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Obama, the Logan Act, and Granstanding the Troop Withdrawal (Update)

John on September 15, 2008 at 12:09 pm

In today’s NY Post, Amir Taheri gives some inside info on what went on behind the scenes during Obama’s visit to Iraq this Summer:

WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops – and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its “state of weakness and political confusion.”

A few have already started asking whether this represents a Logan Act violation on Obama’s part. Perhaps in some technical sense it does but I can’t imagine anything will come of it. Still, there are at least two interesting threads to tease out here. The first has to do with playing politics with the war and the second with Obama’s hypocrisy.

Obama and his surrogates wailed about John McCain’s line that Obama was more interested in winning an election than winning the war. They said it was unfair, that it questioned his patriotism, etc. Now if Taheri’s claims hold up (and that’s not a sure thing), it appears that Obama is in fact meddling with the war for strictly political reasons.

His attempts to push off an agreement until after the election looks to me like nothing but an attempt to set up some future grandstanding. If Bush signs an agreement now and Obama wins, all he can do is claim some sort of moral victory, i.e. I pushed Bush into dong this. But history will ultimately remember Bush as the one who signed the deal. If, on the other hand, Obama convinces the Iraqis to hold off, he could enter office, sign the deal for troop withdrawal and claim that he’d fulfilled his promise to the anti-war crowd. That’s a pretty cynical way to handle a war. I think it puts McCain’s statement about Obama’s priorities back on the table.

Moving along to another thread, this isn’t the first time that Obama has said one thing to the adoring crowds and another to the responsible leaders in Iraq. Back in June Obama responded to a call from Iraq’s foreign minister by assuring him that his administration would not engage in any sudden or irresponsible troop withdrawals. This came at a time when he was still publicly demanding the troops be pulled out immediately (if not sooner).

I think it’s to his credit that Obama seems to be a lot more aware of the inherent dangers of the situation than many of his supporters. However, saying one thing in public and another behind closed doors is a striking contrast to the “new politician” he claimed he would be. All of this sounds a lot more like the old kind of politician to me. In fact, it puts another recent critique back on the table, that Obama’s the kind of politician who says one thing in Scranton and another in San Francisco.

Update 5PM: McCain’s camp is making an issue of this:

At this point, it is not yet clear what official American negotiations Senator Obama tried to undermine with Iraqi leaders, but the possibility of such actions is unprecedented.  It should be concerning to all that he reportedly urged that the democratically-elected Iraqi government listen to him rather than the US administration in power.  If news reports are accurate, this is an egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas.  Senator Obama needs to reveal what he said to Iraq’s Foreign Minister during their closed door meeting.    The charge that he sought to delay the withdrawal of Americans from Iraq raises serious questions about Senator Obama’s judgment and it demands an explanation.

Will the Iraqi’s back off their statements and give Obama an out. According to Taheri’s piece they’ve been assuming Obama will win. Then again, polls have shifted. Sticking a knife in McCain’s back on this might not be wise.

Update 6PM: Obama’s national security spokeswoman is out denying the charges. Fox has the soundbites but this story in the Herald Sun (Australia) is much more interesting:

The Republican campaign of John McCain seized on the report to accuse Obama of double-speak on Iraq, calling it an “egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas.”

But Senator Obama’s national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Taheri’s article bore “as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial.”

In fact, Senator Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a Strategic Framework Agreement governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office, she said.

Okay, am I missing something or did Obama’s spokesperson just admit the key charge?

The whole point, it seems to me, of Taheri’s article was that Obama was delaying and trying to undercut Bush with Iraq. Here the same thing is attributed to Wendy Morigi (not the last paragraph ends with “she said”). If the Herald Sun got it right here, then Obama did exactly what Taheri said he did, i.e. push the Iraqi’s not to rush but to wait until Bush leaves office (and presumably he takes office).

I don’t know if this is a Logan violation but I think we’ve finally found something that truly is above Obama’s pay grade.

Update 7PM: Here’s the same story from AFP. Same sentiment attributed to Morigi. She later says that Obama counseled no delay. Huh? How is telling them not to rush and to wait until Bush is out of office four months from now, not a delay?

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