Obama v. HRC: not just shadow-boxing

Yes, contrary to what Kevin Drum says, there are real differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on foreign policy. And her attacks on Obama aren’t just shadow-boxing. She needs to stick the “inexperience” label on him before voters notice how impressive he really is.

Kevin Drum thinks that the Obama-HRC foreign policy spats are shadow-boxing, fuelled by the desire of both campaigns to get ink, and that the dispute conceals basic agreement.

I don’t think either half of that is right.

It seems to me that there are real differences here. HRC thinks we ought to go back to Bill Clinton’s foreign policy. Obama doesn’t.

Obama is rejecting the “our sunuvabitch” strategy of making nice to Musharraf (and, I think, the House of Saud as well). HRC says that’s “naive” and “irresponsible.” The MSM agreed, until the polling showed that Obama had the country with him.

Obama is also rejecting the old notion that we never say we’re NOT going to use nukes. (See previous post for a long exposition of why Obama is right.)

Admittedly, this wasn’t a considered choice by Obama to announce a new strategic nuclear doctrine. He just got blindsided by a lunatic question and answered it from his common sense. But Hillary is insisting that the old Cold War policy is sacrosanct, and that any deviation is “irresponsible” and “naive.”

In terms of campaign strategy, this is the opposite of shadow-boxing. It’s the beginning of a duel neither can afford to lose. At a tactical level, the attacks on Obama have been a success for HRC, if only by diverting attention from what was widely regarded as Obama’s triumphant foreign-policy speech to the question of whether he’s too green to be President. This is central to the Clinton campaign strategy. Obama is a much more impressive human being and apparently a stronger candidate for November. All HRC has going for her is her husband’s name and Rolodex, and her “experience” compared to his “inexperience.” So far, she’s gotten the reporters to buy it, and Obama’s every move is filtered through the “inexperience” lens.

I don’t know whether it will work this time: the nukes question is more complicated than the getting-bin Laden-in-Pakistan question. But I think if Obama succeeds in making it clear to voters what the argument is about, they’ll be with him on this one too.

If HRC was the media stepchild instead of Obama, she’d be in an impossible position on this one, because her stance is so internally contradictory. She’s insisting that it would be “irresponsible” to attack al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan, and at the same time inisting that the use of nuclear weapons should be on the table as part of the attacks she doesn’t want to carry out. But instead it’s Obama’s competence that’s being called into question. Who said life was fair?

Footnote In one way at least, the clash is bad for Obama: it helps take away his “nice guy” advantage. He ought to seek out an opportunity within the next week or so to strongly praise HRC on some significant issue: perhaps backing her in her dispute with that fool in DoD. But of course he’s familiar with Rom. 12:20:

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him;

if he thirst, give him drink:

for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Update Kevin thinks I’m being less than fair to Clinton and more than fair to Obama.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Obama v. HRC: not just shadow-boxing”

  1. Obama vs. Clinton Revisited

    OBAMA vs. CLINTON REVISITED….Mark Kleiman thinks there's more to the Hillary-Obama foreign policy contretemps than I'm giving it credit for. I'm not so sure, but it will take a little bit of in-the-weeds explaining to say why. Here goes. First,…

Comments are closed.