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July 28, 2007

Comments

With respect, I hear that question the way Hillary did. The number of specifics given (five different leaders, five separate meetings, the one-year time frame) makes it sound like a commitment to do precisely what's described. Suppose the question were:

Are you willing to submit balanced budgets each year of your presidency, except in the event of a national emergency declared by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Congress.

I don't think that "yes" would mean merely that you think balanced budgets are a worthwhile goal.

Anyone familiar with my record should know that I'm not shy of disagreeing with Hilzoy, despite our being fellow Democrats, but this is, in fact, yet another case where I utterly agree with her, and why I believe everyone should work to advance the cause of Barack Obama for President of the United States.

(Not that I mind your working for John Edwards, who also would be great.)

"Not that I mind your working for John Edwards...."

Mindo! I meant "anyone's working for...."

Well said, as always.

It's so nice to have my favorite bloggers in the same spot. :) Tell publius to write more often, too -- and more of the wonky polisci stuff from way back in the day. That was always a kick.

As noted elsewhere, I think Obama plainly made a simple gaffe, the sense of which in context was in fact naive, but as amended immediately after the debate by Axelrod was fine, esp. since he had said just the day before that he believes in talking with dictators "under certain conditions". A little jostling afterwards seems ok too - HRC showed that Obama will make small exploitable missteps in debate, and Obama showed that he's willing to campaign more vigorously than he has so far. However I think for Obama to call HRC's position here "Bush/Cheney lite" is demagoguery and disappointing coming from him.

"And whether because of opportunism, a misplaced trust in George W. Bush, a failure to foresee the likely consequences, or whatever, Clinton and Edwards both voted the wrong way."

As I've explained here many times, simply reading what Clinton said at the time about the vote and considering her policy views, the political situation, and entirely reasonable outcomes of the invasion given what was known at the time, this position is much too simplistic.

I think some of the confusion (and some of the fake confusion) is based on the interpretation of the word "precondition". To me, in context (especially when mentioning Bush and North Korea), it clearly means demanding that the other side make concessions before you'll meet with them.

But the HRC campaign (in a big headline that I'm surprised isn't accompanied by a flip-flop graphic) is trying to say that Obama's saying he'd meet "under certain conditions" contradicts his answer to the question. Practically anything you do, you do only under certain conditions.

Above Hilzoy does something similar:

do you see negotiations as something that should be used as necessary, and regarded as a useful but neutral instrument, or do you regard them as having to be justified in some way, and/or used only when certain conditions are met?
To me "used as necessary" means "used when conditions are such that negotations are necessary". I would not have rephrased "without preconditions" to "only when certain conditions are met". But maybe that's just me,

With respect, I hear that question the way Hillary did. The number of specifics given (five different leaders, five separate meetings, the one-year time frame) makes it sound like a commitment to do precisely what's described.

I think that's a plausible reading, but there's other context that I think belies that explanation:

"In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration"

It seems to me that, aside from the plain language of "willing," the question could easily be read as aimed at the "no negotation" policy of the Bush Administration, especially the clause about "without precondition." The "negotiation is capitulation" point is implicitly discredited by the question by that language (because the "preconditions" the Bush Admin sets up are really artificial hurdles meant to bar meaningful discussion).

Second, Obama's response is initially couched in terms of our Cold War policy w/r/t the USSR, which was anything but capitulatory. I think that even if the question itself could be read in two ways, his response makes it crystal clear how he understood and how he was responding to it.

In fact, that part of his response more than any other makes me feel that his remark is being twisted. I thought it was a brilliant move on Obama's part to contextualize his answer like -- even most Republicans would agree that Reagan's USSR policy and Nixon's China policy, though with much more powerful nations than Iran, had nothing to do with "giving in" to them at all. On the contrary: it was an opportunity to flex our diplomatic muscle. That parallel is a great way of demonstrating how we've "negotiated" with intransigent opponents in the past without sacrificing the putative moral high ground.

Third, I'm very much unconvinced that Clinton even understood the question that way -- or, if she did, she was smart enough to just lay the groundwork for her later response with the "promise" language, rather than make the argument directly, because in context it would have looked silly, and Obama probably would have (rightfully) demanded the opportunity to point out just what an inaccurate characterization it was.

I can't really articulate the reasons why, Mike, but to me there's a difference between the question that was asked at the debate and your question about balanced budgets. I think it's the "except" clause that you added and which was nowhere to be found in the debate question.

Or it could just be the difference in context between diplomacy and budgets. We expect presidents to submit yearly budgets, and we'd look funny at one who didn't. We don't necessarily expect presidents to meet with any particular other world leader, although we might look funny at one who didn't meet any other world leaders.

Perhaps I'd reword your analogy like this: "Would you be willing to include, in your yearly budgets, a billion dollars for cleaning up a catastrophic disaster in California?" There might not be a disaster in California in any given year, although we'd certainly expect a disaster to occur somewhere in the country each year.

I read Obama's response as the equivalent of saying, "Well, I'd certainly be willing to set aside money for California if they ended up needing it," which Clinton is trying to spin into, "Obama wants to give a billion dollars to California without any preconditions."

rilkefan: I think she voted the wrong way, and that's something that it would take a lot of argument to persuade me to change my mind on. The list of possible reasons why may be simplistic, but it was just meant to be a survey of possibilities -- the one thing I did try to include was something other than opportunism and thinking the war was a good idea, which is why 'a misplaced faith in GWB' is there. (Specifically, I think that giving the benefit of the doubt to a President requires asking yourself whether you trust the particular President in question not to abuse it, and that in this case the answer should have been 'no'.)

KCinDC: point taken. I agree with you on preconditions v. conditions -- preconditions are a diplomatic term of art, but conditions are much more general. I will update; thanks.

Speaking of Clinton, Hilzoy, did you see this truly stupid post about the cleavage issue (via Yglesias)?

I agree she voted the wrong way, but if you're making a judgment about her judgment on that basis - in fact principally doing so on that one decision - you ought to consider why she did it and the degree to which her reasoning was sensible. If she had said, "I'm convinced we need to go to war" you would reach a different conclusion than if you considered the fact that she said at the time of the vote that the evidence was too weak to justify invading; if there had been good reason to feel sure that Saddam would not turn out to have enough CW/BW to allow Bush to trumpet disarming him of his WMDs, you'd come to a different conclusion than one would in this universe, where that was not (in my view anyway) the case; etc. etc.

And, well, I think Bush would have invaded and we would be in the same mess if she had voted the right way.

Incidentally, I'm interested in your view of "Bush/Cheney lite".

I agree with rilkefan. I wish Obama hadn't gone with the "Bush-Cheney lite" comment. The issue of talking to enemy countries is a perfect springboard for highlighting the differences between conservative and liberal ideas -- especially since the conservative ideas about this are wrong. I would like to have seen the discussion become elevated rather than devolving into name-calling.

I think Cheney's statement is basically a moral position, and not a pragmatic one, which makes it tough to make sense of. Cheney thinks it's wrong to "talk to evil" in the same way that an authoritarian parent thinks it's ridiculous to explain to a child why she has to do what the parent says.

"The peculiar view that negotiating with someone confers some sort of legitimacy on that person" hits it spot on. Conservatives think this way on many issues. "Trying to understand hatred for the U.S. in the Muslim world" is equal to "making excuses for terrorists". Cultural tolarance is appeasement. Calling attention to foreign policy mistakes is "blaming America first".

Is there any sense out there about who would be Sec. of State under Obama or HRC? The names that first come to mind are Richard Holbrooke and Wes Clark. I might feel more inclined to one or the other candidate based on that information.

I would expect the "under certain conditions" clause to get executed pretty much the same for either candidate if the above choice was made the same way.

hillzoy: "Reporters and pundits on both sides seemed to think that Clinton was right, but the American people disagree."

No, hilzoy, the American people don't know what they think about the issue yet: 42% thought the next prez should meet with the heads of nations like Iran and Syria, etc, without preconditions; 34% disagreed, and 24% weren't sure. The survey did state that Democrats favored meeting with heads of state 'without preconditions" by a 55% to 22% margin, but of those only 33% knew that Obama made that commitment... and by next week, when people have a chance to evaluate what 'meeting without preconditions' means those numbers will shift dramatically, especially if they ask if it's ok to meet face to face with the Iranian Holocaust denier (that's going to win Obama lot of primary votes among Democratic Jews I bet) or with Castro, assuming Fidel's alive after the next election (Democratic Cubans are sure to dance in the streets over that one).

And about Obama's opposition to the resolution authoring the war in Oct, 2002 being an indicator of his foreign policy judgment, Obama wasn't in the senate then, and on the linked video you provided when asked how he would have voted said 'he thought' he would have voted against it; but elsewhere in other interviews I think he said he wasn't sure how he would have voted if he had been there -- so nobody knows, including him, what he would have done).

Obama's got two chances of winning the presidency: slim and none. Wonks don't get elected president. Every time I see or hear him now I have to fight to stop running head first at the wall, screaming: "Eugene McCarthy, Eugene McCarthy." When Hill-Bill take office, maybe they'll make him Secretary Of State, send him out to negotiate with major and minor diplomats, and let him chew their ears off with platitudes, but I hope he at least gets a precondition agreement from the Iranians before the first meeting not to take him hostage for 444 days, like they did his diplomatic predecessors.


How's that snubbing Castro thing working out? I'm sure if we hold on for another decade or two it'll finally do the job. Every idea needs at least 50 or 60 years for a fair test.

Yes, Castro and Ahmadinejad aren't nice guys. Neither were all the leaders of the Soviet Union and China and plenty of other countries that we somehow managed to talk to. That's the point.

"How's that snubbing Castro thing working out?"

Of course there's a big difference between "snubbing" and "no preconditions meeting with the President".

Though in this particular case the question is nearly moot.

Wonks don't get elected president.

Bill Clinton might beg to differ with you on that point.

Every time I see or hear him now I have to fight to stop running head first at the wall, screaming: "Eugene McCarthy, Eugene McCarthy."

Try yelling "Reagan, Reagan!" -- the masses like people with big, grand, sweeping visions, and he does have that. Just a thought. We are out in Wonkland ourselves, really.

Personally, when I see HRC, I scream, "Kerry! Gore! Mondale! McGovern!" and then they have to sedate me. But what do I know? I figured there was no way that this tongue-tied blueblood-family Texan could get elected the first time, let along twice.

(Yes, I know, he wasn't elected, etc. -- but the fact that he always gets half the votes seems to indicate that my general election barometer is basically broken.)

Quite honestly, the thing that bothers me most about the idea of an HRC candidacy is that, by the end of a hypothetical first term, America will have had either of two families as its head of state for 20 years. That's the stuff of banana republics, not robust democracies.

This is a solid post -- and like Gary, I don't find anything here to disagree with. Some riffs:

1 - The point about limiting our sphere of freedom is right on. By refusing to meet, we elevate all meetings into coded messages/signs of support/etc. Exactly right.

2 - I know the question was worded as if Obama himself would meet. But in the real world, there are many shades in between. For instance, Obama himself wouldn't necessarily be the first meeting. Some undersecretary of state (or equivalent) could do so (just like we're doing with NK)

3 - I think yglesias (as usual) has hit upon a key point in that the real significance of this dispute is that it shows HRC is in the old "scared Dems on defense" mode. It's not reassuring.

4 - That said, it's a borderline genius Sister Souljah move for HRC with respect to the GENERAL election. I mean, good lord, even Krauthammer was giving her implicit praise. That's not to say that they'll support her, but these things feed into the narrative and chip away at the high negatives, swing independents, etc.

My only disagreement with the post is that I think HRC is winning it, only because most media have dubbed her the winner. And that's all it takes.

HRC not only loses, she takes both houses of Congress down with her. Notice how the other group that attacked Obama was the RNC. Hmmmm. Why would that be, Democrats?

I'm not sure there is a relationship between public opinion people's actual dispositions. For example, 54% support impeaching Cheney. And if the Dems began proceedings to impeach Cheney, I think there would be widespread disapproval that they were overreaching the moment an actual action was taken. Similarly, I suspect while the polls favor Obama himself, people will walk away thinking Obama is too green.

Why oh why do people think HRC has these wonder-working powers to swing negatives? She spent 8 years in the public eye and managed to become one of the most intensely hated people in the country. The Lewinsky affair could have made her sympathetic, but somehow somehow she came out of that looking even worse to a lot of people.

Sadat's trip to Israel was a huge risk for him and for Egypt, we consider him a hero because he won that bet, but had he lost our view of him would be very different. That trip was textbook cowboy diplomacy, it alienated Egypt from its regional allies and put Egypt in a very dangerous position. The only reason it paid off was because we were willing to back Egypt up with aid.

Our allies are not nearly as venal as Egypt's were, and the kind of personal diplomacy Obama proposes, in the spirit of the question, ignoring the careful advice of our professional diplomatic corps (concessions), would alienate or allies, demoralize our diplomats, and weaken our country in the world.

In reality Obama might try some freelancing, get burned, and then change his policy. Most presidents go through the "I know what I'm doing get the damn diplomats out of my way" phase early in their presidency (unfortunately Bush is still in it). So Obama's position is not a disqualifier.

Via kos, the person who wrote the actual question:

"His bottom line: He liked Obama's answer, and he thought Hillary misconstrued what he meant by "preconditions" in acting like Obama had agreed to meet Fidel and Chavez with no diplomatic groundwork whatsoever. He said his question just meant there shouldn't be a requirement of a change in a country's behavior as a condition of talking to them.

"My question had something I wanted my government to achieve. I wanted my country to go out and speak to countries we don't speak to," Sixta said. "When the attacks started on Obama they were attacks on my question and what I wanted. They made me feel bad."

Sixta basically seemed to buy Obama's claim that the two candidates' different responses showed that Clinton was more a candidate of the status quo. "There's a more traditional approach that she has and the U.S. has traditionally used... and he was willing to ratchet it up a bit and put his personal charisma on the line."

In the aftermath of the debate, as both candidates tried to exploit their differences, Sixta said he felt both went too far -- Obama is not "irresponsible," and Hillary is not Bush-Cheney lite. “It’s a little severe on both sides," Sixta said. "In a way both of them are wrong. Maybe part of what they say is accurate, but they seem to be stretching it.”"

Someone (e.g. Gary) remind me - how much groundwork had been laid before Sadat's trip? He was invited to come to Jerusalem by the Israelis, I think - is "cowboy" actually appropriate?

'[...] Obama is not "irresponsible," and Hillary is not Bush-Cheney lite. "It’s a little severe on both sides," Sixta said. "In a way both of them are wrong. Maybe part of what they say is accurate, but they seem to be stretching it."'

I thought the question was poorly phrased, but this seems like a very sensible position.

Clinton and Obama are the main contenders for the nomination at this point. I think this particular fight has a lot less to do with who they would or would not meet with as President than it does with each of them making a tactical decision to begin sharply differentiating themselves from each other.

On one hand, I wish they hadn't. This primary season is going to be achingly long, and if the sniping (over IMO rather trivial differences) starts this early, it might be pretty ugly by the time the actual voting starts. Since I actually like both of them*, I'd prefer they didn't spend the next year savaging each other.

On the other hand, there was no way Obama could have let Clinton's remarks about naivete and inexperience stand; and there was no way she couldn't have responded to his response.

*Yes: I like them both. I prefer Obama for idealistic reasons; Clinton for pragmatic ones. Obama might indeed be able to usher in a new progressive era, and believe me, I want that so much my teeth ache. But the President after Bush II will have an Augean stable to clean up, which has to be done before anything else, and which will require a certain amount of ruthlessness; and I think Clinton has that more than Obama does.

Also regarding Clinton: the charges the progressive netroots level against her have been repeated often enough to become conventional wisdom. As is the case with most conventional wisdom, I think they're wrong (really, when's the last time conventional wisdom was right about something?).

High negatives? She had high negatives going into her first Senate race. She overcame them, mostly by going into the areas where she was disliked most and letting people get to know her. She overcame them enough to win re-election by a landslide. I don't see any reason why she wouldn't be able to do the same thing on a national level. People don't really know her: they know the charicature the MSM and the GOP has made of her. That charicature is so over the top that when people actually see her, actually listen to her, they're favorably impressed. Heck, even the netroots have been re-evaluating their knee-jerk dislike of her.

"20 years of Bushes and Clintons = banana republic"? Please. This meme is just plain silly. We had 16 years of one person - FDR - and I don't recall that we came out of that one as a banana republic. The policies, not the person's name, are what matters. And since Chelsea Clinton has not thus far shown any interest whatsoever in running for office, and will not be old enough to run for President in 2016, I don't see a Clinton Dynasty in the offing, either.

I'll be happy as a clam if either of them, or Edwards, or Richardson, are taking the oath of office in January 2009.

Random points from an insomniac:

1) "The question" was not addressed to anyone in particular. Andersen Cooper tossed it to Obama, who answered "Yes". Cooper then asked the author of the question, who was present in the audience, whether he felt his question had been answered. The man's reply was: "I'd be interested in knowing Hillary's (sic) answer to that question." Did Cooper plan to just move on if the man had said, "Yes, thank you"? Who _was_ that guy anyway, and why is he on first-name terms with Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, junior Senator from NY and former First Lady of the land? Please, no intrapartisan fights. For all I know he was a plant from the Gravel (or the Giuliani) campaign. Or an actual civilian, really trying to decide between his party's chief contenders. (If that last is true, it gives partial lie to the meme that there was no "feedback from the questioners" in the "gimmicky" new format.) I'm a news junkie, but if anyone has answered these questions I missed it. You'd think an enterprising young reporter might have already interviewed the man and told us which answer to _his_ question _he_ considers better. It would not sway my opinion either way; I'm just curious.

2) There's no such thing as a POTUS meeting with a foreign leader, evil or otherwise, "without preconditions". At least one "precondition" is unavoidable: the foreign "leader" has to be willing to meet. "The question" was either badly posed, or some people (including Hillary) believe the POTUS can meet with foreign leaders who do not wish to meet with him.

3) Why the hell would L'il Kim or Bashir Assad (inheritors of their daddy's position like a certain POTUS we know), Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ("dictators" who were actually elected, though perhaps in flawed elections like a certain POTUS we know), or doddering old Fidel Castro (who may be dead in 2009) declare themselves willing to meet the next POTUS? These guys get mileage at home by denouncing "the Great Satan". Meeting with its leader seems like a dicey proposition for them, domestic-propaganda-wise. Perhaps they want to say things in private that they don't feel able to say in public. We know what they say in public and we don't like it. What they have to say in private can only be an improvement.

4) This is the _second_ time Hillary has pissed me off by playing the "grown-up" card. The first time on the previous CNN debate, when she smacked Edwards for making the obvious point that Dick and Dubya's GWOT is a bumper sticker slogan. I could rant endlessly on this. I will only say, here, that _calling_ what you're doing a "Global War on Terror", and actually _waging_ a global war on terror, are two different things. Edwards knows that. So does Hillary.

5) I'm not writing Hillary off just yet. In a sense, I don't have a dog in this fight. I haven't picked my primary candidate yet, but I know already I'm voting for the Democrat in the general. In a way, the current brouhaha is just good, clean, fun.

6) I have in my head a list of pros and cons for why I would wish each of the Democratic candidates to be the next POTUS. For Hillary, one pro item is this: certain Republicans I know would die of apoplexy if she gets elected. For Obama, I consider this a con item: "non-partisanship" or "bi-partisanship" or "can't we all just get along" is a load of crap.

What do you all think about the Clinton-Obama row over meeting with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea?

Personally, though Clinton seemed more measured, her answer delivers us more of the same. I really liked Obama's fresh approach.

This is an important issue that is key to reversing the damage that Bush/Cheney has done to American image in the world. Vote on your preferenc on http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=251

Make your voice heard. It's important.

If you're going to spam Clinton-Obama threads, it's probably best not to start your comment off with a question that indicates that you haven't been reading them at all.

KCinDC: are you expecting Frankie to read your comment?

No, just venting. Carry on.

I think the Democratic Party would do better with an IRV primary.

If you win by getting a true majority behind you instead of just having the biggest plurality, then you want to look good to as many primary voters as possible, even people who already have another first-place choice. Potentially that could lead to less negativism, and a better start toward the big election.

Hilzoy: What it does is provide an opportunity for a thoughtful and reflective person to see what the world looks like from outside the United States.

And it is, I think, inestimably valuable. I have a very, very hard time trying to imagine how I would think about foreign policy if I had never lived abroad, but I am absolutely certain that whatever my faults as a judge of foreign policy now, they would be much, much greater had I spent my life living in the US.

I have to say that I don’t understand this viewpoint. I’ve had the conversation previously with LJ so this may be a rehash. I’m probably a good counterpoint to this way of thinking because I have the experience you are suggesting. Not just active duty experience living in the cocoon of the military community but years as a civilian living and working in a foreign community. Now you would likely prefer me over Cheney (at least I hope so) but I doubt that you would generally agree with my foreign policy. If anything, firsthand experience with how certain other governments work may predispose me to take a generally harder line with them (and those are allies).

And that experience follows you home and carries over to domestic policy. A couple examples: Taxes - having seen how little discretionary income people who live in high tax countries have and how that IMO stifled their economy and growth opportunities only makes me more in favor of low taxes. Having experienced work rules that make it almost impossible for employers to get rid of bad employees and grow their business as they choose only made me anti-union. It never would have occurred to me at the time to demand that the host government provide me with English translations of documents, or put up street signs in English, or “Push 2 for English” when I call a government phone number. It never would have occurred to me that it was not my responsibility to learn the language. It never would have occurred to me that the host country should change to meet my needs rather than the responsibility being squarely on me to assimilate. Those experiences directly influence my opinions on related matters here in the US today.

So while I agree that the experience can definitely shape you, there is no reason IMO to believe it somehow makes you better at foreign policy, or that you would agree with the results of the influence. Living in a foreign country as a child plus his very limited Senate experience just don’t add up to any foreign policy experience at all IMO.

OCsteve: Now you would likely prefer me over Cheney (at least I hope so)

It's a bit of a back-handed compliment, since I'd prefer a tub of lard to Dick Cheney as Vice President of the US: it would do so much less damage. And I'd prefer you to a tub of lard. ;-)

Still, it sounds like you are a good example of how someone can live overseas for years at a time and remain absolutely convinced that the way things get done back home is the right and proper way to do them. (I've met English ex-pats in France with a similar outlook: there's a reason, I guess, why after years of residence they remained ex-pats rather than going native...)

If you're going to spam Clinton-Obama threads, it's probably best not to start your comment off with a question that indicates that you haven't been reading them at all.

But his analysis wasn't that wide of the mark, all things considered. :)

Jes: Still, it sounds like you are a good example of how someone can live overseas for years at a time and remain absolutely convinced that the way things get done back home is the right and proper way to do them.

I don’t think I had those preconceptions. Rather, I came to see what IMO were wrong ways to do things. And your comment doesn’t make sense in regards to my comments on immigration and assimilation where I was saying they did have that part right – better than the US was doing it. I saw IMO bad ways to do things as well as good ways. I endorsed the (IMO) good ways.

The larger point though, is that I think you will only approve of how living overseas may shape one’s policy positions is if you tend to agree with those positions.

OCSteve: I didn't mean that it produced unanimity, or even foreign policy views that resemble one another; just that it could (given a more or less thoughtful person inclined to take advantage of the experience) produce useful insight.

For starters, just knowing what a huge gap there is between the way we view the US here and the way it looks from outside, where there is no automatic presumption that it's beneficent and no automatic patriotic being on its side, is a huge thing.

And I would definitely prefer you over Cheney. By miles. And not just because I'd prefer almost anyone over Cheney ;)

OCSteve again: maybe one way to see what I meant is to think: a huge part of foreign policy involves understanding the effects that our actions have abroad, and the way people perceive them there, so that we can figure out which effects we want to produce and which we don't want to produce. If you've lived abroad, that's obviously much, much easier. It's also easier to see what a huge impact US policies have on other countries; I don't think any other country's policies have anything like the impact on us that our policies have on, say, Thailand, and it's not easy to grasp that from here.

Nothing about understanding what the effects of our policies are guarantees that any two people who do understand them will agree on anything. But there are certain mistakes that neither of them will make.

OCSteve: The larger point though, is that I think you will only approve of how living overseas may shape one’s policy positions is if you tend to agree with those positions.

And the same for you, I should think.

As I understand it, your objection is to having one of the native languages of the US as an option when Spanish-speakers call a Government phone number. Depending which foreign community you lived in, of course, but certainly inside the EU these days you'd find that most countries provide official information in all their native languages, not just one. In Belgium you'll find signs in French and Flemish, even though Brussels is the only official bilingual zone (in fact, you'll find signs in French, Flemish, English, and German, on the principle that you can never be too helpful to tourists or invaders). In the highlands of Scotland, you will find signs in Gaelic and in English: in Wales, you will find all information provided in both Welsh and English. Where you have multiple native tongues, as in the US you have both English and Spanish, it is absurd to regard it as a failure in assimilation not to provide information in both.

(You don't mention which foreign community you lived in, of course, and it may have been a very, very monoglot one.)

("Native language" in the US is of course a bit of a flexible definition anyway: "languages commonly spoken within US borders" is probably better.)

Jes: Also don’t discount that tub of lard too quickly - brings back memories of the good old days, before the food police and PC food. Homemade donuts deep fried in lard, homemade bread made with lard, potatoes fried in lard… Mmmm. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it.

That could be a serious vote getter for anyone (vegetarians excepted I guess) who remembers what deep frying used to be.
;)

Jes: Also don’t discount that tub of lard too quickly - brings back memories of the good old days, before the food police and PC food. Homemade donuts deep fried in lard, homemade bread made with lard, potatoes fried in lard… Mmmm. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it.

The Donut/The Tub of Lard.

You know, I think that could be a vote-getter, for everyone except unAmerican pinko vegetarians...

(PS: I'm vegetarian. ;-)

OT: You see http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story/0,,2137115,00.html>this, Jes?

Hilzoy: For starters, just knowing what a huge gap there is between the way we view the US here and the way it looks from outside, where there is no automatic presumption that it's beneficent and no automatic patriotic being on its side, is a huge thing.

I can certainly agree with that. But what if the outcome is one you do not agree with? What if that experience simply solidifies a “screw them, they don’t like us anyway” attitude?

maybe one way to see what I meant is to think: a huge part of foreign policy involves understanding the effects that our actions have abroad, and the way people perceive them there, so that we can figure out which effects we want to produce and which we don't want to produce.

This I think is a valid and important point. Or to tweak it a bit, if you can directly experience the impact of American actions at the local level in a country that it impacts then I agree this is a very worthwhile experience. But the one that leaps to mind for me is Reagan’s decision to deploy the Pershing II missiles. I had a firsthand view of the effects of that decision. It was huge. I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be – there were certainly days when I agreed with those who said he was going to get us all killed. In hindsight I now think it was the correct decision no matter what people at the local level thought about it at the time. (Note – not a Reagan threadjack. I understand that many would disagree with this – it is an example.)


Jes: And the same for you, I should think.

Well, certainly. It all comes through the filter. I don’t want to do an immigration threadjack either – that was just an example of how experience living in a foreign country led to views that Hilzoy may not agree with.

Jes: PS: I'm vegetarian.

I thought I recalled that. Yanking your chain. ;)

OCSteve: even if someone doesn't agree with me, I still think that having lived abroad means that our areas of disagreement have narrowed. The disagreements might still include the entire policy outcome, but at least I won't be arguing with them about something like: will everyone in Germany just be happy about all that warm, fuzzy added protection?

(I thought the "Iraqis will welcome us as liberators" was exactly that silly. They might be immeasurably relieved to be rid of Saddam, I thought; they might be warily inclined to give us some sort of benefit of the doubt at first, while waiting to see what happened; but the kinds of reactions Richard Perle predicted struck me as about as likely as all Germans lining up to say: Thank you for those nice missiles, Uncle Sam! We feel so extra-specially secure now!)

Another response to Mike's hypo:

What is a "balanced budget?" There are so many ways to balance a budget (cut/postpone spending, raise taxes, etc etc) that the question is meaningless. So if Obama says that "Yes, I'd be willing to submit balanced budgets" that indeed does indicate merely a very broad goal but hardly a commitment to the specific means to get to that "balanced budget."

Hilzoy: The disagreements might still include the entire policy outcome, but at least I won't be arguing with them about something like: will everyone in Germany just be happy about all that warm, fuzzy added protection?

Good point. And now I see more clearly where you are coming from. I’m still not sure how much weight I would give it, but I can understand better why you would think that perspective important.

There is one more thing to add to Hilzoy's excellent post.

Remember what Don Coreone said. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

What I take that to mean is that you want to see the whites of their eyes, 'grok' their essence, as it were and see how they act and react. That's what diplomacy does. It puts one of OUR people (and maybe it's our Embassy's Fifth Secretary) in the same physical face-to-face context (such as at conferences etc etc) with one of THEIRS so when we ask a question such as "We hear rumors that your country is doing X" then our person can get a gut-sense of whether we are being played or not.

Diplomacy is not (only) about exchange of emails. Hardly, in fact. It is about creating human connections (not to sing Kumbaya) but so that we can get the most accurate sense possible of what our adversaries and enemies are doing. It is a totally self-interested and manipulative endeavor. It is not about doing favors but about being to get information about our enemy so we can manipulate them.

"When I am President, we will deal with Syria and Iran right from the beginning, we will engage them in open, frank, tough-minded discussions [blah blah blah]"

HRC from 10 July. Also a better acknowledgement of the risks of withdrawal than I had seen before.

I don't necessarily think living abroad will impact the policy decision making process, per se.

In some cases, as in yours OCSteve, it might make you want to be tougher with someone, but how you do so will still be dictated by what you see as what is best for the country, etc.

However, what it does tend to do, specially if you are living with the society and not just working some job, is develop a sense of others.

This is specially true if a good portion is spent in what is called third world country.

There becomes more of a tendency to recognize the commonality (not to the exclusion of differences) of humankind. This does change one's willingness to take into account how our actions will impact others.

And this helps us determine the possible consequences of our actions better.

In regards to the general post, I tend to fall into Obama's camp on this one, even to the Bush-Cheney lite comment.

"even to the Bush-Cheney lite comment"

Naderism pure.

Bush lite yes, Cheney lite definitely no.
(but she has more between the ears in any case).

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