Celebrating 25 Years of Scoop
Special: Up To 25% Off Scoop Pro Learn More
Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Secretary Clinton: Obama's Promises to Be Kept

Welcome Secretary Clinton: Obama's Promises to Be Kept

By Al Giordano,

Although the steps between President-elect Obama's November 13 meeting with Senator Clinton in Chicago and the December 1 nomination of the latter for Secretary of State did not exactly embody the "no drama" brand of the former (and, behind the scenes, today's result almost didn't happen in ways that neither can ever now admit), all that is now officially water over the dam.

And so I take this opportunity to welcome Secretary Clinton and offer my full support for her work to implement President-elect Obama's campaign promises.

Senator Clinton crossed a threshold today from leading her own organization to being in a chain of command led by President-elect Obama. And - I speak as a critic of her historic approach to foreign policy and vocal opponent prior to her nomination (and yes, if it makes some happy to hear it, I was wrong in my earlier conclusion that it wouldn't happen, but as Obama, when faced with similar hectoring from the press corps likes to say, "that's all you're getting") - I welcome her, wish her well and will give her the benefit of the doubt that she will be a trustworthy team player unless and until she proves otherwise.

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

Now, let's take a look at some of the actions in this American Hemisphere that Secretary Clinton, once installed, will have to undertake to comply with the campaign promises made by candidate Obama, some of which run counter to her own campaign stances, others that she evolved to adopt during the campaign, and some big ones that are time bound, in which Obama and sometimes Clinton pledged to do them within "six months" or within "one year" from assuming office on January 20...

Typical of the national political press corps, Susan Page wrote in this morning's USA Today of a State Department mission that mystifyingly excludes the hemisphere to which the United States belongs:

...the incoming secretary of State will deal with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, efforts to turn around the war in Afghanistan, nuclear programs in such rogue nations as North Korea and Iran, the challenge from a resurgent Russia and growing concerns about global climate change.

But there is indeed a Western Hemisphere, and it is where US foreign policy over the past 16 years has caused the most blowback and harm to the most people inside the United States, more than its policies toward any other part of the world, more than even the war in Iraq. Think about that.

During the 2007 and 2008 presidential campaign, President-elect Obama made some very specific promises regarding changes to US foreign policy in our own neighborhood that Secretary Clinton will now be responsible to implement.

Nate Silver's inventory of Obama's campaign promises includes a number of them.

And as Markos Moulitsas commented on Nate's list last Wednesday, "Yeah, Obama's agenda is quite progressive. Whether he delivers on that agenda remains to be seen, of course, but I can't be all that worked up over his cabinet appointments if those appointee's jobs are to deliver on the agenda."

In this hemisphere, the compliance with Obama's campaign promises live where the rubber will meet the road, and that will determine Secretary Clinton's legacy, and to a much greater extent that of President-elect Obama...

Promise #1: Renegotiate NAFTA within six months

The passage in 1993 and enactment on January 1, 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has squeezed American workers, and their counterparts in Mexico, in a vise grip.

On one side of the border, hundreds of thousands of American workers have - because NAFTA sent their jobs south to be filled by badly paid and abused workers with even less rights to organize for better pay and working conditions - found themselves out of a job (with the corresponding harm to their family members who correspondingly have lost health care, opportunities toward higher education, found some of their sons and daughters conscripted economically into the Armed Forces, among so many other damages large and small).

On the other side of the US-Mexico border, NAFTA pushed millions of Mexican farmers off their lands, displaced by international agribusiness, tourism and other industries, many of whom migrated to the United States to be able to feed their families.

This pincer effect has caused additional harm on both sides of the Rio Bravo. As more millions of undocumented workers crossed into the US, the policies that label them "illegal" have stripped them of the rights to organize that US citizens have. This has had the secondary effect, by putting them into competition with US citizen workers, of driving down the wages and making for less safe working conditions for the latter group, too.

I remember, after the victorious 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, going to visit some old friends that had run his field organization and had served in other top campaign posts, congratulating them, touching base, and asking, "So, what are you up to now?"

"Oh, we've got new jobs in the private sector, pressuring Democratic members of Congress to support a free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada!" Some registered as lobbyists for the industries that wanted to move their factories south. Others worked in "public relations" to plant astro-turf organizations in key Congressional districts and bring enough Democrats along to pass the initiative that Reagan and Bush 41 had proposed but failed to convince Congress to approve.

And was it ever payday! These colleagues made a lot of money off it, bought new cars, new homes, the works. If you ever want to know what happened to Bill Clinton's 1992 field organization, well, its top guns went to work for the NAFTA lobby within weeks of election day. They were not only encouraged by the then president-elect's organization to do so: it was through that organization that these gigs were handed out as rewarding plums. They were good at what they did. And they got NAFTA passed.

Fast-forward 16 years, to the weeks leading up to the Ohio primary last March 4, and the NAFTA chickens (now cultivated in filthy cages near Querétaro and other Mexican centers) had come home to roost. Key parts of Democratic primary voters had seen the devastation to their own lives and that of their communities, and NAFTA was now a four-letter word.

Senator Clinton, by then a presidential candidate, insisted: "I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning"

But as Jed Lewison of the Jed Report captured on viral video at the time, Clinton's NAFTA story wasn't exactly as she now claimed.

The February 26 Obama-Clinton debate in Cleveland, Ohio - moderated by the late Tim Russert - put both Clinton and Obama on the record regarding NAFTA in at least one way they had not been before: both had made varying claims to intent to renegotiate it, but it was Russert that insisted they commit to a specific timeline - "in six months" - to either renegotiate NAFTA with Mexico and Canada or deploy it's "opt out" provision, which would get rid of the whole white elephant:

Here's the key part of the transcript from the above debate footage:

Clinton: "It is not enough just to criticize Nafta, which I have, and for some years now. I have put forth a very specific plan about what I would do. And it does include telling Canada and Mexico that we will opt out, unless we renegotiate the core labor and environmental standards. Not side agreements, but core agreements. That we will enhance the enforcement mechanism... and we're going to take out the ability of foreign companies to sue us because of what we do to protect our workers."

Russert: "Let me button this up. Absent the change that you are suggesting, you are willing opt out of NAFTA in six months?"

Clinton: "I'm confident that as president when I say that we will opt out unless we renegotiate, we will be able to renegotiate."

Russert: "Senator Obama... simple question: Will you as president say to Canada and Mexico this has not worked for us, we are out?"

Obama: "I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about. And I think actually Senator Clinton's answer on this one is right. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced. And that is not what has been happening so far. That is something that I have been consistent about."

Alright, then: How wonderful that both the President-elect and his nominee for Secretary of State are so clearly on the record not only to force a renegotiation of NAFTA, but, thanks to the persistence of the late Russert, to use the "opt out" option as a hammer to force it to happen within "six months" of taking office.

That's the earliest of the time-bound pledges, and thus we will know by July 20, 2009, whether the President-elect and his Secretary (who is ultimately responsible for negotiations with other countries) were telling us the truth or not.

There's no wiggle room in a fixed timeline such as "in six months." It will either be done by then, renewing the faith that we have put into the new administration, or it will be the date when one can objectively conclude that the faith was misplaced.

Again, I give the President-elect and his team the benefit of the doubt that he and they are men and women of their word. It will be a great day - and great relief to workers and farmers on both sides of the border, if they do it right - when and if they comply with that "in six months" promise.

Promise #2: Block the US Colombia Trade Deal

Opposition to the US-Colombia trade deal - for the same reasons why NAFTA has proved so damaging and unpopular - was also a position taken by both presidential candidates, Obama and Clinton. The latter had some rough waters to navigate during the campaign, when her chief strategist Mark Penn was revealed to be lobbying for it on behalf of the Colombian government during the presidential campaign! To her credit, she accepted his resignation over that conflict of interest (although Penn never really left the campaign, and her spokesman Howard Wolfson, who had also been part of a lobbying crew through his Glover Park Group for that country's disgraced authoritarian government, remained on the payroll as campaign spokesman).

During the same weeks when those actions and inactions called Senator Clinton's sincerity on opposing the US-Colombia trade deal into obvious question, President-elect Obama was speaking vociferously against it:

Sen. Barack Obama promised to stand firm in his opposition to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday-days after President Bush asked Congress to quickly pass the trade deal-in a speech to rally the union vote at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's annual convention.

The Illinois senator said he would oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement "because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements."

Later, in October, during the third and final Obama-McCain debate in Hofstra, New York, their opposing positions on the Colombia trade deal couldn't have been stated more clearly:

McCain: Now, on the subject of free trade agreements. I am a free trader. And I need -- we need to have education and training programs for displaced workers that work, going to our community colleges.

But let me give you another example of a free trade agreement that Sen. Obama opposes. Right now, because of previous agreements, some made by President Clinton, the goods and products that we send to Colombia, which is our largest agricultural importer of our products, is -- there's a billion dollars that we -- our businesses have paid so far in order to get our goods in there.

Because of previous agreements, their goods and products come into our country for free. So Sen. Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The same country that's helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country that's killing young Americans.

And also the country that just freed three Americans that will help us create jobs in America because they will be a market for our goods and products without having to pay -- without us having to pay the billions of dollars -- the billion dollars and more that we've already paid.

Free trade with Colombia is something that's a no-brainer. But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better.

Obama: Let me respond. Actually, I understand it pretty well. The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions.

And what I have said, because the free trade -- the trade agreement itself does have labor and environmental protections, but we have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights, which is why, for example, I supported the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement which was a well-structured agreement.

But I think that the important point is we've got to have a president who understands the benefits of free trade but also is going to enforce unfair trade agreements and is going to stand up to other countries.

Since Obama's November 4 election, various media corporations - including the New York Times on November 28 - have editorialized to nonetheless approve the US-Colombia trade deal (the Times opined: "Congress must pass the trade agreement with Colombia," as if the 2008 campaign and its promises had never occurred at all).

Well, this will be another early test for the President-elect and his team, including his Secretary of State: We'll learn definitively whether they were sincere in their campaign promises. Again, as long as that trade deal remains unsigned, they have our benefit of doubt, but also our vigilant and watchful eye.

Promise #3: Meet with US-Shunned World Leaders in First Year

During the July 23, 2007 YouTube/CNN debate among Democratic presidential aspirants, the first big foreign policy dust-up ensued - and went on for days and days afterward - between the two that are now President-elect and his nominee for Secretary of state.

Citizen Stephen Sixta of Diamond Bar, California, asked the candidates - like Russert on NAFTA, with a fixed timeline attached - whether as the next US president they would "be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration... with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries."

Obama answered "yes." Clinton answered "no," and the next day criticized Obama as "naïve and frankly irresponsible" (also sending out surrogates like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to bash Obama for said willingness).

Well, the candidate that said "yes" won. And the candidate that said "no" now must - if that promise is to be kept - initiate the process of scheduling those direct talks with those governments that are willing. Given, there may be some confusion in discerning who really are "the leaders" of Iran or even Cuba (where Fidel Castro has stepped down since that debate) at this point in their histories, but the easy one of the five is right here in this hemisphere and certainly would be willing to sustain such a meeting: President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

That's a very clear campaign pledge (one that clearly distinguished Obama from the then-frontrunner-now-nominee to head the State Department). And on January 20, 2010 - based on whether such a meeting has occurred or not - we will know whether it really was the case that the President-elect's Secretary of State carried out his policies, complied with his promises, or did not.

Some Related Promises to be Kept

Obama has made some related pledges during his campaign regarding US-Latin America policies. He told Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer in August 2007 that, also in his first year of office, he would tour South America - visiting four countries by name: Argentina, Brazil, Chile and... Bolivia. Which member of his team will soon be responsible for organizing that trip? The Secretary of State will.

US-Bolivia policy has had a particularly difficult road, what with the US-imposed "war on drugs" and trade policies governing all other relations with so much of Latin America over the past 28 years, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Just recently, Bolivia withdrew from cooperation with US drug policy, and is in the process of evicting the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from its lands (in response, President George Bush has suspended Bolivia's preferential trade status).

An early sign of whether the new administration is serious about changing policy in this hemisphere will come just five days after the President-elect is inaugurated. On January 25, 2009, Bolivians will go to the polls to vote on a new Constitution - democratically authored through a Constitutional Convention, and which will almost certainly pass over the opposition of some regions and the wealthy class that until recently had become so accustomed to ruling the nation. How the US Department of State responds - will it back that free and fair democratic process in Bolivia? Or, as the Bush administration has done, will it seek to undermine the democratic decisions of a neighboring country? The next Secretary of State will have to be ready... at least on Day Five. We'll be watching.

In a similar vein, another policy difference regarding this hemisphere that divided Obama and Clinton during the campaign was whether to ease the US embargo of Cuba to allow Cuban-Americans to visit the island and send money to relatives there. Obama proposed it in great detail. Clinton, through a campaign spokesman, said there would be no changes to the embargo. (Interestingly, Obama did better among Cuban-American voters than any Democratic presidential candidate of the last three decades, and winning Florida in part because of that stance, fracturing the conventional wisdom that it couldn't be done without losing the Sunshine State.)

Of course, not all of Obama's promises regarding US-Latin American policy will go through the State Department. Immigration reform - putting twelve million undocumented Americans on the same path to citizenship that virtually all our ancestors had the opportunity to gain - will more be the domain of other cabinet members and the White House staff setting priorities in Congress. But it's another "red zone" to watch that will give indications "in the first year" of the Obama presidency, because that's the timeline - one year - that Obama himself put on it.

Obama has yet to break a single campaign promise. Hooray.

Of course, he's not president yet.

But in this hemisphere, these are the flash points through which we will know, during his first year in office, whether he told us the truth.

I'm not alone in looking forward to the day, one year into Obama's presidential term, when we can congratulate him - and his Secretary of State, who would make even her historic critics proud and whose redemption will not come through a mere cabinet appointment but by whether she complies with the goals promised for it.

Good luck, Mr. President and Madame Secretary.

Those are big and important promises to keep.

And please do never forget, they are promises.

The original source for this article is: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/thefield/welcome-secretary-clinton-obamas-promises-be-kept


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
Top Scoops Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.