Sen. Barack Obama is, finally, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party -- no mean achievement in this most hotly contested primary race in recent history. He deserves a day or two to bask in this glory -- and certainly the media have been helping this along with fawning coverage of his "historic" achievement as the first African-American to win a major party nomination. But at some point, surely, the press will get back to doing their jobs; namely, asking tough questions of Sen. Obama so that the voting public will learn more about the man who could be their next president.
The media should start by focusing on Sen. Obama's proposals in the foreign policy arena. He has offered a pretty radical vision of what his campaign calls "direct presidential diplomacy," offering to sit down, without preconditions, with some of the world's worst tyrants. He first made the offer in the heat of a presidential debate in which he was trying to contrast his approach with the current occupant of the White House.
In July 2007, Obama was asked by a YouTube questioner, "… would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?" His answer was simple and direct: "I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous."
Since then, he's been hedging and qualifying his statement, most recently with respect to Iran when he addressed the pro-Israel group AIPAC on Wednesday. Obama tried to reassure the attendees -- who are understandably worried about a nuclear-armed Iran, as everyone in the world should be -- by saying he'd engage in "careful preparation" before any talks begin. But then he did what he often does. He pretended he hadn't said earlier what he clearly had: "I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking," he claimed, blaming the confusion on his adversaries.
There are two issues here. One is foreign policy naivete. His original statement suggests he has no idea how diplomacy actually works. As a well-meaning amateur trying to rewrite the rules to conform to his idea of how the world should be, Sen. Obama could endanger the very security he seeks. But the other issue -- and the one the mainstream press has so far largely ignored -- is Sen. Obama's truthfulness.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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