The Race Widens

Long-time consumer advocate Ralph Nader has decided to enter the 2008 presidential race.

For those unfamiliar with Nader’s achievements, I highly recommend the documentary ‘An Unreasonable Man.

In the Democratic battle, Hillary added a hint of sarcasm as she continued her attack of Obama’s campaign:

McCain, Obama Take Wisconsin

John McCain and Barack Obama secured victories tonight in the state of Wisconsin. Obama bested Clinton by a 58-41% margin. McCain beat Huckabee 55% to 37%, with Ron Paul picking up 5% of the vote. McCain also picked up a win in Washington state’s primary.

Earlier this week, McCain received the endorsement of former president George H.W. Bush:

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign began airing negative campaign ads this week. Hillary claims, “My opponent makes speeches, I offer solutions.” That prompted Obama to respond in a Wisconsin rally this weekend:

The Clinton campaign then accused Obama of plagiarising parts of his speech from Massachusetts governor (and Obama-supporter) Deval Patrick:

For a laugh, here are two music videos for the Democratic candidates that have been popular on YouTube over the past couple weeks:

The Hawaiian results also came in, resulting in a 76-24% romp by Obama. The victory marks Obama’s tenth win in a row since Super Tuesday.  Obama now leads the total delegate count 1356-1267 and pledged delegates 1187-1028.

Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont are up next on the schedule, set for Tuesday March 4th.

Romney Endorses McCain; Clinton Takes NM

Mitt Romney has formally endorsed John McCain’s candidacy for president of the United States.  Romney noted their differences but emphasized the importance to back a candidate who remains strong in the fight against Islamic extremism.  Romney urged his pledged delegates to back McCain at the Republican convention, while calling on the Republican party to “come together and make progress” while the Democrats are still fighting.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton emerged as the winner in the close state of New Mexico, where they had been counting ballots for over a week.  Clinton won by a 49-48% margin and secured 14 of the state’s 26 delegates.

Also, the Senate voted on a bill Wednesday that would restrict the interrogation techniques of the CIA to the standard Army rules on interrogation.  Among those successfully voting to defeat the the bill was former Vietnam POW and current presidential hopeful John McCain, a long-time opponent of torture.

Obama Wins Maine; Hillary Shakes Up Campaign

Barack Obama completed his sweep of this weekend’s Democratic primaries by winning the Maine caucus on Sunday. He bested Hillary Clinton by a 59-40% margin, capturing 15 of the 24 available delegates. Obama has now pulled slightly ahead in the delegate count (1143 to 1138), but the race remains in a dead heat.

The Obama camp is looking ahead to this Tuesday’s contests in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, where the Illinois Senator is leading current polls.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has changed her campaign manager, replacing Patti Solis Doyle with Maggie Williams, who served as Clinton’s chief of staff when she was First Lady.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee is challenging John McCain’s slim victory in Washington state. Republican officials named McCain the winner with 87% of the votes tallied, though his lead was just under two percentage points. Huckabee insists he still has a shot to win the nomination:

There are only a few states that have voted. Twenty-seven have not. People in those twenty-seven states deserve more than a coronation, they deserve an election. They deserve to have their voices and their votes heard and counted. I know the pundits, and I know what they say. ‘The math doesn’t work out.’ Folks, I didn’t major in math; I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those, too.”

Based on Huckabee’s 490 delegate lag and McCain’s poll numbers in upcoming states, it looks like it may take something short of a miracle for Huck to win the prize. I guess he is not a fan of math or science.

Between Barack and a Hard Place

It was only a matter of time before I used that corny line.

This Saturday Barack Obama swept the states of Louisiana (57-36%), Nebraska (68-32%), and Washington (68-31%), as well as the Virgin Islands (90-8%). He increased his delegate count to pull within striking range of Hillary’s lead; they now stand at 1123 Clinton, 1120 Obama.

The Democratic battle continues today with Maine’s primary, where 34 delegates will be awarded.  Then Tuesday are the contests in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, awarding 38, 99, and 101 delegates respectively.  Current polls show Obama with double-digit leads in the delegate-rich states of Maryland and Virginia.

In the Republican contest, Mike Huckabee surprised by winning the states of Louisiana (43-42%) and Kansas (60-24%) while making a strong showing in Washington (McCain 26%, Huckabee 24%, Paul 21%, Romney 16%, Undecided 13%).  He captured all 36 delegates from Kansas, while the Louisiana and Washington delegates have yet to be distributed.

John McCain still holds a commanding lead in delegate totals with 724 to Huckabee’s 234.  The Republicans duel on Tuesday in the same locations as Democrats.  They will fight for the 19 delegates in D.C., 37 delegates in Maryland, and 63 delegates in Virginia; both Virginia and D.C. are winner-take-all contests. Look for John McCain to extend his lead on Tuesday, as he is currently leading Maryland and Virginia polls by double-digit margins.

Behind Obama and Clinton

Now that the Democratic field has been whittled down to just two candidates, it is important to highlight the differences between the two. For help, Stephen Zunes from Foreign Policy in Focus takes a look at the advisers behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:

Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.

As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.

The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they’ll be likely to face as president?

Contrasting Teams

Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor – and her likely choice for Secretary of State – is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.

Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power – author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq – and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Contrasting Issues

While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.

While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”

While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.

Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that “the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.

Iraq as Key Indicator

Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.

Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.

Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.

As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.

Pre-War Positions

During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”

By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”

Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.

Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”

By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”

Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.

And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.

These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.

National Security

Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.

Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”

And new approaches are definitely needed.

Super Duper Tuesday

Things are starting to look interesting in the battle to become the next ‘leader of the free world.’ And I use that term with ever-increasing irony…

The real story of the day is the tooth-and-nail fight for the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton holds the lead in total delegates received thus far with 1076; she won eight states and claimed crucial victories in California, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Yet Barack Obama is not far behind with 1006, winning 13 total states and convincing double-digit majorities in eleven of those (Illinois, Georgia, Alabama, Minnesota, and several western states).

The Obama campaign has been gaining momentum in recent weeks; his January fund-raising total of $32 million has cast a lofty shadow over Clinton’s monthly total of $13.5 million. In fact, Clinton has taken a page from the book of Romney and made a personal loan of $5 million to keep her campaign competitive in coming weeks.

On the Republican front, John McCain didn’t do quite as strongly as expected, but finished leaps ahead of his competition. McCain was the only Republican candidate to win more than 50 delegates in any state, accomplishing the feat in the delegate-rich states of California, New York, Missouri, Illinois, Arizona, and New Jersey.

He leads the scorecard of total delegates received thus far in the Republican contest:

  1. McCain 724 (9 states on Super Tuesday)
  2. Romney 281 (7 states)
  3. Huckabee 196 (5 states)
  4. Paul 14 (0 states)      (1,191 delegates needed for victory)

Mitt Romney made gains in many Western states (claiming victories in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, Maine, Alaska, North Dakota, and Montana) while Mike Huckabee played well in mostly southern states (Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and West Virginia). Still, it was John McCain that emerged as the front-runner; he stands in good position to secure the Republican nomination in coming weeks.

Up next on the radar for Republicans is this Saturday’s contest in Louisiana, Washington, and Kansas. The Democrats will compete in Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska, and Maine.