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Questions for Obama

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By George F. Will
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Is it audacious to hope for more clarity from Barack Obama than he has so far supplied? Herewith 17 questions for him:

You advocate leaving in Iraq "some" U.S. forces for three missions -- fighting al-Qaeda, training Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. forces conducting those two missions. Some experts believe that even 60,000 U.S. troops would be insufficient for those functions -- even if the Iraqis were not, as they will be for the foreseeable future, dependent on U.S. logistics, transport, fire support, air support, armor and medevac capabilities.

What is your estimate of the numbers required by your policy? How, and in consultation with whom, did you arrive at your estimate? As to fighting terrorists but not insurgents -- how would soldiers and Marines tell the difference? If, while searching for terrorists, they make contact with insurgents, would your rules of engagement call for a full-force response? You say all "combat brigades" should be out of Iraq "by the end of next year." Even if al-Qaeda is still dangerous? Who, after the end of next year, will protect U.S. noncombat forces that you say "will continue to protect U.S. diplomats and facilities" and to "train and equip" Iraqi forces?

In an interview with the Associated Press in July, you argued that preventing genocide in Iraq is not a sound reason for keeping troops there: "By that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife, which we haven't done. We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done."

Do you think U.S. obligations to Iraq, and to the many Iraqis who have actively collaborated with us, are no greater than our obligations, if any, to the residents of Congo or Darfur? Would a humanitarian disaster have to threaten to be a strategic disaster for the United States before an Obama administration would intervene militarily?

In his second inaugural address, President Bush said: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." You have said: "In today's globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people."

Well. Given that the goals of liberty and security can both generate foreign policy overreaching, and given the similarity between your formulation and Bush's, should people who are dismayed by Bush's universalizing imperative be wary of yours? Does not yours require interventions in Darfur -- where you say " rolling genocide" is occurring -- and in Congo and similar situations?

You stress the importance of people taking "responsibility" for their actions. But in a Financial Times column regarding the subprime mortgage turmoil, you said that lenders, by "lowering their lending standards," were guilty of "pushing," "hoodwinking" and "driving" low-income buyers into mortgages "they could not possibly afford." The "victims," you wrote, "are the millions of borrowers who followed the rules, whose only crime was in taking out mortgages that lenders told them they could afford." You propose a fund to help these millions of borrowers, partially paid for by penalties on lenders who committed fraud or behaved "irresponsibly."

Puzzles abound. How did lenders "push" these people? Are these "victims" absolved of personal responsibility simply because they were "told" they could afford the mortgages? Could you define -- and defend punishing -- lending that is "irresponsible" but not fraudulent? The foreclosure rate for so-called "jumbo" mortgages -- those of more than $400,000 -- is approximately the same as the rate for subprime mortgages. Are borrowers who seek and receive such large mortgages also blameless "victims" of being told and driven to do something reckless?

In 1978, in a case regarding racial preferences in admissions to a California medical school, the Supreme Court ruled, in an opinion written by Justice Lewis Powell, that race can be considered a "plus" factor for minority applicants. But Powell's biographer, John Jeffries of the University of Virginia law school, writes that when the justices met in conference to deliberate about the case, and Thurgood Marshall said such preferences would be needed for another century, Powell was "speechless." In 2003, the court affirmed the constitutionality of racial preferences in admissions to the University of Michigan law school. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority, said such preferences would be unnecessary in 25 years.

How long do you think they will be necessary? By what criteria do you measure necessity? Why are they necessary now, two generations after the civil rights laws of the 1960s?

More questions to come, 17 answers from now.

georgewill@washpost.com


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