The Epistemology of Connections

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"The Epistemology of Connections"


Barack Obama has a stated Middle East policy. He also has a set of foreign policy advisers. And beyond the relatively narrow group of people who’ve been Obama’s national security team from the beginning he, as the Democratic nominee, now draws on the advice of the wider circle of Democrat-aligned foreign policy hands. This is a group of more-or-less known quantities whose views are by no means uniform, but which fall in a fairly predictable range. One might think the best way to ascertain Obama’s likely approach to national security policy would be to think about these people and their views. The institutions where Obama’s advisers will be coming from — CAP, CNAS, NSN, CSIS — have all kinds of written documents about foreign policy issues that could be perused.

Or you could follow Stanley Kurtz and focus on the views of Rashid Khalidi a scholar and left-wing Arab nationalist who, according to Kurtz, was a supporter of Obama’s when Obama was a local politician in Khalidi’s neighborhood.

It seems tedious to even point this out, but the standard of proof being applied here couldn’t possibly be applied consistently. Consider, by contrast, Obama’s ties to Joe Biden. They’re both Senators and, indeed, if Obama becomes President then Joe Biden will become Vice President. Or Obama’s ties to General Colin Powell — Obama specifically sought and received his support for a presidential bid and has repeatedly suggested that he would be interested in getting input from General Powell on national security issues. Or Obama’s ties to New Republic editor Marty Peretz who has written positive things about Obama. But then again, so has Jeffrey Goldberg. And so has Spencer Ackerman. But those guys think different things about American policy to the Middle East.

Or consider John McCain. He’s been in politics a long time. And his views have changed over the years. And he’s had a lot of different kinds of political allies. Back when he was leading the charge for the McCain-Feingold bill, he worked closely with the heads of a lot of liberal good-government groups. Should we take that to mean that he agrees with the heads of those groups about abortion rights or foreign policy? His “ties” to them are much more substantial than anything between Obama and Khalidi.

The procedure just doesn’t make sense. Meanwhile, National Review doesn’t agree with the foreign policy views of the sort of mainstream Democrats who, unlike Khalidi, will actually wind up staffing an Obama administration and making policy in it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to expend time and energy attacking those people and their views? Conservatives aren’t going to like the real Obama, so they’d do well to focus a little bit on him instead of obsessively hounding this mythical figure they’ve created.

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