconditions. His official website actually boasts about this position. "Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," it reads. But to what end?

Has Sen. Obama actually studied the speeches of Khameini and Ahmadinejad? Has he studied their eschatology, or end times theology? Has he been properly briefed on how this eschatology is driving Iranian foreign policy? No one who truly understands what the current Iranian leadership believes could honestly conclude that they can be successfully negotiated with, much less deterred. Ahmadinejad, after all, believes it is his God-given mission to annihilate the U.S., Israel and Judeo-Christian civilization as we know.

Why? To create the conditions that will bring the Islamic Messiah known as the Mahdi or the "12th Imam" to earth. Ahmadinejad is not just another power-hungry dictator in the mold of the Soviet or Chinese leaders of yore. He is a Shia Islamic fascist. He believes his life destiny is to kill millions of Jews and Christians and usher in an Islamic caliphate. He believes he is a John-the-Baptist, a forerunner, of the Islamic Messiah. If he dies, he believes he will spend eternity in paradise with 72 virgins. But he doesn't really believe he's going to die. He believes he has been chosen for a divine appointment, and that nothing can stop him. That is what makes him so dangerous. Unfortunately, too many Washington politicians -- Sen. Obama included -- do not understand this.
Bottom line: I am glad Sen. Obama and his team are traveling through the epicenter this week. My prayer is that aside from all the lights and cameras and political stagecraft, the Senator is able to hear and discern true wisdom about the actual conditions and trendlines in the region. I hope he is able to come away with a new sense of the high stakes of American failure or success in Iraq, and a palpable sense of the rising threat from Iran. The eyes of the nations are riveted on the Middle East for a reason. The future of the world increasingly depends on what happens there, and the future of America depends a great deal on having a President who understands the times and knows what the U.S. should do.