While people are running for the presidency it is interesting to see how they react to news items. I find this information often more telling than speeches. Last weekend for example we learned that Colombia had invaded Ecuador. It conducted a bombing mission and sent in ground troops to kill rebels who were apparently using Ecuador as a staging area. This was not the first such incursion by Colombia but it certainly is now the most notorious.
The administration reacted in its now formulaic manner by saying nothing while newspapers ran stories than fit nicely into the position it would later announce. Out of the blue we were told that FARC, the rebel group, was preparing to detonate dirty bombs. Another nuclear threat uncovered with a suddenness matched only by an utter lack of foundation. Other articles described nefarious doings of FARC, but there was surprisingly little coverage of the legality of one country bombing another country. (I guess the publishers assumed that we ought to have that down by now.)
Little attention was paid to Ecuador’s breaking off of diplomatic relations with Colombia. A great deal of attention was placed on Venezuela massing troops at its border with Colombia. Usually there is in the articles discussing Venezuela’s massing of troops mention that Ecuador is doing the same. Nothing however seemed to be written about treaties among the nations or any sort of context. Then our president makes a brief statement that did not even seem to be picked up by many services in this country. The U.K. news service at news.scottsman.com reports today:
“Mr Bush weighed into the crisis for the first time since Colombian forces provoked outrage [not here or with this administration] by entering Ecuador and killing a leading leftist rebel. He accused Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, of provocative manoeuvres and warned that he opposed any act of aggression in the region [except apparently the one that had just happened].”
Astonishingly there is no mention of the invasion and Venezuela is blamed for provocative behavior. (There is nothing in this response to contradict the assertion that the United States was complicit in the invasion.) This is a good example of managing the news. We have seen plenty of this over the years, but how did the candidates react to this?
Like the administration, Mr. Obama expressed no outrage whatsoever about the invasion. He said that a response by the invaded nation would not be acceptable to us and urged the three countries to come together, give peace a chance or something to that effect. He said:
“The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors.”
While overlooking an act of war by Columbia, this response lacks the threats and saber rattling of the administration and certainly opens the door to meaningful discussion.
Hillary Clinton received more money from defense contractors than any other presidential aspirant, Republican or Democrat. Her response did not disappoint these contributors. Her response is in her words almost a xerox of Bush’s response:
“Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.”
She make Hugo Chavez the issue not the invasion of Ecuador. She makes Chavez into a terrorist, makes Columbia a model democracy and strongly suggests that Venezuela is not a democracy. Exactly where she wants Venezuela to chart its course is not clear but the strong inference is that it should be compliant with U.S. wishes. There is no mention (by Senator Clinton or in domestic reporting that I could find) of Ecuador’s contention that it was in the last stages of negotiating the freedom of the hostages that Senator Clinton and the administration used to justify the invasion. This is exactly the same news management and spin that the administration did.
From the response to this news item, it is impossible to separate the stance of the administration from that of Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama on the other hand is not bombastic and in fact did leave the door open to diplomacy.
It’s hard to discern what Mr. McCain said about the invasion. CBS News pieced together statements from a town meeting in Waco. It is safe to say that there is no clear position, and that Mr. McCain sounds almost like he is having difficulty assimilating the information. Despite his reputation as a hawk, the overall tone of his statements is less militant than Mr. Obama.
If I had to categorize these responses, I’d put Bush and Clinton on one side and McCain and Obama on the other.