What the FARC Was Obama Talking About?

By Jaketapper

May 25, 2008 11:08am

"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Sen. Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said, "And I think that is what happened here. Sen. Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it, and I would take her at her word on that."

One reason why Obama may be so forgiving (even if his campaign was not) about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s assassination reference?

The man has been a one-man gaffe machine.

On Friday afternoon in Sunrise, Florida, Obama said, "how’s it going, Sunshine?" (Watch HERE.)

Wrote the local Sun-Sentinel: "It wasn’t clear if Barack Obama knew exactly where he was Friday afternoon when he spoke at his mass rally at the BankAtlantic Center."

He did the same thing in Sioux Falls, SD, calling it "Sioux City." (Watch HERE.)

"Obama starts speech with a gaffe," wrote the Argus Leader.

But those are the relatively silly ones. There have also been gaffes of more consequence.

As ABC News’ David Wright and Sunlen Miller wrote, Obama seemed to either think Arabic is spoken in Afghanistan or he misunderstands the nature of military translators.

More recently, Obama as he traveled through Florida seemed to give some contradictory statements about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the Colombian terrorist group FARC.

On Thursday Obama told the Orlando Sentinel that he would meet with Chavez and "one of the obvious high priorities in my talks with President Hugo Chavez would be the fermentation of anti-American sentiment in Latin America, his support of FARC in Colombia and other issues he would want to talk about."

OK, so a strong declaration that Chavez is supporting FARC, which Obama intends to push him on.

But then on Friday he said any government supporting FARC should be isolated.

"We will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments," he said in a speech in Miami.  "This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation, and – if need be – strong sanctions. It must not stand."

So he will meet with the leader of a country he simultaneously says should be isolated? Huh?

On Friday in an interview with the Miami Herald, Obama also used language suggesting that he’s not as positive that Venezuela is supporting FARC.

"When I asked him what he would do about the estimated 37,000 Interpol-certified Colombian FARC guerrilla computer files that indicate an active support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to the Colombian rebels, Obama went farther than the Bush administration," wrote the Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer.

Said Obama: "I think the Organization of American States and the international community should launch an immediate investigation into this situation. We have to hold Venezuela accountable if, in fact, it is trying to ferment terrorist activities in other borders. If Venezuela has violated those rules, we should mobilize all the countries to sanction Venezuela and let them know that that’s not acceptable behavior."

"If" Venezuela "is trying to ferment terrorist activities in other borders"? Just one day before Obama had asserted that Chavez was supporting FARC in Colombia.

I’ve asked the Obama campaign for a clarification and will get back to you as to what they say.

- jpt

UPDATE: The Obama campaign says there’s nothing unusual about proposing the isolation of a country at the same time a President talks about meeting with its country’s leader. (The Obama campaign cites how the U.S. is talking to North Korea via the Six-Party talks as an example. Though it might be observed, those diplomatic efforts are quite different than a presidential-level meeting.) 

As for the statement, and then the very qualified "if" statement about Chavez and FARC, the Obama campaign says Obama is laying out his principles. The U.S. government says all the time, "If Iran continues its nuclear program," the Obama campaign says. I don’t know. Saying, "if in fact" Venezuela is aiding FARC seemed to me at least to be different than saying "if Chavez continues aiding FARC." What do you think?

UPDATE 2: So, I just spoke to an Obama campaign foreign policy adviser and this is how he explains any confusion.

Obama, he says, believes that Chavez is supportive of the FARC, both ideologically and tangibly. The Obama campaign disagrees that Obama’s language — "if, in fact, it (Chavez) is trying to ferment terrorist activities in other borders" — is hedging language at all. Obama has been very clear that he believes that Chavez is supportive of the FARC, the adviser says.

As to the question of whether one can pledge to isolate a country while also proposing a presidential-level meeting, the adviser says that I was inaccurate in characterizing Obama as proposing such a meeting — the reality was that Obama was merely acknowledging a willingness to meet.

But "if we are going to isolate the Venezuelans, it may be that we have to engage in a full-on diplomatic strategy with them," the adviser says. Obama was not saying he, himself, would propose such a meeting, nor that he would necessarily participate in that meeting. When Obama referred to "my talks with President Hugo Chavez," he did not mean "my talks," literally (necessarily) — he meant his administration’s talks — "though it could be him engaging in this diplomacy directly and personally," the adviser says. The point is, all the tools need to be in the diplomacy kit — isolation, willingness to hold presidential meetings, and everything in between.

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