20 September 2008

Hagel et. al.: Obama Did Not Interfere with Negotiations

So you might have heard this story, first presented by Amir Taheri in the New York Post, that Barack Obama “tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.” This violation of the Logan Act, which "forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments," allegedly occurred during a July meeting with Nouri Al-Maliki:

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

Sounds pretty horrific, no? A candidate who places his personal ambition at a higher priority than the safety of American troops in Iraq is cynical and traitorous in such plotting. So what does the Obama campaign have to say about it? Apparently, Taheri’s account is a complete distortion of the Iraq discussion:

"Barack Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations," said Obama campaign national security spokesperson Wendy Morigi, "nor has he urged a delay in immediately beginning a responsible drawdown of our combat brigades."

Well, we’d expect the campaign to say that, wouldn’t we? A case of CYA, right?
Not so fast, guys and gals.

ABC News's Jake Tapper has been looking into this, and he points outs a few problems with Taheri's tale in a column of his own: "Undermining McCain Attack, Republicans Back Obama's Version of Meeting with Iraqi Leaders."

Firstly, Taheri neglected to mention that several people attended this private meeting, including Ryan Crocker (the US Ambassador to Iraq), Senator Jack Reed, Senator Chuck Hagel, Bush administration officials, and “Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers from both parties.” And guess what? All of those people, Republicans and Democrats alike, support the Obama campaign’s version of the event “and dispute the Post story and McCain attack." These corrections to Taheri's story include the following statements:

[Hagel spokesman Mike] Buttry said that Hagel agrees with Obama's account of the meeting: Obama began the meeting with al-Maliki by asserting that the United States speaks with one foreign policy voice, and that voice belongs to the Bush administration.

A Bush administration official with knowledge of the meeting says that, during the meeting, Obama stressed to al-Maliki that he would not interfere with President Bush's negotiations concerning the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, and that he supports the Bush administration's position on the need to negotiate, as soon as possible, the Status of Forces Agreement, which deals with, among other matters, U.S. troops having immunity from local prosecution.

There you have it: Taheri's version didn't happen: Obama supports the current administration's policy decisions. Yet, despite the Obama campaign’s refutation of Taheri’s article, the columnist’s allegations have become the new meme for those to the political right: Obama has attempted to interfere with national policy in order to further his personal goals. John McCain’s campaign has referenced the article, as have bloggers and broadcast pundits such as Rush Limbaugh.

Certainly, the Obama campaign will continue to battle this story, and chances are that the media will soon pick up on Tapper’s findings. It would be interesting to see if Jim Lehrer or John McCain broach this matter during the coming foreign policy debate. If so, it could be dire for John McCain if he beats this horse only to have it revealed that he’s relying on faulty intelligence that can be refuted by several witnesses to the “private meeting.”

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