National Opinions

Editorial comments regarding Obama's views on foreign policy:

New York Daily News: Sen. Barack Obama remarkably out-Bushed and out-Cheneyed Sen. Hillary Clinton when he veered from willingness to picnic with despots to declaring he would launch a strike in Pakistan -- should he have intelligence re Osama bin Laden's hideout, and should Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf balk at action.

It would not be unreasonable, under the right circumstances, to bombard an al-Qaeda aerie in Pakistan. But saying so outright is not a display of presidential wisdom. Pakistan is, after all, a nuclear-capable ally under intense pressure from Muslim hard-liners.

Thursday, Obama was less than surefooted when asked if he could ever see going nuclear in that region to defeat terrorism. He replied: "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance." And then he said: "Involving civilians." And then he said: "That's not a hypothetical that I'm going to discuss."

He'll need a minute to work it out.

Chicago Tribune: President Barack Obama might bomb Iran. But he wouldn't have deposed Saddam Hussein and invaded arch enemy Iraq. Then again, he might send troops into Pakistan, a major ally, to hunt down terrorists.

A while back, Obama called for an increased military commitment by the United Nations or NATO in Sudan to prevent genocide. But preventing possible genocide, he said, isn't a good enough reason to stay in Iraq.

And, yes, he said last week he'd be happy to sit and talk with America's worst enemies without preconditions.

So ... what's his foreign policy again? Yes, we know it's early. We know the candidates are still crafting messages, foreign and domestic. But those and other seemingly inconsistent responses have created questions about Obama's experience and toughness. Is he a swaggering interventionist or a closet pacifist? Sen. Hillary Clinton has exploited the opportunity, painting Obama as "naive." That's a dangerous word for him. It exploits his chief vulnerability, his relative inexperience in government. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll released recently shows Clinton pulling away from Obama and the rest of the Democratic primary field on the strength of her perceived experience and competence.

You get the sense Obama's campaign should carry a warning: Danger! Foreign policy under construction.

This has been an ongoing issue. In a meeting last year with the Chicago Tribune editorial board, for instance, Obama came on strong, suggesting that bombing Iran to stop its nuclear program would be an option in his presidency. That made headlines and suggested a more muscular foreign policy than other Democrats traditionally espouse.

But in recent months, Obama seemed to lose his swagger. In one debate, he muffed a question about how he would respond militarily to a hypothetical Al Qaeda strike on two American cities. "Well, the first thing we would have to do is make sure that we've got an effective emergency response, something that this administration failed to do when we had a hurricane in New Orleans."

Clinton cleaned up: "I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate."

On Wednesday, the Obama swagger reappeared. He warned Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, that if he didn't take out terrorists in his midst, President Obama would. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," he said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

We wouldn't quarrel with him about the sentiment in that, though the nation has learned that "actionable intelligence" isn't necessarily as clear-cut in practice as it is in political debate.

But, bottom line: Is there an Obama Doctrine in all these talking points? His best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope," doesn't offer one.

Obama calls in the book for a "revised foreign policy framework that matches the boldness and scope of Truman's post-World War II policies--one that addresses both the challenges and the opportunities of a new millennium, one that guides our use of force and expresses our deepest ideals and commitments." But then, he writes: "I don't presume to have this grand strategy in my hip pocket."

He might want to check his pocket again.

  Comments