Tag: Joe Biden

For Trade Talks, Dial 57: Obama, Colombia's Uribe and the Future of the Free Trade Agreement

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe

Colombian Pres. Alvaro Uribe (Photo: Colombian Presidency)

The phones have been busy at the Obama transition offices, and country code 57 — for Colombia — was on the receiving end of at least a couple of this week’s calls.

The number was dialed on behalf of both President-elect Barack Obama (yesterday) and Vice President-elect Joe Biden (Monday) to talk to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, by far the staunchest American ally in Latin America under President George W. Bush.

Obama also called Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — they talked about Argentinean writers Borges and Cortázar — and her Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet, who invited him to visit Chile.

But Uribe has a much more serious matter to discuss with the U.S. administration, both the current and the incoming ones: the approval of a Free Trade Agreement that Colombians hope can take place in the lame-duck Congressional session.

Colombian media reported that Obama and Uribe talked for ten minutes. “The topics of conversation were not revealed, but it was a constructive dialogue,” a source told the leading newsweekly La Semana.

“The call from the Democrat Obama,” said El Tiempo, Colombia’s biggest newspaper, “is significant because this week, and until next Wednesday the U.S. Congress, under a Democratic majority, is in an extra session and the FTA is expected to be dealt with.”

The Colombian FTA has become a priority for the outgoing Bush administration — to the point that President Bush and Obama talked about it at their first meeting after the Nov. 4 election.


Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate?

If you can win a debate without answering a majority of the questions asked, Sarah Palin hit a home run. The Republican Vice Presidential nominee kept the debate on her own turf, returning to issues she felt comfortable talking about – energy, small town values, and taxes – and avoided delving into the nitty gritty of policies either foreign or domestic.

Asked about the subprime mortgage crisis, she went back to energy policy and taxes. Asked about whether she thought the Bush Administration had handled the Israel-Palestinian conflict well, she latched onto moderator’s Gwen Ifill’s mention of a two-state solution, limiting her comments to a policy issue that’s part of the colloquial dialogue about the Mideast and is widely approved of by all parties.

Palin also won on emotional appeal. She was likeable. She was funny and warm from the start. One of the best unexpected moments – she greeted Joe Biden at the start of the debate with a, “Can I call you Joe?”

She smiled broadly as she said over and over that Biden and Obama were too focused on the past, criticizing Bush’s record rather than offering better policies of their own. She seemed nice, next-door, homespun, even on the attack. But then didn’t we already know that about her?

Does that make someone worthy of being president? If Palin was expected to pass a commander in chief test, I wonder if voters felt she could step into those big shoes. The mention of Vice President Cheney’s use of his office made one think back to 9-11, when he played a significant role in helping govern the country. Could Palin do that?

That’s why Joe Biden won the night too. He showed a fluency with subjects and topics that make those uncomfortable with Barack Obama’s experience feel that there are people around him who would help him answer the 3AM phone call. Palin did not, but maybe that was never in Palin’s job description to begin with.

The nice thing as a viewer of this debate: It was civil. It was polite. It was nice to not see two candidates claw into each other for ninety minutes. But that raises another question.

Palin didn’t answer the questions. She made some mistakes. And Biden didn’t take the opportunities to go after her, as Palin at times attempted to do with him. It makes you wonder about the role of sexism, and did Biden treat her like any other opponent? Maybe that reflects the political manipulation of this campaign’s narrative. The McCain campaign turned questioning Palin about her past experience into charges of sexism. Would pushing Palin on the issues, calling her out about not answering the questions have been seen as Joe Biden unfairly going after her? It wouldn’t if he had been on stage with Hillary Clinton, as he often was during the primaries. Perhaps it’s experience-ism that was being practiced here, trying to purposely not show up someone who lacks knowledge of the issues.

To sum it up. No fireworks. No YouTube moments. Instead, a civil exchange on politics that will be remembered more for the hype that preceded it than what actually transpired over 90 minutes.

The Democrats and Pakistan

Senator Joe Biden set the stage last week for a renewed US focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan if Barack Obama makes it to the White House this fall. The vice presidential nominee, in his acceptance speech at Denver’s Pepsi Center on August 27, called the, “resurgence of fundamentalism,” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “the real central front against terrorism.” He mentioned Pakistan – which Washington considers a crucial ally in the “war against terror” – three times, and gave broad indications that US policy for that region could undergo some fundamental changes under an Obama administration.


Barack Obama and Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention. Photo by Ka Chan

“I’ve been on the ground in Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms: this administration’s policy has been an abject failure. America cannot afford four more years of this,” the six-term Delaware Senator said. The Bush Administration has often been criticized by the media and leading Democrats, Biden included, for its Musharraf-centric policy for eight years during which Pakistan received more than $10-billion in US aid.

Biden called the Bush Administration’s foreign policy “catastrophic” and chided McCain’s vision as a continuation of Bush policies. He mentioned a troop surge as a necessary step to defeat the resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda. “The fact is, Al-Qaida and the Taliban—the people who actually attacked us on 9/11—have regrouped in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are plotting new attacks. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed Barack’s call for more troops.”

Obama too, in his acceptance speech a day later, identified two key foreign policy objectives: “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” The Biden-Obama strategy is expected to include a US troop surge in Afghanistan and renewed pressure on Pakistan.

The future administration in Washington will have to deal with old realities and new players in Pakistan. The nation of 167 million people is mired in abject poverty, increasing lawlessness, insurgency and political turmoil after the recent resignation of President Pervez Musharraf. The United States will have to build Pakistan’s capacity to stave off political, institutional and economic meltdown by offering greater military and economic aid and supporting democratic forces, without taking sides in Pakistan’s internal politics.

Though the Bush Administration has been adjusting to the changed ground realities in Islamabad, it is still too early to say much about the extent of cooperation the US will receive from Islamabad’s new rulers in the war against terror.

With former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party sitting on the opposition benches and public sensitivity to US policy toward the region at its peak, Pakistan’s government will find it hard to sell the war on terror to the nation’s legislature. Already, many Pakistanis are upset by Barack Obama’s promise of unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory to root out terrorists – a position he has changed in recent weeks. Now Obama promises to honor Pakistan’s sovereignty, but suspicions among Pakistanis are so deep that many still believe the Illinois Senator might simply be playing to the voters’ ahead of the November election.

Musharraf’s exit thus could be a setback for US war efforts in the region. However, the change in Pakistani leadership also offers a rare opportunity. Washington can rebuild its relations with Islamabad, as has been proposed by Joe Biden repeatedly, by investing more in the people of Pakistan, in the economy, in the social infrastructure and in democratic institutions.

Jehangir Khattak is a US-based Pakistani journalist, and can be reached at mjehangir@aol.com

The Meaning of “Clean”: A Short Guide to Bidenspeak

By Peter McDermott of the Irish Echo, reporting from Denver: 

Joe Biden is a popular choice with the Democratic faithful, judging by brief conversations I’ve had with political figures, delegates, and party supporters over the last 48 hours. A long-time Hillary supporter, New York Congresswoman Nydia Valezquez, told a small group of us ethnic journalists from New York, when we spotted her on Sunday night, that the Delaware senator owned just one car, which he drove himself to the only house that he owned.

Photo via Flickr

Party activist Nancy Touchette of Maryland, whom I met on Monday said that Biden is, “right for this year.”

He’s also a popular choice with the hard-nosed commentariat. On Aug. 22, before the official announcement, the New York Times’ in-house conservative columnist David Brooks (who has said some quite nice things about the presumptive Democratic nominee) said, “Barack Obama has decided upon a vice-presidential running mate. And while I don’t know who it is as I write, for the good of the country, I hope he picked Joe Biden.”

Most Democrats believe Obama has all the qualities needed in a president. But Dan Balz in the Washington Post said he has, “to show he’s willing to embrace some old-fashioned ideas about what it takes to win.” His choosing Joe Biden was one important sign of his pragmatism. And there may have to be others.

Interestingly What it Takes is the title of Richard Cramer’s 1992 book about the 1988 presidential campaign. He followed, from the very beginning, six of the candidates positioning themselves to be Ronald Reagan’s successor in the White House. They were: George Bush Sr. and Bob Dole on the Republican side, and Democrats Michael Dukakis, Dick Gephardt, Gary Hart and Joe Biden.

Cramer used various techniques of the new journalism genre, then still very much in vogue. But his trademark was writing in the third person, channeling the voices of his interviewees, whether the candidate himself, his managers and aides, or his close family members.

He had access, without which the project would not have been possible, and all of the profiles were to varying degrees sympathetic. But he had his favorites (for the most part here I’m relying on my memory, having read it more than 10 years ago).

From early on in their post-World War II marriage, Cramer revealed, Bush and his wife Barbara had sent out thank-you notes to people they’d met, and over the years had compiled an impressive database of names. This courtesy practiced on such a huge scale appeared coldly calculating in political terms.

Hart, for his part, was regarded as a little strange by reporters, and simply in the retelling it seemed he was to Cramer, too. (Yesterday I met Raymond Dean Jones, an African-American columnist here in Denver, which is Hart’s home patch, who said that the former senator suffered from his typically western persona. “He’s a loner,” said Jones, who knows and admires him.) Dukakis came across as a control freak, and Dick Gerphardt was decent and wholesome, as well as stoical in the face of life’s challenges, all of which somehow made him rather bland.

But it was Dole and Biden who emerged as the most human and also the most likeable of the six. The author’s connection to the pair continued after the book was published. Cramer, a liberal, wrote a glowing magazine portrait of Dole (for Rolling Stone, I think) when he was the Republican candidate in 1996. And he encouraged Biden to write his own memoir, “Promises to Keep.”

I haven’t seen What it Takes mentioned in the media so far, but Cramer’s book is bound to be a resource on Biden. When flipping through it before our group’s early-morning Sunday flight from New York to Denver, I came across a snippet that said something about a recent Biden gaffe. A great deal of attention has been paid to his statement during the early primary campaign that Obama was “articulate” and “clean,” among other laudable things. You’re veering into eggshell territory when you say that someone from a traditionally oppressed group knows how to speak. However, Biden used the latter term about himself when he first ran for the Senate as a 29-year-old upstart in 1972 (if I’ve divined Cramer’s narrative technique correctly). And by “clean,” it’s obvious enough to me that he means “clean-cut,” and thus potentially respectable, which is what Biden was when compared to many of his peers 36 years ago.

Peter McDermott is Associate Editor of the Irish Echo in New York. He is covering the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado as part of a project sponsored by the New York Community Media Alliance and Feet in Two Worlds.