Obama and Foreign Policy

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr opines on presidential candidate Barack Obama's recent comments on U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan.

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DANIEL SCHORR: All for the olden days of presidential politics when foreign policy lines were drawn clearly and sharply, and you took your pick.

LYNN NEARY, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: During World War II, you were an isolationist or you were an internationalist. During the Cold War and the Vietnam War, you were a hawk or you were a dove. In the Nixon-Kennedy encounter, the mother of all television debates, it was who would brandish more intercontinental missiles in Khrushchev's face.

All gone now as evidence in the recent exchange between senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton about who was willing to talk peace with unfriendly leaders during their first term in the White House.

It was an innocent-sounding question delivered from a YouTube video during the Charleston debate. But it may be the best-remembered exchange of the Democratic campaign so far. Obama said he was willing to talk to unfriendly countries because it's ridiculous to act as though not talking is punishment.

Senator Clinton, perceiving an opportunity, said that she would not promise any first year of summits with unfriendly leaders because she didn't want to be used for propaganda purposes. Obama got more applause in the auditorium, but opinion polls indicated that Clinton had managed to frame the issue as freshness versus experience, and experience had more takers among the American public.

Obama then sought to emphasize his toughness in his speech shifting emphasis from the Iraq War to a broader fight against Islamic extremism. He said he would send American forces into Pakistan, if necessary, to deal with the terrorist threat if Pakistan's President Musharraf failed to take adequate measures. This presented a new wrinkle in the peacenik-versus-tough-guy argument.

In opposing the Iraq War, Obama wasn't being assaulty(ph), he wasn't against fighting, he just wanted to fight some other place - Afghanistan for one, maybe Pakistan.

What complicates the debate about the use of force is that global terrorism presents no clear boundaries, such as the marginal line or the Iron Curtain. It was certainly a lot easier to follow the argument when there were hawks and doves.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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