Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, one of the most respected foreign policy minds in Washington and a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday, that on at least two major international issues, he is in disagreement with his candidate of choice.
Speaking on MSNBC, the Indiana Democrat and 9/11 Commission chair, said he did not support "target dates" for a withdrawal in Iraq -- a position that both Obama and his primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, back.
"I do think there is a shallowness in the political discussion about Iraq, on both sides really. When they talk about success, improvement, progress, victory, it's all undefined or ill defined. When the Democrats talk about withdrawal, they're not too specific, either," said Hamilton. "The process of withdrawal is a very complex matter. I'm not a great fan, incidentally, of target dates, in foreign policy as a rule and in Iraq's specifically. I am a fan, however, of what you'd call a responsible exit from Iraq."
Sens. Obama and Clinton have called for the withdrawal of one to two combat brigades per month over the course of 16 months -- by definition, a target date. Clinton would leave a residual force in Iraq to guard against any terrorist threat and support U.S. interests. Obama would keep some troops in the country to protect the American embassy and diplomats
Meanwhile, on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, Hamilton again finds himself at odds with both Democratic presidential candidates.
"I favor the Colombia Free Trade Agreement," said Hamilton. "Trade, unfortunately in the political world, especially in the Democratic political world has become a symbol of globalization. And globalization generally is a very good thing, from my point of view. But there are winners and there are losers in globalization. So the whole trade debate, I think, is kind of an unreal debate and it's a symbol for globalization."
Both Obama and Clinton are against the Columbia agreement, citing poor human rights and labor standards in that country, as well as job losses at home. Former President Bill Clinton - who was paid $800,000 for four speeches by a group that supports the measure - and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is close to Obama, back the agreement.
That Hamilton would, on these issues, disagree with his candidate of choice is newsworthy to the extent that Obama seeks his advise. According to Marc Ambinder, Hamilton has given Obama counsel on intelligence policy for months. Noam Scheiber, at The New Republic, however, wrote in March 12, 2008:
Hamilton has no formal role advising Obama -- he hasn't even publicly endorsed him. But his legacy is very much alive within the campaign. Ben Rhodes, the Hamilton aide who helped write his 9/11 Commission memoirs and key chunks of the Iraq Study Group report, is Obama's foreign policy speechwriter. Another former Hamilton aide, Denis McDonough, is the campaign's top foreign policy staffer. Hamilton alum Dan Shapiro advises the campaign on Middle East policy; another alum, Dan Restrepo, does the same for Latin America. By all accounts, Obama uttered his now famous remark about his willingness to meet with foreign dictators like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad off the cuff. But it wasn't such a departure from Hamilton. One of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations was to open a dialogue with Iran. Hamilton himself has publicly embraced this idea.
Asked to clarify whether or not Hamilton was advising Obama, Bill Burton, the Senator's spokesperson asked, "Why do you want to know?" Follow up emails were not returned.
As for Hamilton... confronted on MSNBC with the fact that he disagreed with his candidate of choice on two major issues, he acknowledged the divide, before adding: "I can give you 10 or 12 items that we have where I'm strongly in favor of what he's doing... I think he has a foreign policy vision that is pragmatic, visionary and tough."