10 Concerns about Barack Obama

by William J. Bennett & Seth Leibsohn
It’s policy.

1. Barack Obama’s foreign policy is dangerous, naïve, and betrays a profound misreading of history. For at least the past five years, Democrats and liberals have said our standing in the international community has suffered from a “cowboy” or “go-it-alone” foreign policy. While politicians with favorable views of our president have been elected in Germany, Italy, France, and elsewhere, Barack Obama is giving cause to make our allies even more nervous. This past Sunday’s Washington Post reported, “European officials are increasingly concerned that Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions could potentially rupture U.S. relations with key European allies early in a potential Obama administration.”

Barack Obama’s stance toward Iran is as troubling as it is dangerous. By stating and maintaining that he would negotiate with Iran, “without preconditions,” and within his first year of office, he will give credibility to, and reward for his intransigence, the head of state of the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism. Such a meeting will also undermine and send the exact wrong signal to Iranian dissidents. And, he will lower the prestige of the office of the president: In his own words he stated, “If we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time.” Not only has his stance toward Iran caused concern among our allies in Europe, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton called it, “Irresponsible and frankly naïve.”

Barack Obama’s position on negotiating with U.S. enemies betrays a profound misreading of history. In justifying his position that he would meet with Iran without precondition and in his first year of office, Barack Obama has said, “That is what Kennedy did with Khrushchev; that’s what Nixon did with Mao; what Reagan did with Gorbachev.”

In reverse order, Ronald Reagan met with no Soviet leader during the entirety of his first term in office, not (ever) with Brezhnev, not (ever) with Andropov, not (ever) with Chernenko. He met only with Gorbachev, and after he was assured Gorbachev was a different kind of Soviet leader — and after Perestroika, not before.

If Barack Obama wants to affiliate with Richard Nixon, that’s certainly his call. But one question: Was Taiwan’s expulsion from the U.N. worth “Nixon to China”? That was the price of that meeting.

As for the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit of 1961, Kennedy himself said “He beat the hell out of me.” As two experts recently wrote in the New York Times: “Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was ‘just a disaster.’ Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed ‘very inexperienced, even immature.’ Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was ‘too intelligent and too weak.’ The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.”

So successful was the summit that the Berlin Wall was erected later that year and the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Soviets deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba, commenced the following year.

2. Barack Obama’s Iraq policy will hand al-Qaeda a victory and undercut our entire position in the Middle East, while at the same time put a huge source of oil in the hands of terrorists. Barack Obama brags on his website that “In January 2007, he introduced legislation in the Senate to remove all of our combat troops from Iraq by March 2008.” His website further states that “Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.” This, at the very time our greatest successes in Iraq have taken place. And yet, as Gen. David Petraeus has stated (along with other military experts from Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution to members of the U.S. military), our progress in Iraq is “fragile and reversible.”

Obama’s post-invasion analysis of Iraq is anything but credible or consistent, leading one to even greater doubt about his strategy as commander-in-chief. When President Bush announced the surge strategy in January 2007, Barack Obama opposed it, saying it “would not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly,” and that “the President’s strategy will not work.” Of course, the surge is one of the greatest achievements in Iraq since the initial months of the invasion, and is has reversed much of the loss suffered since the invasion.

Beyond these miscalculations and poor judgment on Iraq strategy, Obama has been anything but consistent on Iraq. For example, the same year (2007) he stated it would be a good idea to bring home the U.S. troops from Iraq within March of 2008, three months later he stated, we should bring them home “immediately…. Not in six months or one year — now.”

3. Barack Obama has sent mixed, confusing, and inconsistent messages on his policy toward Israel. Earlier this month, Barack Obama told an audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” The next day, Obama backtracked, stating: “Obviously, it’s [Jerusalem] going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues…And Jerusalem will be part of the negotiations.” Later, Obama’s Middle East adviser tried to explain the flipping of positions on Jerusalem by stating Obama did not understand what he was saying to AIPAC: “[h]e used a word to represent what he did not want to see again, and then realized afterwards that that word is a code word in the Middle East.”

Such quick switches of policy may stem from mere inexperience or they may stem from a general tone-deafness on the meaning of words and policy when it comes to the Middle East. After all, earlier this year, a leading Hamas official endorsed Barack Obama stating, “I do believe [Obama] is like John Kennedy, a great man with a great principle. And he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community, but not with humiliation and arrogance.” Rather than immediately renouncing such an endorsement, Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, embraced the endorsement, saying “We all agree that John Kennedy was a great president, and it’s flattering when anybody says that Barack Obama would follow in his footsteps.” Given Barack Obama’s long-standing ties to Palestinian activists in the U.S., one has good cause to wonder.

4. While his Mideast policy may have been the quickest turnaround or flip-flop on a major issue, it is not the only one. In the primary campaign, Barack Obama consistently campaigned against NAFTA, but has now changed his tune, as he has with other issues. During the primary, Obama sent out a campaign flier that said “Only Barack Obama consistently opposed NAFTA,” and called it a “bad trade deal.” He also said NAFTA was “devastating,” “a big mistake,” and in what the Washington Post labeled as a unilateral threat to withdraw from NAFTA, Obama said “I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage.”

No longer. Recently, Barack Obama backtracked on NAFTA and said, “I’m not a big believer in doing things unilaterally.” “I’m a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people.” He explained his primary campaign opposition this way: “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.”

This is of a piece with his further change of position on public campaign financing. As a primary candidate, he touted his support for the public financing of presidential campaigns, but then witnessing his own fundraising prowess, as a general election candidate he has gone the unique route of forswearing the system. As David Brooks put it in the New York Times:

Barack Obama has worked on political reform more than any other issue. He aspires to be to political reform what Bono is to fighting disease in Africa. He’s spent much of his career talking about how much he believes in public financing. In January 2007, he told Larry King that the public-financing system works. In February 2007, he challenged Republicans to limit their spending and vowed to do so along with them if he were the nominee. In February 2008, he said he would aggressively pursue spending limits. He answered a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire by reminding everyone that he has been a longtime advocate of the public-financing system. But Thursday, at the first breath of political inconvenience, Fast Eddie Obama threw public financing under the truck.

5. Barack Obama’s judgment about personal and professional affiliations is more than troubling. On March 18, after several clips of sermons by his longtime friend and pastor Jeremiah Wright surfaced (showing Wright condemning the United States with vitriolic comparisons and denunciations), Obama defended his friend stating: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.” After Rev. Wright delivered two more talks along the same lines as the clips that led to the March 18 speech, Sen. Obama finally denounced Wright the following month, stating: “His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.” “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs,” he said.

It strained credulity to believe Obama was unaware of Wright’s previous rants — especially after a 20-year membership in Wright’s church, especially when in February of last year Obama asked Wright not to attend his campaign announcement because he “could get kind of rough in sermons,” and especially when his church’s magazine honored on its front cover such a man as Louis Farrakhan. Nonetheless, once he ceased being a political asset and turned into a political liability, Obama dumped him.

Jeremiah Wright is, of course, not the only person close to Barack Obama who holds vitriolic anti-American views. Bill Ayers was a founding member of the Weather Underground. According to his own memoir, Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, the Pentagon in 1972. As recently as 2001, Ayers said “I don’t regret setting bombs….I feel we didn’t do enough.’’ When asked if he would engage in such terrorism again, Ayers responded: “I don’t want to discount the possibility.” When confronted with his friendship with Bill Ayers, Barack Obama dismissed the negative connections saying he is also friendly with abortion opponent U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. While Obama has never, himself, discussed his relationship with Ayers, what we do know is that Ayers hosted a fundraiser for Obama in his home and, according to the Los Angeles Times:

Obama and Ayers moved in some of the same political and social circles in the leafy liberal enclave of Hyde Park, where they lived several blocks apart. In the mid-1990s, when Obama was running for the Illinois Senate, Ayers introduced Obama during a political event at his home, according to Obama’s aides….

Obama and Ayers met a dozen times as members of the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a local grant-making foundation, according to the group’s president. They appeared together to discuss juvenile justice on a 1997 panel sponsored by the University of Chicago, records show. They appeared again in 2002 at an academic panel co-sponsored by the Chicago Public Library.

6. Obama is simply out of step with how terrorists should be handled; he would turn back the clock on how we fight terrorism, using the failed strategy of the 1990s as opposed to the post-9/11 strategy that has kept us safe. The most recent example is his support for the Supreme Court decision granting habeas-corpus rights to terrorists, including — theoretically — Osama bin Laden. When the 5-4 Supreme Court decision was delivered, Obama said, “I think the Supreme Court was right.” His campaign advisers held a conference call where they claimed the Supreme Court decision was “no big deal” according to ABC News, even if applied to Osama bin Laden, because a judge would find that the U.S. has “ample grounds to hold him.”

In a recent interview, Obama stated: “What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks — for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated. And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, ‘Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims.’”

Ask the legal officials during the 1990s just how cowed terrorists were by our continued indictments against them. Or, witness the bombings at the African embassies, the attack on the USS Cole, or the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, ask yourself why we have not been attacked since 9/11, and, even more specifically, why there have been no successful attacks against American civilian interests abroad since 2004.

7. Barack Obama’s economic policies would hurt the economy. As Kimberly Strassel recently put it in the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Obama is hawking a tax policy that would take the nation back to the effective marginal tax rates of the Carter days. He wants to further tax income, payroll, capital gains, dividends and death. His philosophy is pure redistribution.”

When Barack Obama speaks of taxing only the wealthy, keep in mind this could have a devastating effect on new small businesses. As Irwin Stelzer has written: “Taxes change behavior. By raising rates on upper income payers, Obama is reducing their incentive to work and take risks. The income tax increase is not all that he has in mind for them. He plans to increase their payroll taxes, the taxes they pay on dividends received and capital gains earned, and on any transfers they might have in mind to their kith and kin when they shuffle off this mortal coil. If the aggregate of these additional taxes substantially diminishes incentives to set up a small business of the sort that has created most of the new jobs in recent decades, the $1,000 tax rebate will be more than offset by the consequences of reduced growth and new business formation.”

8. Barack Obama opposes drilling on and offshore to reduce gas and oil prices. While Barack Obama has opposed off-shore drilling and a gas-tax holiday (as supported by John McCain or Hillary Clinton), his solution to our energy crisis does include additional tax burdens on oil company profits, taxes we can only imagine will be passed on to the consumer, thus causing an even more expensive trip to the gas station. As the New York Times recently detailed, ethanol subsidies are a major plank in Barack Obama’s view of energy independence and national security; the “Obama Camp is Closely Linked with Ethanol,” and “Mr. Obama…favors [ethanol] subsidies, some of which end up in the hands of the same oil companies he says should be subjected to a windfall profits tax.”

9. Barack Obama is to the left of Hillary Clinton and NARAL on the issue of life. As a state senator in Illinois, Barack Obama voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, a law that would have protected babies if they survived an attempted abortion and were delivered alive. When a similar bill was proposed in the United States Senate, it passed unanimously and even the National Abortion Rights Action League issued a statement saying they did not oppose the law.

10. Barack Obama is actually to the left of every member of the U.S. Senate. According to the National Journal, “Sen. Barack Obama…was the most liberal senator in 2007.” As the magazine reported: “The ratings system — devised in 1981 under the direction of William Schneider, a political analyst and commentator, and a contributing editor to National Journal — also assigns composite scores, an average of the members’ issue-based scores. In 2007, Obama’s composite liberal score of 95.5 was the highest in the Senate. Rounding out the top five most liberal senators last year were Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), with a composite liberal score of 94.3; Joseph Biden (D., Del.), with a 94.2; Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), with a 93.7; and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), with a 92.8.”

Whom will a man this far left appoint to the Supreme Court?

– William J. Bennett is the host of the nationally syndicated radio show Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. Seth Leibsohn is the show’s producer.