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Smears and Tears: How Obama’s National Security Week Turned Into the Mendacity of Hype

Originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted here with express permission.
________________________

The past week marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War and the milestone of the 4,000th American soldier killed in that disastrous adventure.

Commemorating and underscoring the urgent need for a new policy direction, Senator Clinton delivered a serious and detailed address clearly setting out her vision for and commitment to ending the conflict. Her approach includes a direct critique of the most glaring failures of the Bush administration: its unwillingness to use political pressure and intense international diplomacy to effect a resolution of the outstanding differences that have driven the region into a proxy war within Iraq with the United States manning and supporting combatants on all sides.

For years American generals have been telling the administration, the Congress, and the public that Iraq is not a situation that lends itself to a military solution and will only be resolved politically. While the focus of American opprobrium has been on the Iraqi government for its failure to find those solutions, Senator Clinton, in her speech, is the first presidential candidate to spell out in a precise plan the elements required for an international effort, including co-opting and controlling the enablers of the ongoing violence in Iraq, to promote political reconciliation and reform.

My wife, former CIA agent, Valerie, and I accompanied Senator Clinton to Philadelphia the day after her speech.

Valerie pointed out in her comments how, in the run up to the invasion, the administration lied to the Congress and the American people about the nature and the seriousness of the weapons of mass destruction threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration’s willful twisting of intelligence was crucial to manipulation of the press, the public and the Congress. Not until months later, after the invasion, did the facts of the administration’s distortion of intelligence slowly begin to trickle out, partly as a result of my own efforts in a New York Times opinion piece in July 2003.

Understandably, Senator Obama’s speech on race relations overshadowed Senator Clinton’s policy pronouncements. While laudable in intent, Senator Obama would never have made the speech had his relationship with fiery pastor Jeremiah Wright not become a public relations nightmare for him. Among other things, Wright preaches that the United States government unleashed the HIV virus in Africa to kill blacks. (Having worked in Africa for much of my adult life, including with one of the early AIDS researchers, Dr. Jonathan Mann, I can safely say that there is absolutely no evidence to sustain Wright’s reckless charge.) Obama had no choice but to address his 20-year close relationship with a man he still considers, as he made clear in his speech, a mentor.

In the immediate aftermath, the Obama campaign dispatched several foreign policy surrogates to blitz the airwaves, supposedly to offer alternatives to Clinton’s recommendations. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Hillary was subjected to yet another round of personal abuse, denigration and ridicule rather than a serious debate of the issues. The real subtext of the Obama campaign was to attack Hillary in order to distract from Obama’s association with his anti-American preacher. National security went un-addressed. Rather than filling in his largely absent record, Obama had his surrogates engage in what can be termed the mendacity of hype.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, an otherwise serious person, made the extraordinarily silly comment belittling two-term Senator Clinton by comparing her experience to that of Mamie Eisenhower and his own travel agent after offering an analysis of the situation in Iraq and the path to a resolution that essentially mirrored the basic points Senator Clinton made in her speech. Brzezinski was not asked and did not explain why Obama early embraced him as an adviser and openly praised him, but recently has coldly distanced himself because of Brzezinski’s controversial views on Israel.

Nor did Brzezinski address the bloody issue of mercenary forces like Blackwater, which Obama states should be allowed to remain part of our military force in Iraq — a position challenged by Senator Clinton, who has called for phasing them out. In place of practical policies, Brzezinski offered his vague “sense” that Obama is a person who understands change before it takes place and is therefore capable of making “transcendental” decisions, whatever that might mean. For a man with a reputation as tough-minded, Brzezinski retreated into cloudy abstraction in his defense of Obama, who, according to the Senator, he, Brzezinksi, knows hardly at all.

Senator John Kerry, another Obama surrogate, offered the startling observation that Obama is better equipped than anyone else to bridge the divide between the U.S. and the Muslim world and end Islamic extremism and terorrism — “because he’s a black man.” There is absolutely no empirical evidence to sustain that claim, the notion that a single individual, even one with a resume filled with appropriate experience, would be able to halt terrorism because of the color of his skin. It is patently absurd. But Kerry presented nothing to back up his astounding racial reasoning. And the Obama campaign was remarkably silent on Kerry’s racialization of the foreign policy discussion.

Next, Governor Bill Richardson, who campaigned on his resume as a foreign policy practitioner, “agonized,” he explained, before putting his faith in a “once in a lifetime leader” and endorsed Obama, repudiating his own rationale of experience as a prerequisite for being President. Rather than state why he believes Obama has superior national security credentials and positions, he opted to complain instead about James Carville comparing him to Judas Iscariot. Since Richardson made foreign policy the centerpiece of his campaign — a direct consequence of President Bill Clinton’s appointments — and of the salience of foreign policy as an issue in the election, he owed an explanation of how Obama’s foreign policy would make us stronger and more secure that Clinton’s. But, preferring to defend himself against the charge of having betrayed the Clintons he neglected to discuss such policy.

Then, there was retired Air Force General, Merrill “Tony” McPeak, whose media appearance last week consisted of making the outrageous charge that Bill Clinton was using “McCarthy-like tactics” simply because he mentioned, in the event of a Hillary-McCain match-up, that Hillary and McCain are good patriots and that the campaign should be devoted to a substantive debate of the issues. Even the right wing National Review‘s Kathleen Parker, who was at the event, felt compelled to correct the record. “Bill Clinton was saying that Hillary and McCain are both good patriots who love their country, not that all those unmentioned are something else.”

Bill Clinton, of course, was not using “McCarthy-like tactics,” but the Obama campaign was eager to smear him. Which was guilty of “McCarthy-like tactics”? Attack the character of your adversaries; demean them; turn them into caricatures; while lying about someone, claim they are liars.

Finally, the Obama campaign pushed a compliant press corps, all too eager to do its bidding rather than maintain its standards of objectivity and skepticism, into hyping a mini-pseudo-scandal: whether Hillary “misspoke” about being under sniper fire when she paid a visit to Tuzla in Bosnia in 1996. In fact, the then-First Lady was told the plane was diving to land to avoid possible sniper fire. Whether there was or not is irrelevant. Anybody who has been involved in these situations, as I have, knows this. The threat was apparently real enough for U.S. military on the ground, the pilot and her security detail to engage in evasive procedures. That should have been the end of the matter. But the cable TV talking heads nattered the Obama campaign talking points endlessly.

Obama’s week of rolling out national security surrogates and talking points was not a pretty sight and turned out to have almost nothing to do with bolstering his thin credentials. His distracting efforts were a clear attempt to deflect attention from them, in fact. In response to Hillary’s detailed, substantive speech on Iraq, Obama replied with ad hominem insults. Instead of presenting his own plan, his campaign indulged in character assassination.

David Axelrod, the top Obama political strategist, for one, knows better. After all, he and his wife were direct beneficiaries of Hillary Clinton’s personal kindness and public policy experience when, in the midst of the impeachment trial of her husband, she travelled to Chicago to support Susan Axelrod’s efforts to raise money for her foundation, Citizens United for Research on Epilepsy (CURE), established by her after one of the Axelrod children was afflicted with the malady. As reported in the New York Times in April, 2007 (with thanks to eriposte of the Leftcoaster blog for his research):

“It was January 1999, President Clinton’s impeachment trial was just beginning in the Senate and Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak at the foundation’s fund-raiser in Chicago. Despite all the fuss back in Washington, Clinton kept the appointment. She spent hours that day in the epilepsy ward at Rush Presbyterian hospital, visiting children hooked up to machines by electrodes so that doctors might diagram their seizure activity and decide which portion of the brain to remove. At the hospital, a local reporter pressed her about the trial in Washington, asked her about that woman. At the organization’s reception at the Drake Hotel that evening, Clinton stood backstage looking over her remarks, figuring out where to insert anecdotes about the kids. “She couldn’t stop talking about what she had seen,” Susan Axelrod recalled. Later, at Hillary Clinton’s behest, the National Institutes of Health convened a conference on finding a cure for epilepsy. Susan Axelrod told me it was “one of the most important things anyone has done for epilepsy.” And this is how politics works: David Axelrod is now dedicated to derailing this woman’s career.”

Senator Obama and his campaign should get back to defending his policy positions and record rather than diminish a good person and an accomplished public servant. They know better.

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  • Nancy

    My comment is that people need to get off their high horses. The notion that everyone owes the Clintons their lives and so they must look the other way instead of doing what they know is best for the country is just outrageous. Good people do good not so they can hold a rope to a person’s neck but just to good. If you expect payback then the good was a selfish act.

    I’ll say there’s a double standard in this contest. It’s ok for Hillary to mislead the American voters by fabricating the wink/nod NAFTA gate story when she knew the truth that Obama or his advisor gave no wink or nod to anyone and they were not conflicting on the issue. It’s ok for her to pile lies upon lies upon lies to mislead us. It’s ok for her to have pastor problems. But, Obama cannot even catch a break with something he did not do. They want to crush him for something a grown man, a pastor of 5000+ congregation, said and did. Whatever happens to no person shall bear the burden/crime of another.

    Well, Mr Wilson, if you have been misled or feel you owe the Clintons, guess what, the rest of America does not share your sentiments. We understand what’s at stake. We are taking a stand. Yes we can!

    • StatBabe

      I’ll say there’s a double standard in this contest. It’s ok for Hillary to mislead the American voters by fabricating the wink/nod NAFTA gate story when she knew the truth that Obama or his advisor gave no wink or nod to anyone and they were not conflicting on the issue.

      Nancy, if you actually believe that Hillary Clinton fabricated the story about Obama advisors telling Canadian officials that they didn’t really intend to do all the things with NAFTA that Obama was saying in his campaign, then there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you! That story has not only been repeated by multiple Canadian government officials, but a memo also surfaced that recounted essentially the SAME story. Look here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/us/politics/04nafta.html?_r=1&em&ex=1204779600&en=bc1674b80a8eb1e3&ei=5087&oref=slogin and quit sticking your head in the sand!

      It’s ok for her to pile lies upon lies upon lies to mislead us. It’s ok for her to have pastor problems. But, Obama cannot even catch a break with something he did not do.

      Hillary with “pastor problems”? That’s rich! You Obama-bots just cannot get past the fact that your “saint” has been hooked up with a racist minister for over 20 YEARS–a minister who has not only bashed whites, Jews, Italians, and God-knows-who-else from the pulpit but also produced inflammatory messages for a regular church newsletter (i.e., Wright’s bigoted rhetoric is IN PRINT for all to see!). And if that were not enough, “Reverend” Wright honors Lewis Farrakhan at his church, an anti-Semitic bigot that most sane people want NOTHING to do with! Oh, yeah, that’s right! Hillary Clinton started participating in a Bible study and prayer group with others of BOTH political parties on Capitol Hill back in 1993 (a group that provided her with a lot of support during the Lewinsky debacle), and you Obama-bots are so desparate to “prove” that Clinton’s associations are just as bad as Obama’s (and Obama’s 20+ year association with Jeremiah Wright IS bad!) that you have needlessly trashed Hillary Clinton for her participation in this group (and EVERY OTHER politician who participates, for that matter). Heck, you guys cannot even come up with a video or a credible audio to bash Doug Coe (who isn’t even Hillary Clinton’s pastor, for that matter) whose worst offense seems to be his association with this network of prayer groups! That fits into the category of DESPARATE on your part. My ONLY regret is that someone whose close associates are such total bigots may indeed become the Democratic nominee for EITHER president or vice-president!

      It is just sad to me that the one year that the Democrats SHOULD win the White House are likely to lose because of fools like YOU who have been so thoroughly duped by an inexperienced con artist whose problems extend far beyond Jeremiah Wright and NAFTA to his questionable association with Tony Rezko that you actually resort to making things up about Hillary Clinton!

      • Nancy

        why don’t you reread what the canadians said. hillary gave the wink and nod. austan goolsbee visited the canadian embassy back on feb 8 and that was no secret. he was invited and they used that fact against obama because it became he said he said. the so called note was not written until 5 days after the meeting was held and the person who wrote it said it may not exactly have reflected what austan goolsbee said at the meeting. the nafta gate started 3 weeks after austan visited canada that was why the obama camp did not link it to the so called nafta gate. it was poorly handled on the obama side but they were certainly not guilty of a wink and a nod. think about it. barack has been speaking up against unfair trade deals even before he became a us senator why would he wink and nod at this point.

        please check your facts properly, you don’t have to like barack or his supporters but please do your research.

      • Nancy

        Besides, have you checked out the clintons’ association with rezko and peter paul and the president of kahzakistan to name a few. you are the fools that are being duped. bill is a lobbyist for countries like columbia and you sit here calling me a fool. who is the fool, really? Use your head and let go of the bias and foolishness. it is nonsense like this that got gwb in twice.

        • elise

          Nancy I would really like to see links to the information you provided re the Canadian government’s saying Hillary gave a wink and nod to her position on NAFTA. She denied anyone in her campaign had ever spoken to them and the Canadians agreed. The memo was written during the meeting which occurred between Goolsbee and the Canadian Consul in Chicago. You are either ill informed or deliberately trying to mislead. The Clinton’s had their picture taken with Tony Rezko at a political event. They didn’t buy a house with his help, serve as his attorney or accept large donations to her campaign. BTW, teh $90k of the $250k Resko donated to Obama was never accounted for. Origianlly, they claimed it was $150k, but when it became necessary to report, another $100k appeared. As far as Peter Paul, he lost his lawsuit. He hosted a party in CA for the Clintons and practically every major player in the Dem Party was there and many celebrities, none of whom had reason to believe the man had served time for fraud. The Clinton campaign was ordered to pay $30k in a dispute over some added costs for the party which they had not reported because they believed he overcharged for the party. You can look all of this information up since some of it hasn’t yet been scrubbed, the real story and not the spin by Paul and his lawyers. It takes intellectual integrity to research and requires digging deeper than the superficial and dishonest posting of people with an agenda. It would be better if you did your own research, but I’m willing to look up the links to the story about NAFTA if you like. Three times Obama and his team denied Goolsbee’s meeting and he finally admitted the truth in a press conference the night before the Ohio primary. Three times they lied and he lied again when he said the meeting had taken place, but he was unaware of it. And anyone who believes he didn’t know that is so far invested, they have lost all sense of the truth.

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  • http://360.yahoo.com/ommotherlifeforce fred heidrick

    here is how obama answers the hot line phone at 3:00 AM

    http://forums.hannity.com/showthread.php?p=24307611

  • Rob Gard

    I wonder if anyone has been able to follow the money from these private mercenary armies to the presidential campaigns. That could provide some indication of why some candidates (not Hillary) would prefer NOT to derail their gravy train,

    • simon, too

      And on the flip side, how have those other mercenary organizations, like Hamas, funneled money to or FROM Obama, and his supporters, or associates, even through someone like Rezko?

      According to Rezkowatch, some questionable people put up money for Rezko’s most recent bail.

  • StatBabe

    Great article, Ambassador Wilson! As to Tuzla, this “gotcha” game that the media elite and the Obama campaign have engaged in reminds me a little too much of the way these SAME members of the media elite trashed Al Gore for claiming that Love Story was based loosely on him and Tipper, when Erich Segal himself has repeatedly stated that the male protagonist in the book was, in fact, based on Al Gore, these SAME members of the media elite trashed Al Gore for saying that he introduced legislation that led to the creation of the internet, which even the creator of ARPANET (the predecessor of the internet) said was essentially true, when these SAME members of the media elite trashed Al Gore for claiming that he had flown to a particular disaster area with the FEMA director, when, in fact, he had flown to that particular disaster zone with the deputy director of FEMA, or any number of other purported “Gore exaggerations” that pale compared to the crap that the chimp was peddlin’ in 2000!

    I cannot help but feel that the SAME media elite that worked overtime to promote George W. Bush as the “golden boy” in 2000 are doing EXACTLY the same thing with Barack Obama! As one reader commented after a particularly incendiary editorial by Hillary-basher Frank Rich, it’s as though this group of political media insiders who sat around laughing about getting that imbecile George W. Bush appointed President back in 2000 are now sitting around doing the SAME THING again! And when we end up with this first-term senator with little experience and no clear plan for dealing with the catastrophic mess that our financial system is in (not to mention a bloody quagmire without end in Iraq), these SAME bozos will be sitting around sipping martinis and laughing about how they got this slick black politician with limited skills and practically no experience elected to the highest office in the land!

    I am SO SICK of these media whores that fall all over Obama for giving a speech that he HAD to give to save his political skin, while at the SAME TIME, bashing Hillary Clinton over everything from her mistaken recollection about Tuzla, which has little to do with the issues confronting this country anyway, to her honest comment that she would not continue to attend a church with a minister like Jeremiah Wright–a sentiment that MOST Americans share, if they were honest with themselves.

    My first choice was not even Hillary Clinton–it was John Edwards, but after the constant smear campaign that Obama has conducted (with the able assistance of the chief architect of smear David Axelrod and a group of media whores who seem to be more interested in promoting Obama as the “Second Coming” than in reporting the issues), it will be VERY difficult for me to vote for Obama in November. There is NO WAY that I am voting for McBush, and in the end, I may hold my nose and vote for Obama, if that is my only option other than McBush. But I will certainly worry whether this man is capable of doing anything more than read a well-crafted speech off a teleprompter. And I will know deep down that McBush may well “win” this election (an election that was the Democrats to lose, too!) because the likelihood of a black man like Barack Obama with a racist, un-American minister and a wife who spews similar racist, un-American venom winning ANY state in the South seems more remote than the chances that John Kerry, the Yankee from “Liberal Land”, had in the last election! Call it whatever you want, but white Southerners who might very well have supported a black man like Colin Powell will have a VERY difficult time supporting a black man like Barack Obama whose minister of 20 years spews the most hateful things and whose wife only makes matters worse by spewing similar racist, un-American venom!

    • Nancy

      There you go again stat babe. Spewing junk!

  • cruz del sur

    “Senator Obama and his campaign should get back to defending his policy positions and record rather than diminish a good person and an accomplished public servant. They know better.”

    Ambassador Wilson, I think you are wrong in accusing Obama’s campaign, and giving a free pass to Clinton’s campaign. An honest conclusion would be that both sides have been throwing sh_t at each other, and they are just as dirty.

    • jwrjr

      The reason why Obama doesn’t defend his policy positions is because he has none. Just ‘ideas’ and ‘hope’. And as for his accomplishments, how about ‘being too busy campaigning to do the job he was elected to do’?

  • cjbardy

    I think, WHEN Hillary wins the nomination, Joe Wilson should be the VP nominee, or maybe Secretary of State. He impresses me with his consistently cool and analytical examination of the issues before us, as does his wife, Valerie Plame.

  • http://papertigertail.blogspot.com Other Lisa

    Thank you, Ambassador Wilson, for laying this out so concisely and eloquently.

  • TeakwoodKite

    Ambassador Wilson, Thanks for your perspective. It is always insightful to read what you have to say.

    The similarity of the political landscape of Chicago, that Senator Obama has learned from, and DC under this admin, makes me wonder if Senator Obama knows any different, and will be inclinded to operate in a similar fashion as “K street & Bush”

  • Flineo

    I do like Joe Wilson.

  • Taters

    Thank you for an excellent read, Ambassador Wilson.

  • Retired

    “Mendacity of Hype”–great parody, because it is accurate.

    Joe alludes to an interesting point on Tuzla, i.e., what FLOTUS, as a high-value visiting principal, was briefed, as opposed to the apparent “routine threat” retrospective of the military/intelligence/diplomatic/security types who were on scene and charged with keeping her safe. Having been in such situations myself, I can verify that we tended to “overbrief,” i.e., stress the dangers and the countermeasures that we were taking when briefing touring prinicipals because war zones can often seem deceptively serene to a visitor. We didn’t want the visitors, who in most cases were arriving directly from some peaceful European or U.S. locale, losing sight of the fact that they needed to be constantly attentive as things could go rapidly south at any moment. When one compares Sen, Clinton’s recollections with those of the on-scene types charged with her safety, you can almost see this “overbrief” factor in play.

    • Taters

      Appreciate you weighing in with your expertise, Retired.

      • TeakwoodKite

        I would imagine on 4 hours of sleep after 18 years, one’s recollection would be the memory of being told to “stay frosty”. I mean the body remembers this over what was on the menu that day.

        Thanks Retired, got hand it Chelsea Clinton as well.

        • Retired

          Yes, Bill and Hillary chose a life of politics, Chelsea did not. Nevertheless, she behaves with considerable decorum despite boorish questions by ill-mannered journalists who have the cheek to ask her about her father’s credibility vis-a-vis Monica Lewinsky.

  • ybnormal

    Memo to Axelrod;
    Loyalty matters, especially when it’s earned.

    • http://noquarterusa.net/ SusanUnPC

      Amen.

      But his entire life and career is about manipulating people.

      It’s safe to say that he and his wife simply USED Hillary for that event.

  • http://thehorizontalworld.blogspot.com/ Mary Jo Kopechne

    Thank you for posting this here. I can barely stomach a visit to HuffPo these days.

    It’s so refreshing to read Joe Wilson’s intelligent and articulate analysis. So contrary to the emotional ranting that often passes for analysis.

    Speaking of which, read this by Anglachel. Susan, her piece is worth a guest posting, if you’re so inclined.

    http://anglachelg.blogspot.com/2008/03/gathering-storm.html#comments

    • http://noquarterusa.net/ SusanUnPC

      E-mail her — i don’t have her e-mail — and ask her to e-mail me. Thank you!

  • http://noquarterusa.net/ SusanUnPC

    Everything in Joe’s op-ed is highly important. But this section really got to me:

    David Axelrod, the top Obama political strategist, for one, knows better. After all, he and his wife were direct beneficiaries of Hillary Clinton’s personal kindness and public policy experience when, in the midst of the impeachment trial of her husband, she travelled to Chicago to support Susan Axelrod’s efforts to raise money for her foundation, Citizens United for Research on Epilepsy (CURE), established by her after one of the Axelrod children was afflicted with the malady. As reported in the New York Times in April, 2007 (with thanks to eriposte of the Leftcoaster blog for his research):

    … READ the rest of this story above.

    This story speaks volumes about Hillary Clinton’s character. As it does about David Axelrod’s.

    • http://www.oohnuance.blogspot.com madamab

      This is an amazing piece. Thanks for reprinting it! I don’t usually go to HuffPo due to the Hillary Hatred.

      Hillary Clinton must have a spine of steel to fend off all the backstabbing she’s experienced during her presidential campaign. To think that men like Bill Richardson and David Axelrod have joined the Obama train in order to slake their own lust for power, just makes me sick.

      If I were Senator Clinton, I’d be crying every day, not just tearing up briefly before a tough primary. My admiration for her spirit and toughness is growing more and more. Hillary – you’re my girl!

  • Marjorie

    “. ..the bloody issue of mercenary forces like Blackwater, which Obama states should be allowed to remain part of our military force in Iraq — a position challenged by Senator Clinton, who has called for phasing them out.”
    This is one of Obama’s most difficult positions to understand. And suprisingly few people have pointed it out. It is not a position to endear him to Iraqis in negotiations re: the exiting of US troops.

  • ybnormal

    Joe, there you go again, making sense again, and causing people to think about stuff.

    Speaking of foreign policy, McCain has been on C-Span this morning, fear-baiting as usual.