“Dealing With Hamas”

14 01 2009

During Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry not only underscored the need for greater engagement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also the counterproductive consequences of bombing campaign in Gaza.

Kerry noted:

I had the privilege of being in the West Bank the day — the morning after President Abbas was elected in 2005 and I met with him in Ramallah in that old headquarters and we spent some time together and he looked at me and he said, “You know, Senator, I know exactly what you expect of me. I have to disarm Hamas. Now, you tell me how I’m supposed to do that. I have no radios, I have no cars, I have no police, and Hamas has the ability to walk up to a door and deliver $20,000 value to somebody who’s blown up, widows or orphans of a family of a suicide bomber.”

They deliver the services and we, for years, have talked about the creation of a legitimate partner for peace and yet we’ve done almost nothing to fundamentally help them deliver that capacity.

So my hope is — I mean, I fear — I mean, Israel has all the right in the world and we are totally supportive of the patience they’ve shown, the forbearance, over 10,500 rockets, the fact that Hamas broke the ceasefire. We understand the need to deal with Hamas, but we also have to recognize the threat here that Hamas may, in fact, wind up being more powerful than FATA as a consequence.

If Hamas becomes more powerful as a result of Israel’s war in the Gaza strip, it only stands to reason it will be difficult to work around them politically. With thousands of Hamas rockets finding their way into southern Israel thus far, one can only dare to imagine how many they would fire if peace talks were conducted and they were not at the table.

Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that Hamas actually controls the government in the Gaza strip thanks to the Bush administration insistence that elections be held there despite warnings that the Western backed Fatah party would lose.

For her part, Clinton maintained that Hamas must yield to a variety of demands before Israel and the U.S. engage them in peace talks. “When it comes to non-state actors like Hamas, as I said at the very end of the morning session, there are conditions. Hamas must renounce violence. They must recognize Israel, and they must agree to abide by all previous agreements,” she told the committee,” she told the Committee yesterday.

I am not sure this is realistic these preconditions are  no matter how much the U.S. and Israel are committed to them. In my mind, the U.S. would have to redirect its energies toward weakening Hamas by persuading those in its political arm to side with other moderates living in the occupied territories and create another rival party or remake Fatah into a independent party that with real support.

Both of which would be difficult to do considering how Hamas has all the real fighters, which is all the more important in a time of war. Plus, with other countries in the region such as Iran in supporting Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian fighter group, the influence of Saudi cash, and possibility of rocket fire coming from Hezbollah forces in Lebanon all could make things instantly more volatile with or without new elections and with or without peace talks.

So the fact that we need “to deal with Hamas” becomes painfully clear with each passing year, and that may include doing so diplomatically. We may not need to widely advertise that fact, but we also should not completely ignore it either.


Sorting Out Preconditions

24 11 2008

With President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to announce Senator Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State this week, like many people I am wondering how their approaches will mesh. As former Secretary of State James Backer said on Meet the Press today there has to be a seamless relationship between Obama and Clinton on message, approach, and execution if its going to work.

Or as Thomas Friedman of the NYT recently noted, “Foreign leaders can spot daylight between a president and a secretary of state from 1,000 miles away. They know when they’re talking to the secretary of state alone and when they are talking through the secretary of state to the president. And when they think they are talking to the president, they sit up straight; and when they think they are talking only to the secretary of state, they slouch in their chairs.”

That said, few issues stand out more than whether or not the President of the United States should be willing to meet with dictators or authoritarian leaders without preconditions – a point of genuine disagreement between Obama and Clinton during the campaign. In the November 17th issue of the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza describes Obama’s reaction to the barrage of criticism from the Clinton camp and political pundits to his response to a provocative question in a July 2007 Democratic Presidential YouTube and CNN debate.

Several Obama aides believe that a crucial moment came after a debate sponsored by YouTube and CNN in July of 2007. During the debate, Obama was asked, “Would you be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your Administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama answered simply, “I would.” Hillary Clinton pounced on the remark as hopelessly naïve, and her aides prepared to emphasize what appeared to be a winning argument. Obama’s aides had much the same reaction. “We know this is going to be the issue of the day,” Dan Pfeiffer, recalling a conference call the following morning, said. “We have the sense they’re going to come after us on it. And we’re all on the bus trying to figure out how to get out of it, how not to talk about it.” Obama, who was listening to part of the conversation, took the telephone from an aide and instructed his staff not to back down. According to an aide, Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

Now of course saying that you are willing to meet with certain heads of state does not mean you in fact will choose to do so. But Obama’s response to it does reveal a real difference in opinion. I wonder how this will be massaged. That is to say, if Clinton is instructed to meet with Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Obama will her private disagreements, assuming she has any, become public? Or if they are never leaked to press will those leaders suspect that they can exploit whatever daylight may exist between the President-elect Obama and in-coming Secretary of State Clinton?

Perhaps, those questions will remain moot because it may be an option that Obama never truly chooses to exercise, whether Clinton objects to it or not.  For the most part, Obama and Clinton will most likely seek to exert pressure on certain leaders to at least give the appearance that they are negotiating from a position of strength rather than one of weakness or desperation, which is how some will try to portray it.

At any rate, I bet before taking the gig for top diplomat, Clinton had all sorts of preconditions for Obama and vice versa.

Advising Obama on that 3 am Phone Call

14 11 2008

Journalists must be feeling giddy about the idea of reporting on the mere prospect of Senator Hillary Clinton serving as Secretary of State instead of writing stories on obscure beltway figures uttering cryptic remarks at ho hum press conferences on the minutiae of executing a brilliantly well run transition to power.

The junior Senator from New York has reportedly been sited in Chicago pulling up in her own two car motorcade preparing to meet with folks on what one Clinton aid described as “private” business. All inquires as to the nature of the trip have been directed not to her own communications staff, but the Obama transition team. Staffers on the transition team have instructed the media to take the rumor “seriously,” though have remained mum on the subject themselves, according to March Armbinder of the Atlantic.

So far three reasons have been posited for why the Obama team is seriously considering Clinton. One is the lack of enthusiasm for the shortlist of Secretary of State, Clinton’s experience on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and, of course, because it fits in so well with the “Team of Rivals” narrative that the Abraham Lincoln obsessed Obama and his aides have tried to craft.

Interestingly enough, this is a notion that Obama has clinged to for a long while. In fact, even as early as December of 2007 Obama floated the possibility of having Senator Hillary Clinton as an adviser albeit in a tongue and cheek kind of way.

And in May of this year Obama would tease supporters and the media alike about the possibility of having Hillary Clinton serve in his administration.

I can tell you this. My goal is to have the best possible government. And that means me winning. So, I’m very practical in my thinking. I’m a practical guy. One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. Awhile back, there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called ‘Team of Rivals,’ in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled all the people he’d been running against into his Cabinet. Because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was, ‘How can we get the country through this time of crisis?’ I think that has to be the approach one takes to the vice president and the Cabinet.

So I guess the signs were always there. But that is not to say some in the Obama camp do not have their reservations. Marc Ambinder reports:

That said, there is no reason, other than speculation, to believe that Obama has suddenly warmed to the idea of putting a harsh rival into his cabinet; it’s not known whether Obama trusts Clinton; whether he trusts her managerial ability; whether they’ve reconciled personally; it is certainly true that many former Clinton aides are now working for Obama, including several of Hillary Clinton’s top policy advisers.

Well, I guess we are going to have to say tuned.

Are We Overhyping the Bradley Effect?

13 10 2008

As Obama’s lead in the national and statewide polls swells, inquisitive and perhaps bored pundits are beginning to ask how much of that lead will diminish once certain white voters step into the both. That is to say, how much of Obama’s lead is vulnerable to the so-called Bradley effect, which occurs when white, and perhaps other non-black voters, overstate their support for an African American candidate as respondents in opinion polls.

In a piece entitled “Funny Numbers” The New York Times quotes Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, who warns us “How much we are under-representing people who are intolerant and therefore unlikely to vote for Obama is an open question… I suspect not a great deal, but maybe some. And ‘maybe some’ could be crucial in a tight election.”

Maybe. Just maybe.

Funny, how even as Obama’s lead grows we still need to be alarmist about how he might actually be losing.

Interestingly enough, the piece goes on to make a subtle distinction between what may appear to be manifestations of the Bradley effect and the phenomenon of racial polarized voting. The latter occurs when in a given election whether its for the head of the school board or the presidency people vote for candidates of the same race often in an effort to protect themselves from perceived threats to their own political and social power as people living in racialized communities. This part may be the hardest to capture because of on going on the ground dynamics.

Who knows if some older white people while standing on line to vote will be so annoyed by a group of black college kids wearing one of those bootleg Obama t-shirts and decide to pull the lever for McCain instead?

I suppose we could speculate about such things all day, but one of the benefits of the almost endless Democratic primary contest is the wealth of data we have from numerous head to head match ups between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The data compiled in the table below by the good folks at FiveThirtyEight.com is of polling within the last 2 weeks before that state’s primary as averaged out by pollser.com. A close reading of the data reveals that there is little proof of the Bradley effect harming Obama’s chances against Hillary Clinton. In fact, more times than not, Obama outperformed the polling estimates. This is almost as true in states where he won as it is of states where he lost.

This is not to say that race is not a factor. But it is to suggest that race plays a far more subtle role in voting than the media likes to admit. Regionally, Obama more than outperformed his polling average in the South, which in part is due to a great deal of support from black voters. But he also enjoyed some of his greatest support in overwhelming white states such as Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin, where he blew away his initial polling averages.  In states with very few black voters racially polarized voting does not seem to have much of an impact, whereas its a different story in more diverse states where black folk approach or exceed their national averages, such as states like Ohio and Texas.

(H/T: FiveThirtyEight.com)

Did You Really Have to Fact Check That?

27 08 2008

While most of us were reveling in Senator Hillary Clinton’s thundering and memorable speech at the Democratic Convention last night, the good folks at the New York Times thought it was a good idea to fact check her paraphrase of the great abolitionist Harriet Tubman. In a post provocatively titled “Did Harriet Tubman Really Say That?,” Sewell Chan contacted a few Tubman scholars about whether or not that famed New Yorker actually said as Clinton noted in her great speech:

If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

In short, the scholars said no, but its an understandable and very forgivable mistake, considering how so many people have attributed that same paraphrase so often to Tubman for so many years.

In fact, one scholar said in an email message to Chan that “I researched this years ago and determined it came from a juvenile account of Tubman’s life sometime in the 1950s.” But that “in all fairness to Senator Clinton and others who use that quote, few outside of the small circle of Tubman scholars know that the quote is not actually attributable to Tubman.”

Now, as much as I love a good diligent fact check, I do have to admit this Chan’s post is going to be forever associated with an otherwise marvelous and gracious speech by Senator Clinton.

Call me a sucker for poetic specifying, but I think politicians, especially when they invoke the celebrated efforts of truly heroic figures should be provided a little latitude. This is particularly true of Senator Clinton who did a great job of trying to persuade her supporters to get behind the party’s nominee.

At any rate, I have to ask did that really needed to be fact checked?

Dude Give it Up

11 08 2008

Howard Wolfson, Fox News contributor and Hillary Clinton’s former campaign spokesman on the alleged poor timing of the reporting of the Edwards affair:

“I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee,” former Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson told ABCNews.com.


“Our voters and Edwards’ voters were the same people,” Wolfson said the Clinton polls showed. “They were older, pro-union. Not all, but maybe two-thirds of them would have been for us and we would have barely beaten Obama.”

Dude its not about you.

Wanted and Desired

9 06 2008

Threat Level is reporting that the McCain campaign has newly acquired the domain name ClintonsforMcCain.com in an attempt to appeal to frustrated and disappointed Clinton supporters. Apparently, this is part of the 2012 strategy of some of her supporters.

As one commenter noted on a Cliniton campaign blog, “We just re-registered as an undeclared party and will not vote for Obama. If you do not get the nomination this time, you will be a shoo-in in 2012 after the Democratic Party takes a huge beating in November.”

But there are also some who are taking the cynical calculation a bit too far. Threat Level quotes another commenter this time on a McCain campaign blog as saying,

McCain needs is a pick a centrist with a good history on women’s issues. If he promises not to pick a Court Justice to overturn Roe vs. Wade, he will easily pick up a majority of Clinton supporters. The DNC thinks it can treat a woman with great disregard without penalty. They think they will keep the women’s vote merely by the threat of more Supreme Court Justices that want to overturn Roe vs. Wade. McCain prove them wrong!

And just think not too long ago, certain Democrats ridiculed the Southern poor and other so-called Reagan Democrats for voting against their own self interest by supporting Republicans.