Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Obama's backchannel to Kenya

From "Obama's Other Life", by Joe Klein in Time.

One of the more extraordinary stories of the Obama campaign has been playing out behind the scenes over the past week as the candidate has been working on a daily basis to try to calm things down in his father's homeland and his grandmother's home, Kenya, where a contested election has led to riots. ...

On January 3, the day of the caucuses, he had a conversation with Bishop Desmond Tutu, who had flown to Nairobi to see if he could begin negotiations with the factions. In the days since his Iowa victory, Obama has had near-daily conversations with the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya or with opposition leader Raila Odinga. As of late this afternoon, before his rally in Rochester, N.H., Obama was trying to reach Kenyan President Kibaki.

We don't know what the content of these discussions were but on the face of things they touched base with the US ambassador to Kenya which suggests some coordination with official policy. Talks with Raila Odinga might be a worry though. Odinga claims he is Obama's cousin and has reached an agreement with Muslim groups to insitutionalize sharia law in parts of Kenya.


Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Which just re-inforces Clinton campaign surrogates Bob Kerrey and other's views that Obama is a "stealth Muslim."

1/09/2008 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Let's give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt for a moment, as an intellectual exercise if nothing else. There are lots of US citizens with different backgrounds who can employ their connections to effect.

But the key problem is always how to avoid getting caught in the middle and being distrusted by both sides. In Tutu's case, for example, his commonality with the Kenyans is his negritude, but on the other hand his value also lies in being an outsider to the Kenyan ethnic rivalries. One of the more important requirements of a mediator is ironically to be a "stranger" to the situation.

The other problem, which Chavez recently learned about to his cost, is that both sides will try to manipulate you if they can. The important thing is not to become part of the problem. I think that's the big danger for Obama.

He has done well by keeping quiet about it. But I think at some point Odinga is going to shoot his mouth off and drag Obama into it.

1/09/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger baldilocks said...

Which just re-inforces Clinton campaign surrogates Bob Kerrey and other's views that Obama is a "stealth Muslim."

Or--since this has the Bush Administration blessing and Odinga is a relative of Obama's--it will shore up Obama's FP credentials and make Clinton and co. look like ill-informed bigots.

1/09/2008 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

I read that article earlier and didn't see anything that would condemn Obama or even attribute any bad intentions to him. That being said his willing continuation in the process indicates that he is not adverse to cozying up to militant Islamists.

We should never, never elect anybody to any political office who has even the slightest stink of Islam on them.

1/09/2008 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Unless there's a smoking gun somewhere showing Obama in conversation with some terrorist his connection to Islamic groups will be circumstantial.

The more dangerous possibility for Obama is that Islamic organizations, influenced by all this buzz, will actually conclude, "right, he's one of us", whether or not he is. People act on perception as much as they do upon fact. By creating the online perception that Obama "is a Muslim" there is the chance that whatever he may be, he will effectively be a Muslim.

To manage this problem Obama can come flat out and say. "Read my lips. I am not a Muslim. Repeat. Not a Muslim." That's called taking control of your brand. Taking control of your online reputation. Taking control of your image.

There are good business and political reasons to define your identity. Leaving things vague is sometimes useful but often it is not.

1/09/2008 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

I think Wretchard's point about the dangers for Obama here is a more subtle one. Obama risks running into what we might call 'the colonial paradox'.

This is the way that, in dealing with the third world, no matter how pure your motives may be, or no matter how much good there was in your mixed motives (and to have mixed motives is to be human) sooner or later someone is going to turn around and try to blame your intervention for causing some major aspect of the whole sorry mess.

Further, no matter how absurd the claim or how flimsy the evidence, and no matter how obviously your accuser is seeking to shift blame away from himself, if you have political enemies at home then these charges will find an eager audience.

C'est la vie, unfortunately.

1/09/2008 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Anyone who can have influence in the maelstrom that is Africa; that is a good thing for humanity. But other than a few Al Qaida recruits, Kenya is off the threat radar screen.
This doesn't tell us anything about Obama's toughness to deal with Pakistan, hard charging China or rogue Russia or nutty Iran.Of course his stable mates in the donkey party aren't very impressive either.

1/09/2008 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard -- politics ain't beanbag. To quote Mr. Dooley.

The following attack ad just writes itself:

"Senator Obama -- you've been working with your cousin Raila Odinga in Kenya to help win the Presidency in Kenya. He has agreed with the Muslim League to rewrite the Kenyan Constitution to make Islam the only religion and institute Sharia.

Is this your plan for America?"

Tough but that's the downside of throwing your weight around on the side of relatives. You own their negatives.

A 527 "Swift Boat" style organization will surely run them. And Republicans must be drooling over the possibilities.

The problem would exist for Obama if he did nothing. By actively trying to "help" his cousin he know owns all the negatives their solidly. He can't "disown" it because it will appear a dishonest lie along the lines of Ron Paul's "disavowal" of his own newsletter.

Disaster for Obama. And just what Hillary predicted: unvetted candidates can be disasters.

1/09/2008 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

People will put words in your mouth if you don't supply words of your own. The way to create a default message when none is supplied is to establish a reputation. A reputation, especially an online reputation, is arguably the greatest asset any vendor, pundit or public figure owns in the Internet age.

Because he's a Democrat, Obama's reputation will automatically be one thing unless he takes steps, as I said earlier, to "own" his brand, to control his image. The parent company (Democrat) has a brand image of being the party of appeasement. That's a deadly mix with the word "Muslim".

If Obama were hypothetically a Republican and was calling Kenya, it would be very different because the parent brand stands for "War on Terror". Most conservatives would probably see his vague Muslim-type aura as a plus. As in "just you wait until we get our take-no-prisoners American Jihad guy on your ass".

But since Obama's not a Democrat the odds are that the spinmasters are going to do everything possible to put "Sharia", "Obama" and "Odinga" in the same sentence. They way out for Obama is to actively populate his online rep by leaving no ambiguity.

1/09/2008 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

That also has the advantage of "committing" him to a position which will not only make it hard for conservatives to attack but also hard for him to renege upon. If he nails his colors to the mast he's going to keep it there.

His tactical problem is that his political base won't stand for a tough national security stand. In a way, Obama's rep problems stem from the Democratic party and base more than anything else.

1/09/2008 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Doc99 said...

Were Obama to appear tough on National Security, he wins. He already has the optimism thing down. All he needs now is to project the image of a take charge guy.

1/09/2008 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Very good point Wretchard.

But I think the issue goes deeper than that. Obama's "Dreams of My Father" goes on and on and on ... about his African heritage and all that. Multiculti nonsense because it appealed to rich white yuppies. Who as you point out are really the Democratic Party.

Obama already has nailed his colors to the mast. In his autobiography. He notes how he drops one Kenyan half-brother who is a Physics Phd who loves Classical Music and having been raised in Kenya knows it well and could care less about it.

Obama has already committed himself to negotiations with Iran and normalization. Even putting a new Embassy there (presumably for extra-easy hostage taking). There is no sanity whatsoever in the Democratic Party. No one to mention that not every place on Earth resembles a cocktail party in Pacific Heights.

If anything Obama makes Jimmy Carter look bold and decisive in foreign affairs. Hillary is only marginally better, I think Camille Paglia nailed Hillary's problems with men and military operations in her piece in Salon.

And of course it's not just Obama calling some guy in Kenya. It's Obama calling his COUSIN in Kenya. Who wants to enforce Sharia and Islam.

Now, "cousin" is probably stretching things considerably. Odinga is probably very distantly related. But Joe Average American looks at Obama calling his "cousin" who wants Sharia Law and figures -- "AQ sympathizing stealth Muslim." And I'm sure Hillary would *never* use something like that! on anyone. Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Elizabeth Gracen, all can testify to the upright behavior of Hillary.

But of course in winning, Hillary also damages the Parent Brand. If Brand Democrats will consider a "AQ sympathizing stealth Muslim" then what does that make Hillary?

Never underestimate a narrowly based party's stupidity. I doubt seriously any Democrat even understands after thirty years of American flags being burnt in riots, hostages, terrorist bombings, punctuated by 9/11 and beheading videos the issue Joe Average has with Muslims.

Because no one at the Pacific Heights cocktail party has problems.

1/10/2008 12:40:00 AM  
Blogger Salt Lick said...

"There are lots of US citizens with different backgrounds who can employ their connections to effect."

Right, but those citizens, especially a President, must accept, first and foremost, a primary duty to protect and defend the US Constitution and US security.

Given Obama's apparent ambivalence about American exceptionalism -- his refusal to wear a flag lapel pin, his forgetting to cover his heart with his hand during the national anthem, his liberal politics, etc, etc -- my principal concern is whether he would "protect and defend" the US Constitution and security or work to reconcile them, in the best multicultural fashion, with America's equals in the world community.

Before I left to serve two years in the Peace Corps in Kenya, I enthusiastically gave my first vote to a man who reminds me very much of Obama -- Jimmy Carter. It was the last time I voted Democrat.

BTW, does Obama speak swahili?

Kwaheri, tuta onana.

1/10/2008 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger baldilocks said...

BTW, does Obama speak swahili?

Probably not since he wasn't raised in Kenya. There are always translators, however.

See ya later. :-)

1/10/2008 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Salt Lick said...

Right, Baldi, but first generation kids often pick up some of the "old country" language at home (a few swear words if nothing else). That's why George Bush, being from Texas, speaks some Spanish. :-)

1/10/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger baldilocks said...

Saltlick: I thought Obama's bio was well-known; he was raised in Indonesia and the USA without his father and his mother is American. So there was no chance of him learning Swahili in the manner you specified.

1/10/2008 04:35:00 PM  

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