Obama Memo on Clinton and "Experience"

11 March 2008

Former Clinton administration State Department official (and current Obama foreign policy adviser) Greg Craig just released this memo from the Obama campaign:

To: Interested Parties

From: Greg Craig, former director, Policy Planning Office, U.S. State Department

RE: Senator Clinton's claim to be experienced in foreign policy: Just words?

DA: March 11, 2008

When your entire campaign is based upon a claim of experience, it is important that you have evidence to support that claim. Hillary Clinton’s argument that she has passed “the Commander- in-Chief test” is simply not supported by her record.

There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton played an important domestic policy role when she was First Lady. It is well known, for example, that she led the failed effort to pass universal health insurance. There is no reason to believe, however, that she was a key player in foreign policy at any time during the Clinton Administration. She did not sit in on National Security Council meetings. She did not have a security clearance. She did not attend meetings in the Situation Room. She did not manage any part of the national security bureaucracy, nor did she have her own national security staff. She did not do any heavy-lifting with foreign governments, whether they were friendly or not. She never managed a foreign policy crisis, and there is no evidence to suggest that she participated in the decision-making that occurred in connection with any such crisis. As far as the record shows, Senator Clinton never answered the phone either to make a decision on any pressing national security issue – not at 3 AM or at any other time of day.

When asked to describe her experience, Senator Clinton has cited a handful of international incidents where she says she played a central role. But any fair-minded and objective judge of these claims – i.e., by someone not affiliated with the Clinton campaign – would conclude that Senator Clinton’s claims of foreign policy experience are exaggerated.

  • Northern Ireland:

Senator Clinton has said, “I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland.” It is a gross overstatement of the facts for her to claim even partial credit for bringing peace to Northern Ireland. She did travel to Northern Ireland, it is true. First Ladies often travel to places that are a focus of U.S. foreign policy. But at no time did she play any role in the critical negotiations that ultimately produced the peace. As the Associated Press recently reported, “[S]he was not directly involved in negotiating the Good Friday peace accord.” With regard to her main claim that she helped bring women together, she did participate in a meeting with women, but, according to those who know best, she did not play a pivotal role. The person in charge of the negotiations, former Senator George Mitchell, said that “[The First Lady] was one of many people who participated in encouraging women to get involved, not the only one.”

News of Senator Clinton’s claims has raised eyebrows across the ocean. Her reference to an important meeting at the Belfast town hall was debunked. Her only appearance at the Belfast City Hall was to see Christmas lights turned on. She also attended a 50-minute meeting which, according to the Belfast Daily Telegraph’s report at the time, “[was] a little bit stilted, a little prepared at times." Brian Feeney, an Irish author and former politician, sums it up: “The road to peace was carefully documented, and she wasn’t on it.”

  • Bosnia:

Senator Clinton has pointed to a March 1996 trip to Bosnia as proof that her foreign travel involved a life-risking mission into a war zone. She has described dodging sniper fire. While she did travel to Bosnia in March 1996, the visit was not a high-stakes mission to a war zone. On March 26, 1996, the New York Times reported that “Hillary Rodham Clinton charmed American troops at a U.S.O. show here, but it didn’t hurt that the singer Sheryl Crow and the comedian Sinbad were also on the stage.”

  • Kosovo:

Senator Clinton has said, “I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo.” It is true that, as First Lady, she traveled to Macedonia and visited a Kosovar refugee camp. It is also true that she met with government officials while she was there. First Ladies frequently meet with government officials. Her claim to have “negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo,” however, is not true. Her trip to Macedonia took place on May 14, 1999. The borders were opened the day before, on May 13, 1999.

The negotiations that led to the opening of the borders were accomplished by the people who ordinarily conduct negotiations with foreign governments – U.S. diplomats. President Clinton’s top envoy to the Balkans, former Ambassador Robert Gelbard, said, “I cannot recall any involvement by Senator Clinton in this issue.” Ivo Daalder worked on the Clinton Administration’s National Security Council and wrote a definitive history of the Kosovo conflict. He recalls that “she had absolutely no role in the dirty work of negotiations.”

  • Rwanda:

Last year, former President Clinton asserted that his wife pressed him to intervene with U.S. troops to stop the Rwandan genocide. When asked about this assertion, Hillary Clinton said it was true. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that this ever happened. Even those individuals who were advocating a much more robust U.S. effort to stop the genocide did not argue for the use of U.S. troops. No one recalls hearing that Hillary Clinton had any interest in this course of action. Based on a fair and thorough review of National Security Council deliberations during those tragic months, there is no evidence to suggest that U.S. military intervention was ever discussed. Prudence Bushnell, the Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for Africa, has recalled that there was no consideration of U.S. military intervention.

At no time prior to her campaign for the presidency did Senator Clinton ever make the claim that she supported intervening militarily to stop the Rwandan genocide. It is noteworthy that she failed to mention this anecdote – urging President Clinton to intervene militarily in Rwanda – in her memoirs. President Clinton makes no mention of such a conversation with his wife in his memoirs. And Madeline Albright, who was Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, makes no mention of any such event in her memoirs.

Hillary Clinton did visit Rwanda in March 1998 and, during that visit, her husband apologized for America’s failure to do more to prevent the genocide.

  • China

Senator Clinton also points to a speech that she delivered in Beijing in 1995 as proof of her ability to answer a 3 AM crisis phone call. It is strange that Senator Clinton would base her own foreign policy experience on a speech that she gave over a decade ago, since she so frequently belittles Barack Obama’s speeches opposing the Iraq War six years ago. Let there be no doubt: she gave a good speech in Beijing, and she stood up for women’s rights. But Senator Obama’s opposition to the War in Iraq in 2002 is relevant to the question of whether he, as Commander-in-Chief, will make wise judgments about the use of military force. Senator Clinton’s speech in Beijing is not.

Senator Obama’s speech opposing the war in Iraq shows independence and courage as well as good judgment. In the speech that Senator Clinton says does not qualify him to be Commander in Chief, Obama criticized what he called “a rash war . . . a war based not on reason, but on passion, not on principle, but on politics.” In that speech, he said prophetically: “[E]ven a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” He predicted that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would “fan the flames of the Middle East,” and “strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda.” He urged the United States first to “finish the fight with Bin Laden and al Qaeda.”

If the U.S. government had followed Barack Obama’s advice in 2002, we would have avoided one of the greatest foreign policy catastrophes in our nation’s history. Some of the most “experienced” men in national security affairs – Vice President Cheney and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others – led this nation into that catastrophe. That lesson should teach us something about the value of judgment over experience. Longevity in Washington, D.C. does not guarantee either wisdom of judgment.

  • Conclusion:

The Clinton campaign’s argument is nothing more than mere assertion, dramatized in a scary television commercial with a telephone ringing in the middle of the night. There is no support for or substance in the claim that Senator Clinton has passed “the Commander-in-Chief test.” That claim – as the TV ad – consists of nothing more than making the assertion, repeating it frequently to the voters and hoping that they will believe it.

On the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation – the War in Iraq – Senator Clinton voted in support of a resolution entitled “The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of U.S. Military Force Against Iraq.” As she cast that vote, she said: “This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make -- any vote that may lead to war should be hard -- but I cast it with conviction.” In this campaign, Senator Clinton has argued – remarkably – that she wasn’t actually voting for war, she was voting for diplomacy. That claim is no more credible than her other claims of foreign policy experience. The real tragedy is that we are still living with the terrible consequences of her misjudgment. The Bush Administration continues to cite that resolution as its authorization – like a blank check – to fight on with no end in sight.

Barack Obama has a very simple case. On the most important commander in chief test of our generation, he got it right, and Senator Clinton got it wrong. In truth, Senator Obama has much more foreign policy experience than either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan had when they were elected. Senator Obama has worked to confront 21st century challenges like proliferation and genocide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He possesses the personal attributes of a great leader -- an even temperament, an open-minded approach to even the most challenging problems, a willingness to listen to all views, clarity of vision, the ability to inspire, conviction and courage.

And Barack Obama does not use false charges and exaggerated claims to play politics with national security.

I was going to write an entry on just this topic, but it looks like they beat me to it.


Anonymous said...

This memo is a false argument. If Clinton can't claim experience from being around the president, why is okay for Obama to claim experience by being around a committee - "Senator Obama has worked to confront 21st century challenges like proliferation and genocide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."

What specifically has he done? What action came out of his work on this committe? When did he cross the floor and PROVE that he could unite the senate to voting his way?

The sad hard truth is that Obama really is offering just words and Clinton really is offering just more of the same.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that they do not offer any evidence to support what they claim to be assertions made by Clinton. Did Clinton even make the specific claims that the memo claims she does?

Who really cares if she doesn't have any experience while her husband was in office? I don't. Why would we even expect her to? I don't. Sure, she makes speeches and meets with some people around the globe while being the First Lady. It's not inplausible to believe she may have influenced individuals in a positive manner. That's as much a part of Diplomacy as these closed-door hard-core bouts of Treaty negotiation that Greg Craig is saying she had nothing to do wtih whil eFirst Lady.

What we do know and should care about is that she's been in the Senate for 8 years now, and has chaired arms-committees and so on. So what has she done since she's been in the Senate? Any which way you slice it though, if you apply the same standard to both Clintona nd Obama, Obama just doesn't measure up -- not even close.

Everyone other than Media and Obama's supporters recognize that the glorification of Obama's speech made at an anti-war rall in Chicago in 2002 amounts to one of the biggest instances of arm-chair quarterbacking we (othe rthan the Media and Obama's supporters that is) have ever seen in our collective lives.

Ironically, the fact of the matter is that he claimed 2 years later that his position on Iraq (in 2004) was identical to that of Bush's (in 2004). Just about everyone at attendance during the anti-war rally in 2002 would have argued otherwise: that Bush should be using Diplomacy to bring in the international community - if not outright withdrawing on the basis (they would likely argue) that the war was illegal.

Just about every moderate in the Country recognized that we needed willful and meaningful attempts to win more international assistance.

So why would he say he agreed with Bush's 2004 stance on Iraq (in 2004) given his sentiments in 2002? Oh yeah...he was running for the U.S. Senate, which was largely still in the grips of a wave of zealous patriotism of 9/11 -- as were many of his potential contituents in Illinois (which, in case anyone was wonderng, isn't just Chicago...)

Obama is just like most politicians: he says what you want to hear to make personal political gains. Nothing more, nothing less.

Your job, as an objective voter, is to compare their platforms and pick the one that suits you best.

That's what I would advise you to do, because comparisons between the two on things like experience and integrity isn't really a comparison at all: Obama simply isn't remotely in Clintons league -- about as much as Clinton isn't in McCain's league.

As for economic policy, Obama plans to raise minimum wage and then index it to inflation, which would result in an economic catastrophe. He will send either inflation or interest rates skyrocketing, or a combination of both (depending on which of the two the Feds target). Given his positions on the mortgage crisis, it is most probably that the Feds will target the interest rate (i.e. try to keep it low) and so the rate of inflation will skyrocket. Anyone with a modern rudimentary understanding of economics knows this to be true. If you ask me, I'd be happy to elaborate why this would occur.

In the meantime, if you want to provide any meaningful input into the mud-slinging, then you should certianly comment or post the article "Race Man", which was published in the New Republic not too long ago. The article at least provides many links to corroborate the claims the author makes about what the subjects of his article have said or done.

Samuel Brainsample said...

“Interesting that they do not offer any evidence to support what they claim to be assertions made by Clinton. Did Clinton even make the specific claims that the memo claims she does?”

She did. In fact, there are direct quotes provided in the memo itself (or at least one). Regarding Ireland, she said: “I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland.” Back in January, I remember watching her town hall meetings in New Hampshire. At one of these events (and at several thereafter) she cited a meeting she had with women from both sides of the conflict in Ireland. At this meeting, they apparently were able to find common ground and see each other as not so different after all. At the time, I found it persuasive, and I thought that it bolstered her claims to experience. I thought it indicated that she had actively engaged in peace negotiations. But she failed to mention at the time that this was a meeting with peace activists from both sides. They were already on board. It was not at all a part of the negotiations process. Just a good-will meeting with people who already all agreed on what they wanted. She certainly gave a false impression in her stories regarding Ireland, and now she is being called out on it. In fact, some of the parties involved at the time are calling her claims “a wee bit silly.”

Regarding Kosovo, China and Bosnia, those were the examples she gave to CNN when they asked her for specific examples of foreign policy experiences of hers that prepared her for a “red phone” moment. She directly stated, for example, that she helped “to negotiate to open up borders during the conflict in Kosovo.”

Now, these good-will gestures as First Lady aren’t insignificant. But they certainly are inflated in the way she’s presenting them (such as how she made cork-screw landings under sniper fire… with comedian Sinbad). And given that her main line of argument lately is “I’m ready to answer the red phone and you’re not,” it makes perfect sense to scrutinize the examples she uses to support her claims.

“…has chaired arms committees and so on.”

No, she hasn’t. She sits on the Senate arms services committee (along with 24 other Senators), but does not chair it and never has. This is absolutely relevant experience (and I wish that she’d focus on this instead of exaggerating elsewhere), but it does nothing to really set her apart from Obama (who sits on the Foreign Affairs committee).

“If you apply the same standard to both Clinton and Obama, Obama just doesn’t measure up.”

I disagree. When I look at Clinton, McCain, and Obama, I see three legislators with no executive experience. They’ve all sat on Senate committees, some longer than others, but I don’t see any experience that is directly analogous to what a President does. First-hand crisis-management experience largely went out the window when Richardson and Romney were voted down in favor of our current lot. The largest thing these people have run is their respective campaigns.

Of course their Senate careers are all still very significant. It shows that they’ve dealt with a lot of the issues that a President will have to address, and their legislative records give us a window into what they think like. But regarding Presidential “experience,” I hardly think that you can say that they’re leagues apart.

Also, thanks very much for the comment. I’ll go read that TNR article, and then I’ll try to get back on it. Maybe I’ll write up a post about indexing the minimum wage to inflation, too. I’ve been largely just re-posting links, movies, etc. since the campaign kicked into high gear. I remember a time when I used to care about other things…

Samuel Brainsample said...

“Everyone other than Media and Obama's supporters recognize that the glorification of Obama's speech made at an anti-war rall in Chicago in 2002 amounts to one of the biggest instances of arm-chair quarterbacking we (othe rthan the Media and Obama's supporters that is) have ever seen in our collective lives.

Ironically, the fact of the matter is that he claimed 2 years later that his position on Iraq (in 2004) was identical to that of Bush's (in 2004).”

His position on Iraq was (and is) absolutely not “identical to that of Bush’s.” As I see it, there are three separate issues here: (1) should we have invaded Iraq in the first place; (2) once we have invaded, should we pull out; and (3) should Congress de-fund the war.

With regard to question #1, Obama’s position has been perfectly consistent. When the issue first came up, he opposed it for precisely the reasons most people oppose it today in hindsight (the case hadn’t been made for any imminent threat, we’d get caught in the middle of Sunni/Shia infighting, etc.). Of course he didn’t have a vote on the issue, and he wasn’t under the same political pressure as someone in the Senate (such as McCain and Clinton, who both voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq). But that’s not to say that he wasn’t also under (admittedly lesser) pressure to support the war. Keep in mind that he wasn’t just some schlub on the street. He was an Illinois State Senator. He announced his United States Senate bid not too long after the start of the war. As you say, there was still a "wave of zealous patriotism of 9/11" back in 2002 (probably even more so than in 2004, when you cite this "wave of zealous patriotism" to make your case for political posturing). It probably wasn’t all that politically expedient at the time for “Barack Hussein Obama” to oppose the use of force against “Saddam Hussein Hussein.” Call it “arm-chair quarterbacking” if you like, but it looks like good judgment in hindsight.

With regard to question #2, I believe that this is what your point is aimed at. In a July 27, 2004 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Barack Obama said this:
"On Iraq, on paper, there's not as much difference, I think, between the Bush administration and a Kerry administration as there would have been a year ago," Obama said during a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters of Tribune newspapers. "There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who's in a position to execute."
Obama, a state senator from Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, opposed the Iraq invasion before the war. But he now believes U.S. forces must remain to stabilize the war-ravaged nation -- a policy not dissimilar to the current approach of the Bush administration.
The problem, Obama said, is the low regard for Bush in the international community.
"How do you stabilize a country that is made up of three different religious and in some cases ethnic groups, with minimal loss of life and minimum burden to the taxpayers?" Obama said. "I am skeptical that the Bush administration, given baggage from the past three years, not just on Iraq. ... I don't see them having the credibility to be able to execute. I mean, you have to have a new administration to execute what the Bush administration acknowledges has to happen."

You have to keep in mind, as the interviewer himself states, that this is very different from question #1. He opposed invasion, but didn’t advocate for troop withdrawal at that point (in 2004). According to 2004 Obama, we could do more good by staying than by leaving - particularly if we had a different administration. Of course, 2008 Obama now says that we should in fact withdraw. If you want to argue that that’s inconsistent, that’s fine. That’s a fair argument. But you can probably expect a rebuttal along the lines of “the reconciliation that seemed possible in 2004 seems less likely now in 2008.”

With regard to question #3, that’s another issue entirely, and could warrant a lengthy discussion in itself. You also have to keep in mind the possibility of going about this one the wrong way, and just ending up with an under-funded military that is still in the middle of a war anyway, or a drain of resources from someplace else. Like question #2, though, this one is a wash. Clinton and Obama have had pretty much the same position throughout.

In the end, I think it's misleading to say that his views were "identical" to the President's, or that he's always just been doing the politically expedient thing.

I'm a little tired at the moment, but I'll definitely read that TNR article, and I'll try to get back to you on the economy claims. I'm no expert on how the Fed goes about marking interest rates though, so I may take a while (particularly given all the work I have to do in my real life this week).

Vigilante said...

Glad y'all got the memo!

Samuel Brainsample said...

“This memo is a false argument. If Clinton can’t claim experience from being around the president, why is it okay for Obama to claim experience by being around a committee – ‘Senator Obama has worked to confront 21st century challenges like proliferation and genocide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.’ ”

This is not at all a false argument. When she was asked what crisis-management experience she had, Sen. Clinton cited and drastically exaggerated several very specific issues from the 1990s with which she had virtually nothing meaningful to do. She was simply called out on it. As you say, one cannot absorb crisis-management experience through osmosis simply “from being around the president,” and her proximity to the President makes her no more capable of answering the Bat-Phone at 3 a.m. Far from being a “false argument,” this memo just calls her out on her wild exaggerations. She did not “bring peace to Northern Ireland” and she did not “negotiate open borders” in Kosovo.

As for Sen. Obama, he was not simply “around a committee,” he was on that committee. Furthermore, he has done nothing to denigrate Sen. Clinton’s service on the Armed Services Committee. That is certainly relevant experience for both candidates, and he has never said otherwise. In fact, with regard to dealing with military and international issues, the three Senators running at the moment probably have more experience (albeit legislative, rather than direct) than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan did when they started. But the point of this memo is separate from their Senate experiences. All that this memo is arguing is that Sen. Clinton has greatly exaggerated her foreign policy role as First Lady. Given that she has bolstered her “I’m ready and you’re not” argument with this information, I think that this memo helps to bring her down to earth.

“What specifically has he done? What action came out of his work on this committee? When did he cross the floor and PROVE that he could unite the senate to voting his way?”

With regard to the Foreign Relations Committee, and aside from general discussion and participation in hearings, Obama actually has been pretty active on issues involving nuclear weapons and arms proliferation. That’s exactly what that quote of yours says, as well.

He joined with Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a fellow Foreign Affairs Committee member, to introduce the Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act, and was able to address the issue in an omnibus appropriations bill.

He made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan, focusing on “strategies to control the world's supply of conventional weapons, biological weapons, and weapons of mass destruction.” Along with Dick Lugar (R-IN), he successfully passed the Obama-Lugar bill, which focuses on exactly this issue.

He also successfully passed the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act:

If you have the time, I suggest browsing through the Library of Congress website to get an idea of the kind of legislation Obama has been behind and what he’s been able to accomplish.

Of course none of this is earth-shattering, but Senators don’t really single-handedly change our foreign policies. It’s hard to think off the top of your head of anything earth-shattering that any United States Senator has accomplished in this arena. But what this does show me is that Obama has worked on meat-and-potatoes legislation to make sure that our government is moving pragmatically and competently on important international issues. It’s just what Senators do (aside from casting important votes on war resolutions, etc., which is another window into what they think like).

“The sad hard truth is that Obama really is offering just words and Clinton is really offering just more of the same.”

Let me guess… Ron Paul supporter?