During the early 1990’s, a conspiracy theory floated to the surface of the political swamp. The theory, nicknamed the “October Surprise,” alleged that representatives of the 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign had struck a secret deal with the newly declared Islamic Republic of Iran to delay the release of 52 American hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Tehran until after the 1980 election, in order to deny then-President Jimmy Carter a diplomatic victory (and thus a chance to save his faltering re-election campaign).
Now comes a report, this time from a firsthand and much more reliable source (who’s willing to go on the record), detailing a possible attempt at a similar international backroom deal (this time a proposal to keep troops in harm’s way in Iraq for the sake of political haymaking), involving not only the Obama/Biden campaign, but Sen. Obama himself. Who will probably skate nonetheless.
The main proponent of the “October Surprise” theory about the 1980 election was Gary Sick, a retired naval officer and NSC official in the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations. After exhaustive parallel investigations of the theory, the theory was knocked down by the Democratic House, the Democratic Senate, and an independent reporter at The Village Voice as unsupported by credible evidence (and in many places, fabricated). Today, the 1980 “October Surprise” is confined mostly to the fevered imaginations of Lyndon LaRouche and his vacant-eyed political cult.
Fast-forward to the present day. An article by Amir Taheri is published in today’s New York Post, eerily reminiscent of this same conspiracy. The allegation now is that Barack Obama pushed the Iraqi government in a meeting last July to delay any Coalition troop drawdown until after this year’s election. This time, however, the allegation doesn’t come from a spotlight-hungry NSC bureaucrat, but from the top Cabinet minister of the Iraqi government.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari describes Obama’s demand as follows: “He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington…However, as an Iraqi, I prefer to have a security agreement that regulates the activities of foreign troops, rather than keeping the matter open.”
If this is true, Sen. Obama is not only acting unethically, conspiring to deny the Bush administration, and by extension Republicans and John McCain, the political benefits of a possible beginning of a drawdown before Election Day (which, by the way, runs directly in opposition to the “withdraw now” policies he’s expended so much energy trying to see passed in the Senate). He is also treading on illegal territory, pushing the limits of the centuries-old Logan Act which forbids the conducting of diplomacy by anyone other than an ambassador or other official duly appointed by the President. Senators and other elected officials have a good deal of elbow room regarding the Logan Act, traveling abroad under the rubric of “fact-finding missions” that give them photo ops with foreign heads of state while insisting that all they’re doing is gathering information for their own benefit. Obama’s little stunt of trying to implement his own foreign policy in secret with Minister Zebari, in contravention with the Administration policy that any ambassador would be there to represent faithfully, falls far outside the purview of any “fact-finding mission.”
We’ll see if this gets even a tiny fraction of the coverage following Gary Sick’s wondrous work of fiction. I won’t hold my breath.
UPDATE: The Obama camp has responded with what I’m sure was intended as a denial, though the denial sounds more like a cursory rewording of the original accusation with little to no change in meaning. From Agence France Presse:
“But Obama’s national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Taheri’s article bore ‘as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial.’
In fact, Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a ‘Strategic Framework Agreement’ governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office, she said.”
I’m sure Ms. Morigi sees a distinction between pushing the Iraqi government to delay an agreement with the U.S. government on troop levels until after the elections, and pushing them to delay an agreement until after we have a new president. I do wish she’d share it with the rest of us, who are still grappling with the image of a rogue legislator undermining duly appointed American executive representatives in meetings with foreign ministers.
Granted, Ms. Morigi is Sen. Obama’s national security spokeswoman and not his constitutional law advisor. That said, can someone on the campaign (if not the Senator himself, a former con-law lecturer) explain how a legislator is in any way constitutionally authorized to set American foreign and military policy behind a president’s back?