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article imageOp-Ed: Obama’s Undoing - How One Bad Week May Spell Disaster

By G. Robert M. Miller     Aug 13, 2008 in Politics
Between the South Ossetia–Georgia conflict and the infidelity charges against John Edwards, Barack Obama’s bid to take power of the White House has taken a beating. Although he still has a fighting chance, this week hurt his chances.
The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia is more than an incident affecting the Black Sea region; in fact, it is even more than battle of ideology between the US and Russia; it is, on top of the (admittedly more important) aforementioned, a political test for both John McCain and Barack Obama as they try and prove they can be effective leaders in the face of international hostility. Looking at the issue, there is no question this situation has been kinder to McCain than Obama.
For one, it has provided the perfect opportunity for McCain to drive home the point that the next president of the United States must be a military tactician type, you know; a maverick. And with new ads coming out every few days, don't be surprised if you see one or two planting the seed that in a situation reminiscent of the Cold War, America can't have a jelly-spine ‘diplomacy-first’ try-to-do-goodnick calling the shots in Washington.
To be fair, the fear of renewed Cold War hostilities between Russia and the US may be well founded. When President George Bush released a statement vowing to protect Georgia’s “territorial integrity” on the heels of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s warning that “war (had) started” between Georgia and Russia (fighting in defense of South Ossetia), it became clear this relatively isolated conflict could spawn a much larger battle between two dormant rivals.
And as tensions appear to escalate (as reported by the TimesOnline.com, "Russia's ambassador to Nato declared that (Georgian President) Mr Saakashvili "is no longer a man that (Russia) can deal with (...) He must be punished for breaching international law. He is responsible for many war crimes."), this situation in effect forced Obama and McCain to deliver a response which invariably is meant to reflect their ability to manage a hostile situation. As expected, Obama took a moderate stance on the issue, which was (weirdly) a virtual reiteration of the statement initially released by the White House:
“I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict. Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war. Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected.”
Even more expectedly, McCain issued a hard-line, to the point statement that showcased his zero-tolerance approach to foreign militancy: "[T]he news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.
“The government of Georgia has called for a ceasefire and for a resumption of direct talks on South Ossetia with international mediators. The U.S. should immediately work with the EU and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course that it has chosen.”
It’s hard to say how seriously (or if at all) Obama’s statement will hurt his presidential campaign, but there are a few subtle errors that could come back to haunt him.
First, his response was notably weaker than McCain’s. In requesting ‘restraint’ and calling on Russia and Georgia to ‘avoid escalation’, Obama ceded the position of power in the conflict, suggesting that it is up to Russia and Georgia to resolve the conflict, although the US would ensure Georgia’s ‘territorial integrity’ (though he did not say this directly).
Next, McCain’s statement was without question well crafted. McCain’s words did not threaten Russia, but did demand that Russia end its current engagement. The statement highlighted that Georgia has asked for a ceasefire, and that the role of United States in this engagement should be to moderate diplomatic relations along with the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It was definitive yet open-ended, aggressive but not wanton.
Third, Obama – as said earlier – virtually echoed the White House release; and it is certainly not a good thing to be likened to that administration, especially if you’re a democrat. So not only was Obama’s address lacking a formal outline of how relations should be pursued, it also used the White House catchphrase ‘territorial integrity’ – not good.
Finally – and most importantly – international conflicts of any sort do not help Obama’s chances. Common perceptions hold that McCain has a much greater, more profound understanding of how military operations should be conducted; with that said, just the threat of the US having to engage in further military operations - in a very direct way - encourages undecided voters to support McCain.
In other words, the Russia/South Ossetia–Georgia conflict has not been kind to Obama’s bid at becoming president; but this wasn’t the only negative happening this week in the world of Obama.
When news of John Edwards admitting to an affair with Rielle Hunter broke, the collective faces of all those involved with the Obama camp surely frowned. There is no question that John Edwards, as a politician, is a forward thinking man. His greatest concern has always been those who have the least, those who need support the most. His largest audience is low-income Caucasians, the constituency with which Obama is having the most difficulty appeasing. He has long been involved in politics, and his experience can not be questioned.
So it only makes sense that upon hearing that Edwards had essentially knocked himself out of political relevance for the immediate future, that Obama – now lacking one of his strongest allies – would curl into a ball and begin weeping. Now I don’t know for sure that this did happen, but were it reported, I wouldn’t dismiss it.
In losing a vice presidential frontrunner, Obama now had to give his opinion on Edwards – which had to (of course) condemn Edwards’ actions, while at the same time being careful not to ostracize Edwards so as to prevent an exodus of low-income Caucasian votes.
“If I'm not mistaken, I think that they already indicated, the Edwards family indicated that they probably wouldn't be attending the convention, I understand that. This is a difficult and painful time to them. And I think they need to work through that process of healing. My sense is that that’s going to be their top priority.
"John Edwards was a great champion of working people during the course of his campaign. (...) Many of his themes are ones that Democrats as a whole share. Those will be amplified in the convention, and I wish them all well.”
On top of this, Obama has to think long and hard about who to name as his vice presidential candidate. If it weren’t for the affair, Edwards surely would have qualified for the position, and it stands to reason that Obama had long thought the same. Now though, it is clear that Edwards can not take the job, so Obama must reconsider the v.p. question. With Hillary, he would take on board someone who attacked him just a few short months ago (and who knows if she’d accept the position). Bayh, as a quick search on OpenSecrets.com indicates, has corruption allegations that he would need to answer before becoming a ‘safe’ choice for Obama. And if either Al Gore or John Kerry would come to Obama’s aid, it is hard to say whether or not their presence would benefit or harm Obama’s quest to appeal to a broader audience. At this point, it might make the most sense for Obama to offer Kathleen Sebelius the position, though she is no pre-affair Edwards.
To sum up the week in two words for Obama; it sucked. To sum up the week in one sentence; Obama proved less effective in addressing international tensions than McCain and he lost his best vice presidential nominee to adultery.
Talk about a tough week.
So what will happen? Will these two events derail Obama’s candidacy? Did McCain make errors which negate Obama’s? What should Obama do in response to Edwards?
Thanks for reading.
GRMM
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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