Throwing cold water on hopes that a Democratic victory in 2008 would lead to a different foreign policy for the United States, Edward Luce, the Washington bureau chief of the London Financial Times, wrote on Sunday that "the imperative — in the words of a Bill Clinton foreign policy adviser — of 'never allowing your competitors to get to the right of you on Israel'" still appears to apply to the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.[1]  --  Luce marginalizes and silences the voice of, in particular, Dennis Kucinich by taking an interest only in "the leading Democrats," and notes that "None . . . has challenged the broader framework of Mr. Bush's war on terror."  --  But he also observes that "what you say on the campaign trail often bears no relation to what you do in office" and that "the Bush administration has quietly made 180-degree turns over the past 18 months. . . . The Bush doctrine has been abandoned, even if the Bush administration pretends it has not." ...


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TOUGH IS TIMID FOR DEMOCRATS ON DIPLOMACY
By Edward Luce

Financial Times (UK)
June 17, 2007

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/5f1a80a8-1cf9-11dc-9b58-000b5df10621.html

In 1999 Hillary Clinton almost sunk her New York Senate seat prospects when, then first lady, she had the temerity to kiss Suha Arafat, the wife of the late Palestinian leader, on the cheek. The resulting furore taught her a lesson about the strength of America's pro-Israeli lobby and the imperative -- in the words of a Bill Clinton foreign policy adviser -- of "never allowing your competitors to get to the right of you on Israel."

Eight years later, the Democratic presidential frontrunner is following that advice to the letter.

So are her competitors for the nomination. This year Barack Obama was widely pilloried for suggesting that "no one has suffered more than the Palestinian people *from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region*."

All that was quoted back at Mr. Obama by his critics was the non-italicized portion of the passage.

At a recent Democratic debate on religion, Mr. Obama was careful to avoid repeating his mistake. When asked about his faith in the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, he said he hoped that Israelis would have it in their hearts to forgive the Palestinians. "And that is where I think faith can inform what we do," he said.

In America and in many parts of the world it is assumed that the U.S. will make an abrupt change of course after January 2009 when whoever replaces President George W. Bush takes the oath of office. To judge from the evolving platforms of the leading Democratic candidates, that assumption might prove overblown (given that most of the Republican candidates recently said they would consider the use of tactical nuclear strikes to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, this piece focuses on the Democrats).

With the exception of John Edwards, who says Mr. Bush's "war on terror" is a "bumper sticker" but has done little to explain his underlying thinking, the foreign policy stances of the leading Democrats are notable for their caution. All of them call for a more robust use of diplomacy -- including in the Israel-Palestinian context, but also with Iran and Syria. And all of them call for a better use of America's "soft power" by working more effectively with allies and "restoring America's moral authority," notably through the closure of Guantánamo.

None, however, including Mr. Edwards, has challenged the broader framework of Mr. Bush's war on terror. Again, Mr. Obama strayed in a recent debate when he suggested that his first response as president to another terrorist attack on America's soil would be to ensure that emergency services were functioning and to find out whether more attacks were coming.

That, apparently, was the wrong answer. Later in the debate Mr. Obama did his best to emulate the answers of his colleagues, which were to "retaliate swiftly" and "do everything we can to destroy them," in the words of Mrs. Clinton.

The same applies to their positions on Iran, in which every Democratic candidate has underlined that they would leave "no options off the table," including the possibility of military strikes.

Then there is defense spending. Mr. Bush has proposed increasing the size of the U.S. military by 92,000 troops by 2012. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama both recommend an expansion of between 80,000 and 100,000 troops.

All of which is sensible politics. On almost every count, whether it is the economy, disengaging from Iraq, healthcare, or the environment, the American public trusts Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin. But on national security -- the Democrats' traditional Achilles heel -- the public still leans towards the Republicans.

Neutralizing that vulnerability makes sense even if, in the words of Steve Clemons, a Washington-based foreign policy critic, it conveys a certain "fear of flying" on the part of those who would be president. As for expectations that the U.S. will change its stance towards the world after January 2009, Mr. Bush himself demonstrates that what you say on the campaign trail often bears no relation to what you do in office. In 2000 he campaigned for a "humbler foreign policy."

But perhaps the most accurate response to those who are expecting a big change in the way the U.S. engages with the world is to point out what has already happened. Whether it is its approach to Iran, North Korea, or the Israel-Palestinian dispute, the Bush administration has quietly made 180-degree turns over the past 18 months. The difference between Condoleezza Rice's approach to diplomacy and that of Vice-President Dick Cheney is larger than the one that divides Ms. Rice from Mrs. Clinton. The Bush doctrine has been abandoned, even if the Bush administration pretends it has not.

--The writer is the FT's Washington bureau chief.