Straw Men vs. Obama

(UPDATE: a shortened version of the text below has been published in the Letters section of the International Herald Tribune, May 25, 2008)

Truly there must be something powerful in Barack Obama’s message for the US Presidential Campaign of 2008, if critics are so busy setting up flawed arguments about his heritage, or foreign policy ideas.

First we had Luttwak’s improbable stint as a Shari’a scholar, somehow “demonstrating” that Obama’s Muslim father would be a liability… in the Muslim world. And now, how do N Thrall and J J Wilkins criticize Obama’s suggestion that, in foreign policy, talks are better than wars-by-proxy?

Why, they try to make a rather esoteric analogy with a Kennedy-Khrushchev summit of 47 years ago (“Kennedy talked, Khrushchev triumphed“, IHT, May 23).

Never mind that Obama has never suggested starting off by meeting face-to-face with the Presidents of Iran or Hamas, for example; that the world is vastly different from 1961’s; and that as anybody living in the real world knows very well already, the Administration of President George W Bush has engaged in talks with “America’s enemies” such as Lybia and North Korea.

And rightly so! Well, if Messrs Thrall and Wilkins are so convinced that the mere act of talking brings huge risks of being considered “too weak”, perhaps they should suggest closing off much of the State Department.

A flawed argument is also known as a “straw man”. Well, I for one think there have been enough of those scarecrows set up, especially against Obama. Please, can we have now some serious political discussion instead?