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Obama may be the next JFK. But which JFK?

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/Getty Images

Two days after Barak Obama's latest foreign-policy gaffe—allowing reporters to see him reading a memo from his campaign advisors on how to spin the war in Iraq—there's a new round whispering among Washington's foreign-policy watchers as to whether the Illinois senator and presidential wannabe can really be taken seriously on these subjects. Similar chatter could be heard this summer after Obama's previous blunders on Pakistan and Israel-Palestine.

This most recent episode occurred during Tuesday's Senate testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker. To be reading a memo about how to politicize the war during their testimony showed incredibly bad taste. Regardless of what you think about their policies, Petraeus and Crocker are risking their lives every day in Iraq. While I'm not naive enough to think politics doesn't play a role in the conflict, a man who wants to be the next commander in chief should have shown more respect. As the Telegraph's Toby Harndon has noted, the screwup is enough to bring into question just how sincere Obama is about changing the culture in Washington.

Obama talks a lot about building consensus. But so far, his performance on the foreign-policy front suggests he and his staff spend most of their time trying to find consensus among themselves. Rumor has it Obama's got a huge cadre of people advising him on foreign policy. It shows. Yesterday in Clinton County, Iowa, he released his plan (pdf) to end the war in Iraq. "The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war," the plan says, "is to begin immediately to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year – now." Then, seven lines later, it says: "Under the Obama plan, American troops may remain in Iraq ..." Depending upon how you read it, it's either annoyingly confused or irresponsibly ambiguous.

Similar confusion can be found in Obama's thinking on Iran. In his Iowa speech yesterday, Obama asserted, "President Ahmadinejad may talk about filling a vacuum in the region after an American drawdown, but he's badly mistaken." Really? Try to find a foreign-policy expert who agrees with that statement. It ain't easy. When FP recently asked more than 100 of America's most respected foreign-policy hands what would happen were the United States to withdraw from Iraq precipitously, which is what Obama is proposing, 75 percent told us Iran would step in to fill the power vacuum left by the United States. In the absence of American forces, what's to stop them? Writing in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama pronounces Bush's policy on Iran a failure, then he proposes the following solution: "Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners." I could be wrong, but isn't that precisely the strategy the Bush administration is pursuing?

In a recent piece for The New Republic, Ted Sorenson wistfully asks, "Is Obama the Next JFK?" Maybe. But the real question is, which John F. Kennedy? The young dynamo remembered favorably by Sorenson and revisionist historians? Or the inexperienced son of privilege who botched an invasion of Cuba and brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation? The jury is still out.

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Bin Laden outpolls Musharraf in Pakistan

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP

Sameer Lalwani argues in a new Web exclusive for FP that the best hope for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan, surprisingly, is to engage and reinforce Gen. Pervez Musharraf's military regime. It's no secret that Musharraf has seen better days, but a recent poll (pdf) by the anti-terrorism organization Terror Free Tomorrow shows just how dismal a state he is in. The general's approval ratings (at 38 percent) failed to surpass public approval for Osama bin Laden, who was seen favorably by 46 percent of respondents. And Musharraf's civilian political rivals, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, were welcomed much more warmly by Pakistanis (they received respective ratings of 63 and 57 percent).

But these numbers actually help Lalwani's argument in a way. He writes in his piece:

A deeply unpopular United States and the prevailing ethnic fissures also render it politically untenable for a civilian government to do Washington’s bidding. Neither Bhutto nor Sharif will crack down on the tribal regions, whatever promises they are privately making these days. 

So, with this much public distrust of the United States (only 4 percent said the United States has had any positive motivation in conducting the war on terror, and 66 percent believed the United States is acting against Islam), it would be difficult to expect a civilian government to be as cooperative in fighting al Qaeda within the country's borders.

Oh, and there is one more thing to worry about: The nukes. Ken Ballen of Terror Free Tomorrow told CNN:

[I]n the one Muslim nation that already has nuclear weapons, people who are intent on using them against us, such as al Qaeda and bin Laden, enjoy more popular support than the people we are trusting such as President Musharraf to safeguard those nuclear weapons.