What's most disturbing to me about Barack Obama's close relationship with Jeremiah Wright is what it suggests about how he would make decisions on crucial foreign policy matters.
In his speech, Obama argued that while he in no way excuses any of Wright's offensive statements, it is important to view them in the larger context of a black community that has suffered from oppression in America. But it's quite easy to see how Obama could translate this type of attitude to international affairs.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for instance, Obama has already declared that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." Given his attitude toward Wright, it's quite likely he's of the mindset that Palestinian terrorism has to be viewed within the prism of the suffering of the population. And if he's willing to embrace Wright, warts and all, is it that far off to wonder if he'd at least be willing to view the likes of Hamas in a more favorable light than they deserve? Would he be assuaged by Arafat-esque double talk in which the terrorist group makes phony overtures of peace while continuing to pursue violence? This isn't just about Israel. I was at a townhall meeting last year in which Obama embraced the view that there are only 10,000 "hardcore" terrorists in the world, and they are able to gain new recruits because of economic hardship. His solution was to double foreign aid.
Obama's defenders would argue that it's a wild stretch on my part to equate his attitude toward Wright to his views on terrorism, but herein lies the central challenge in assessing Obama's candidacy. Because he has such a thin public record, we have very little basis on which to judge how he would govern as president. As a result, we are forced to make educated guesses by looking at statements he's made and evaluating the company he keeps.
The biggest fear I have always had with an Obama administration is that he doesn't have much experience, so he would draw on what little he does have. Unfortunately, very little, if any, of that experience is relevant to being commander in chief during a time of war. When I heard him speak at the AIPAC conference last year, Obama declared that, "One of the enemies we're going to have to fight, is not just terrorists, it's not just Hezbollah, it's not just Hamas, it's also cynicism." So, when pressed to make a statement on one of the most complex and protracted conflicts of the past century, his reflex was to frame the issue in the terms of his standard stump speech about how we can solve any problem by replacing cynicism with hope. He could have just as easily been talking about passing universal health care or making college more affordable.
If you were to look at Obama's record in the most favorable light, you could paint the portrait of a man who is serious about trying to bring people together. A man who united different groups and churches around a single purpose as a community organizer, a man who gave a fair hearing to liberal and conservative viewpoints as a constitutional law instructor, a legislator who worked with Republicans in the Illinois state senate to pass a bill requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases, and a U.S. Senator who cooperated with staunch conservative Tom Coburn on earmarks transparency.
In all of those instances, Obama worked together with people who may not have agreed on everything, but of whom he could at least assume good faith. However, when you're dealing with terrorists and our other enemies on the world stage, you cannot assume the same level of good faith. And yet Obama has already promised to meet, without preconditions, in the first year of his administration, with a rogues gallery of international dictators. His willingness to embrace a hatemonger like Wright because of the man's manifest suffering just adds another piece to a rather disturbing puzzle.
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