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July 21, 2008

Barack Obama’s Verbiage Demonstrates Insecurity with Global Affairs


Having begun campaigning for the presidency practically upon his election to federal office, Barack Obama is running on a little more than his experience as an Illinois state senator. Obama has barely spent any time in the U.S. Senate, has developed no significant familiarity with diplomatic processes or foreign policy, and unlike governors who have become presidents, he has no executive experience to compensate for his inability to understand international affairs or create cohesive teams and policies to address them.


Global affairs thus clearly represent a weak point for Obama. His most recent speech addressing the War on Terror, in fact, appears to contain hints of his insecurity on the subject. In an effort to show off his understanding of geography and global nuances, Obama jam-packed his speech with excessive yet pointless geographic references that added nothing substantively, but were intended to give more legitimacy to his words by, well, adding more words.


What follows are a few examples, all coming from the War on Terror speech Obama made last week:


“From the cave-spotted mountains of northwest Pakistan, to the centrifuges spinning beneath Iranian soil, we know that the American people cannot be protected by oceans or the sheer might of our military alone.”


Lee Greenwood does sing “From the lakes of Minnesota, to the hills of Tennessee,” but Obama might be forgetting that he is making a serious policy speech, not singing to his adoring fans. References to “cave-spotted mountains” and “Iranian soil” as opposed to just, say, Iran, are examples of unnecessary verbosity. But it wouldn’t be that bad if it was Obama’s only weird statement. He goes on:


As president, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy – one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin.


So, in other words, we have interests across the world. Or around the globe, if you will. Or throughout Europe and Asia. Listing seven random cities, though intended to convey Obama’s knowledge and intelligence, is mere filler for a speech severely lacking substance. Serious policy speeches simply don’t do that.


Both America and Iraq will be more secure when the terrorist in Anbar is taken out by the Iraqi Army, and the criminal in Baghdad fears Iraqi Police, not just coalition forces. Both America and Iraq will succeed when every Arab government has an embassy open in Baghdad, and the child in Basra benefits from services provided by Iraqi dinars, not American tax dollars.”


First of all, Barack, if you want to list different locations in Iraq to show off your familiarity with them, you shouldn’t talk about “the terrorist in Anbar,” who has been cleaned out of Anbar thanks in part to the same surge you opposed. Second, what’s with “the child in Basra?” Why couldn’t the terrorist, the criminal, the embassies and the children all be in Baghdad, where they are most likely to be? Why unnecessarily double the length of that paragraph when it wastes precious seconds of free media you could otherwise capitalize on?


Al Qaeda has an expanding base in Pakistan that is probably no farther from their old Afghan sanctuary than a train ride from Washington to Philadelphia.”


Yes, it might look a lot like it if you have a ruler and a map. It would be exactly the same thing, in fact, if it weren’t for the lack of railroad tracks. And the absence of a road with the smoothness and convenience of I-95. And the existence of a terrain with a degree of difficulty that makes walking to Philadelphia from Washington feel like going from one end of Obama’s campaign bus to the other. And all the bearded guys with guns. But other than that, the two places are pretty much the same.


“Just as we succeeded in the Cold War by supporting allies who could sustain their own security, we must realize that the 21st Century’s frontlines are not only on the field of battle – they are found in the training exercise near Kabul, in the police station in Kandahar, and in the rule of law in Herat.”


Oh, look at that, Obama has now been caught using Kandahar in two different lists in the same speech! He is starting to run out of cities. But again, there is no reason the training exercise, the police station, and the rule of law can’t all be in the same place. Even more to the point, “the rule of law in Afghanistan” would have gotten the same exact message across.


As the presidential nominee of one of America’s two major political parties, we trust that Obama has someone on his staff who can pull up Afghani cities on Wikipedia – there is no need to list them for the speech to be a solid one.


“Now, we worry – most of all – about a rogue state or nuclear scientist transferring the world's deadliest weapons to the world's most dangerous people: terrorists who won’t think twice about killing themselves and hundreds of thousands in Tel Aviv or Moscow, in London or New York.”


This is one geographic list that might have been somewhat acceptable had it not been accompanied by the world’s every other geographic reference in the same speech. But even so, it sheds light on some sort of strange fetish with sounding cosmopolitan in some ways, as if the goal is to further attract the coffee-shop types that are already inebriated by Obama anyway.


We ship nearly $700 million a day to unstable or hostile nations for their oil. It pays for terrorist bombs going off from Baghdad to Beirut. It funds petro-diplomacy in Caracas and radical madrasas from Karachi to Khartoum.”


And there we have it, Karachi also makes its second appearance! And yet another long-winded statement that could be condensed into something less poetic and more worthy of a superpower’s foreign policy.


Compare Obama’s speech with serious foreign policy speeches, old and new. Obama’s, in comparison, will inevitably sound like a perverted version of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”


It is unfortunate, and even somewhat worrying. If Obama wants to become president of the United States, the least he can do is deliver serious and mature policy speeches. The old retired woman in upstate New York’s tundra, the exotic dancer on the beaches of Miami, and the children sweating in the heat of Arizona’s playgrounds – you know, Americans – expect no less.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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