Clinton vs Obama: The 'Fact Check' War
"Sen. Obama Shifts On Using American Forces In Iraq To Blunt Iranian Threat"
--Posting on Hillary Clinton "The Fact Hub" site, December 4, 2007.
"Fact Check: Clinton's False Claim that Obama Shifted on Iran
--Posting on Barack Obama "Fact Check" site, December 4, 2007.
I don't know about the rest of you, but the true Fact Checker finds these faux "Fact Check" sites quite disorientating. By "faux," I mean that their purpose is not really to set the record straight, but to attack political rivals. Most of the posts on the Hillary Clinton "Fact Hub" site are devoted to attacking Barack Obama. Similarly, over on Obama's "Fact Check" site, the truth-squadding is primarily directed against Clinton. Surprise, surprise.
The two posts above--"Obama Shifts" and "Clinton's False Claim"--are models of their kind. Each campaign uses quotes selectively to attack the other side and to accuse the rival candidate of distorting the truth. It is so artfully done that it can be difficult to sort out the true facts. But let's take a stab at it.
Both Clinton and Obama have outlined plans for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. I looked at these plans here and here. While there are some differences between their plans, both candidates have talked about keeping a residual force in Iraq to battle Al-Qaeda and protect U.S. interests in the country. Both candidates have also said that it is in the U.S. "national interest" to counter the influence of Iran.
Here is what Obama had to say on Iraq and Iran in a November 2006 speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:
It is conceivable that a significantly reduced U.S. force might remain in Iraq for a more extended period of time [if the Iraqi government fulfills a number of conditions, including disbanding militias and moving toward political reconciliation.] Such a reduced but active presence will also send a clear message to hostile countries like Iran and Syria that we intend to remain a key player in this region.
He then called for stepped-up diplomacy, leading to a Middle East Peace conference, and added the following:
Make no mistake - if the Iranians and Syrians think they can use Iraq as another Afghanistan or a staging area from which to attack Israel or other countries, they are badly mistaken. It is in our national interest to prevent this from happening.
During a debate on NPR on Tuesday, Obama attacked Clinton for voting for a September 2007 Senate resolution, known as the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, that draws a link between the U.S. military presence in Iraq and containment of the Iranian threat. (See page 7 for the language on Iran.) The resolution then continues:
It is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from turning Shi'a militia extremists in Iraq into a Hezbollah-like force that could serve its interests inside Iraq, including by overwhelming, subverting, or co-opting institutions of the legitimate Government of Iraq.
The Clinton campaign claims that there is no significant difference between this language and Obama's November 2006 speech. Stripped down to their essentials, both statements talk about using a residual force in Iraq to send "a clear message" to Iran. The Obama campaign argues that the message that Obama wants to send Iran is primarily a diplomatic one, not a military one.
It seems fairly clear what is happening here. Obama is attempting to maximize his differences with Clinton because he wants to present himself as the candidate of "change" and "new ideas." Clinton is trying to minimize the policy differences, and present herself as the more experienced, battle-tested candidate.
The Pinocchio Test
There are real differences between the candidates on Iraq. Obama has presented a clearer timetable for withdrawal than his rival. Unlike Clinton, he can also claim to have opposed the Iraq war all along. Nevertheless, on the substance of this particular exchange, the Clinton camp has the better of the argument.
Obama has stated that it is in the "national interest" of the United States to prevent Teheran from turning Iraq into "another Afghanistan." He is also on record as saying that a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq will send a "clear message" to countries like Iran. Set against the background of these statements, his current insistence that he will contain Iran entirely through diplomacy seems somewhat tortuous. Two Pinocchios for him.
On the other hand, the Clinton "Fact Hub" site takes Obama's quotes out of context, and over-simplifies his position. One Pinocchio for her.
| December 6, 2007; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: 1 Pinocchio, 2 Pinocchios, Barack Obama, Candidate Watch, Iraq, Other Foreign Policy
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