Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Question of Affiliations

One of the more interesting sub-conversations around the Daalder/Kagan piece in the Washington Post is the question of why campaign affiliations had to be listed. I know, I can already see eyes rolling (doesn't he know the ways of Washington yet? You always want to say how you are a connected insider! And so on).

But by listing those affiliations, the implication was that, even if the candidates they represent may not endorse every point they made in the piece as gospel, they are somehow nonetheless reflecting a general position. After all, the two gentlemen--already well known in the foreign policy community--hardly needed the imprimatur of belonging to a campaign in order to have their ideas taken seriously. And other op-ed writers appearing in papers across the country are also connected to campaigns without that fact being trumpeted.

In the case of Senator McCain, who earlier this year called for a League of Democracies, it is clear that he would identify strongly with the positions taken. But what about Senator Obama? It used to be said that Obama was looking to the pragmatic stance of a Republican Senator like Lugar in terms of how he saw the components of a bi-partisan foreign policy.

Re-reading his speech on foreign policy in Chicago in April, I would think that he shares more in common with the perspective outlined by another "pairing" -- in this case, David Rieff and Chris Preble -- who argue against A Troubling Interventionist Consensus . Their points about dealing with terrorism, WMD proliferation and human rights seem somewhat more in line with Obama's views.

And even in his Wilson Center speech, which got the most attention because of his remarks about intervention in Pakistan, the bulk of that address focused on these earlier themes. Overlooked in the Wilson Center remarks is his citing his co-sponsorship of legislation produced by Senator Lugar and Senator Hagel for dealing with security threats to the U.S. which owe much more to Amitai Etzioni's "Security First" agenda then to the sentiments expressed in the Kagan/Daalder op-ed.

So is the Obama tent a "big tent" but with competing and different foreign policy visions, of which the one laid out by Kagan and Daalder is but one? Does Obama share a Clintonian view that different and opposing views can be reconciled together (we can get effective cooperation from all governments, we can have a League of Democracies that won't create a counter "World Without the West" (I like Weber, Ratner and Barma's formulation better than a League of Non-Democracies)? Beyond the ritualistic statement of "I am speaking for myself and not the campaign," how much of what appeared reflects what the Senator is actually thinking--and a related question, if one makes the explicit identification that one is part of the campaign, even in an advisory capacity, does one clear things with the candidate?

There is a difference, of course, between being an advisor and being a spokesman. But there is a way to make it clear when one speaks absolutely for one's self--by not being identified with the campaign. So if the Post piece is set up essentially to lead a reader to conclude he or she is seeing something where the two advisors are speaking in place of the candidates, then it needs to be asked, how much does what appeared reflect what the candidate is thinking?

Another possibility is that the Post wanted to stress those affiliations so that the piece would "sell" better because it really isn't breaking new ground otherwise.
Look, the message is clear--this is what all right thinking people believe and the difference between candidates is going to be how they implement (will Obama talk to leaders sooner than Hillary, etc.) After all, who wants to be against democracy?
It's getting near to election time. I would suspect that being associated with a campaign - any campaign - would be a good thing for enterprising analysts.

Sure, Kagan et al. don't need additional exposure. But, the next Kissinger ain't gonna fall out of a tree.
But then, Donald, wouldn't you agree, that if the analyst invokes the candidate, the candidate, to some extent, is then responsible for what is said? Let's face it, if Walt and Mearsheimer wrote their piece about the Israel lobby and then said they were advising a presidential candidate, the proverbial s**t would be hitting the fan.
Perhaps they ought to be subjected to Jun's PRIC test.
Remember that Obama at one point labeled Robert Kagan and the other leading advocates for the Iraq war that Obama "dumb."
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