21 May 2008

Obama’s Tough Talk

In Kate Phillips’ New York Times politics blog, The Caucus, she recently wrote about the remarks made by President Bush during his trip to Israel.  The President’s address to the Knesset included a criticism of appeasement, and though Mr. Bush did not refer to Barack Obama by name, it is not too hard to see that Mr. Obama fits the description of the “some” in this quote:  

“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along…  Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away.  This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly…  For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

The lines that I have excerpted above express a surprisingly rational foreign policy; I only wish that the President’s actions conformed to this rhetoric.  Even in these few words, however, there are a couple of clues that reveal problems below the surface.  For instance, Mr. Bush identifies the enemy as “terrorists and radicals.”  Radicals?  This is the same empty label as “extremists,” about which I have commented elsewhere.  Also, the President said, “the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” suggesting that he is afraid to say America must and will act whether “the world” approves or not.  

The point I wanted to emphasize in this post, though, is not the President’s failings, but the Obama campaign’s response to his remarks (again, from Phillips' blog).  Keep in mind that this is a deliberately crafted statement from the Obama campaign, not an extemporaneous utterance:

“It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack.  It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.  Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy – to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” [emphasis mine]

Diplomacy, no matter how many adjectives are applied to it, is still talk.  It may be tough talk, principled talk, and direct talk, but in all cases it is mere talk.  Marines fight; diplomats talk.  

Also, when sentences are constructed in this form – “We must do everything, including X.” – it is implied that the “X” represents the limit of action, the last resort, the extreme measure to which one’s hand may be forced.  That’s the whole point of calling attention to the “X”: to emphasize that matters are so serious, even “X” is considered to be among the possible actions.

So, the official statement from the Obama campaign reduces to this:  Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to use all elements of American power – including tough talk and no action.  "Tough, principled, and direct diplomacy” constitutes the upper limit of American power, according to Mr. Obama, a man who wants to be the next Commander-in-Chief of the United States.

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