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In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, President Bush was asked what he thought of Sen. Barack Obama. The president used the question to take a jab at some of Obama's foreign policy positions that are at odds with those of the Bush administration.
Here's the full exchange:
Wallace: "Do you think there's a rush to judgment about Barack Obama? Do you think voters know enough about him?"
Bush: "I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad, which — I think I commented that in a press conference when I was asked about it."
Wallace: "I hope not. But you don't think that we know enough about him or what he stands for?"
Bush: "It doesn't seem like it to me, but in campaigns there's plenty of time for candidates to get defined. He is not yet his party's nominee."
Wallace: "So why do you think he's gotten this far if people don't know what he stands for?"
Bush: "You're the pundit. I'm just a simple president."
We find that the president is distorting Obama's position.
On Aug. 1, 2007, Obama gave a major policy speech on fighting global terrorism at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He spoke about the problem of terrorists at large within Pakistan. He said he would continue to provide military aid to Pakistan as long as the authorities there work to close terrorist training camps and prevent the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.
Then Obama added: "I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
The speech received significant press coverage. At that time, Republican candidate John McCain criticized Obama for having "a simplistic view of a very complex situation." McCain advocated the use of covert action "before we declare that we're going to bomb the daylights out of them."
We won't take sides here on the advisability of Obama's foreign policy, but it seems some distance from Bush's synopsis that Obama would "attack Pakistan." It seems clear that Obama does not advocate attacking the country itself, but rather wants to target terrorists within the country whether he has the permission of the Pakistani government or not.
The second part of Bush's statement concerns Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We couldn't find any statements from Obama praising the Iranian leader. We suspect Bush is remembering a point that Sen. Hillary Clinton attacked Obama on last year.
During the CNN/YouTube debate on July 23, 2007, in South Carolina, the Democratic candidates were asked whether, if elected, they would 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?"
Obama said he would. Clinton said she would not, because she didn't want such meetings to be used for propaganda purposes. She later attacked Obama's answer as "irresponsible and frankly naive." Obama, however, has stood by his position, saying it represents a dramatic turn away from the Bush administration's minimal diplomatic efforts.
"As president of the United States, my job is to look out for the national security interests of this country. Iran, in particular because of the bad decision this administration has made by invading Iraq, is a major player in the Middle East," Obama said to reporters in September 2007. "If it is in the United States' interest to make certain that we can stabilize the situation and avoid further military confrontation and curb state-sponsored terrorism they've been involved with, that's something we should be willing to do."
It's clear that Obama wanted to meet with Ahmadinejad as part of an aggressive effort to engage opponents, not to praise him or "embrace" him. Obama called some of Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel and the Holocaust "hateful lies."
George W. Bush may be president, but he's not a stranger to the bare-knuckled world of politics. In this case, he's taking significant liberties with the position of a candidate who could be his party's opponent for the presidency come fall.
Taken individually, Bush's characterization of Obama's remark on Pakistan and his remark on Iran are each inaccurate. Taken together, Bush's statements summarize Obama's foreign policy position — that he would attack an important ally and "embrace" an enemy — in a way that just isn't accurate. We rate Bush's statement False.
Barack Obama campaign Web site, Speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars , Aug. 1, 2008
Associated Press, McCain says Obama is simplistic to warn of bombing Pakistan , Aug. 2, 2007
CNN, Democratic debate transcript , July 23, 2007
Associated Press, Clinton: Obama is 'naive' on foreign policy , July 24, 2007
White House Web site, President Bush Press Conference , Aug. 9, 2007
Associated Press, Obama: Would meet Iranian as president , Sept. 24, 2007
New York Times, Obama Envisions New Iran Approach , Nov. 2, 2007
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