Global War on Terror: Clinton Fails, Edwards Shines
by Matt Stoller, Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 02:04:01 PM EDT
I believe I was the first blogger to note the importance of Edwards not raising his hand when asked whether there is a Global War on Terror. Ben Smith at the Politico posted it a few hours later, followed by Wonkette. And now it's moving outward. For a major candidate, this is a very significant departure from the bipartisan consensus, and I only wish that Edwards had noted it with more than a raised hand. Indeed it's going to be tough for him to escape his answer, so he should embrace it. This is easily remedied, and now that he's crossed that bridge there's no going back. I noticed Edwards's point because the abuse of language and metaphor is something that all the candidates tend towards, it's ingrained in the institutional habits of the Democratic establishment. I hate this tendency and I notice it. So when Edwards pulls away from it, however meekly, it means he's listening to a different set of advisors, and that's a good thing.
As for Clinton, she should be ashamed of herself. After the debate, her campaign laid into Barack Obama for not being 'tough enough' in responding to a question about what he would do if two America cities were attacked.
The Clinton campaign seized on what happened, claiming, without mentioning Obama, that "Hillary was the candidate who demonstrated that she would know how to respond if the country was attacked." An Obama spokesman dismissed the Clinton camp's press release as "a sign of nervousness."...
The moment at issue came in the second half of Thursday's debate at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. The moderator, NBC News anchor Brian Williams, asked how Obama would change the military posture of the United States if the terrorist network al-Qaeda hit two U.S. cities.
Obama said he first would assure there was an effective emergency response and not a repeat of what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
He then turned his attention to the issue of intelligence. "The second thing is to make sure that we've got good intelligence, A) to find out that we don't have other threats and attacks potentially out there, and, B) to find out, do we have any intelligence on who might have carried it out so that we can take potentially some action to dismantle that network."
He went on to say that what the United States must avoid at such a moment is alienating the world community "based on faulty intelligence, based on bluster and bombast," adding that "we're not going to defeat terrorists on our own."
His answer appeared shaped by the reaction, at home and abroad, to President Bush's invasion of Iraq, and he was suggesting clearly that he would not follow that model in confronting a terrorist attack.
But in rapid succession, former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Clinton offered rather different responses, sounding a far more aggressive tone in their determination to retaliate and unequivocal in their willingness to use force.
"The first thing I would do is be certain I knew who was responsible, and I would act swiftly and strongly to hold them responsible for that," Edwards said.
Clinton, citing her experience as a senator from New York during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said, "I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate."
"If we are attacked, and we can determine who is behind that attack, and if there are nations that supported or gave material aid to those who attacked us, I believe we should quickly respond," she said.
This notion that the winner of the debate is who says 'I will bomb the %#^%@ out of someone' the fastest is not only stupid, it's insane. Obviously the first thing the President should do is (a) see to emergency response to take care of American citizens and (b) look at intelligence to make sure the country is no longer under threat. It is not only a sign of maturity to make those points, it is a sign of insanity to say that the first thing you will do is retaliate. That is a more extreme position than that of George W. Bush, who took a month before beginning an assault on Afghanistan.
It is unbelievable that Clinton would attempt to score cheap political points based on the notion that Obama wasn't more belligerent than George W. Bush in how he handled a hypothetical terrorist attack. That her campaign would do it anonymously is only more cowardly and weak. And that her campaign did it anonymously and expected to not get criticized reflects a political tin-ear that is beyond problematic. With this kind of campaign, Hillary Clinton cannot win the Presidency, and frankly, she should not be supported by any Democrat if her argument is that George W. Bush's foreign policy was insufficiently belligerent, aggressive, and thoughtless.
While the shades of difference between the candidates are grayer than I would like, it's clear that quietly, Edwards is finding a voice in opposing the massive right-wing and extreme shift in American politics that goes beyond any of the others. Whether he will fully embrace it is open to question. Barack Obama seemed to have fairly good instincts, the same that drew him to oppose the Iraq war and make fundamental critiques of the political system, but his spokesman Robert Gibbs justified Obama's answer with a problematic "He came to it and was pretty forceful about it," which implies a sense that he felt pressure to cave to Clinton's irresponsible and immoral bluster. Hopefully Obama and Edwards will move to strengthen their progressive instincts, and at least Edwards's direction on the global war on terror shows that all our work over the last five years hasn't gone unnoticed.
Senator Clinton should be ashamed of her campaign's behavior, ashamed of her bluster, and ashamed of herself as a moral being. It appears she's learned absolutely nothing from the last seven years.