Saturday, June 23, 2007

Barack Obama and American Foreign Policy

In yesterday's entry I wrote about Mitt Romney's essay in the new edition of Foreign Affairs. The Romney piece is one of two articles in Foreign Affairs' new series called "Campaign 2008," a collection of current and forthcoming articles by top U.S. presidential candidates. Romney's essay is paired with one from Barack Obama, "Renewing America's Leadership."

Barack Obama has been giving Hillary Clinton a hard time on the campaign trail in the current run-up to the early caucuses and primaries starting in January 2008. He was not in the Senate in 2002, when the Congress voted to authorize the Iraq war. Obama's able, therefore, to hammer his opponents with a credible antiwar position. Yet, his approach to foreign policy sounds eerily reminiscent to the Democratic Party's international agenda of recent decades. Here's a snippet:
Today, we are again called to provide visionary leadership. This century's threats are at least as dangerous as and in some ways more complex than those we have confronted in the past. They come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from global terrorists who respond to alienation or perceived injustice with murderous nihilism. They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy. They come from weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people. And they come from a warming planet that will spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.

To recognize the number and complexity of these threats is not to give way to pessimism. Rather, it is a call to action. These threats demand a new vision of leadership in the twenty-first century -- a vision that draws from the past but is not bound by outdated thinking. The Bush administration responded to the unconventional attacks of 9/11 with conventional thinking of the past, largely viewing problems as state-based and principally amenable to military solutions. It was this tragically misguided view that led us into a war in Iraq that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged. In the wake of Iraq and Abu Ghraib, the world has lost trust in our purposes and our principles.

After thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars spent, many Americans may be tempted to turn inward and cede our leadership in world affairs. But this is a mistake we must not make. America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, and the world cannot meet them without America. We can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission. We must lead the world, by deed and by example.

Such leadership demands that we retrieve a fundamental insight of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy -- one that is truer now than ever before: the security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders. The mission of the United States is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity....

To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end and refocus our attention on the broader Middle East. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by America's civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place. We have now lost over 3,300 American lives, and thousands more suffer wounds both seen and unseen.

Our servicemen and servicewomen have performed admirably while sacrificing immeasurably. But it is time for our civilian leaders to acknowledge a painful truth: we cannot impose a military solution on a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions. The best chance we have to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political solution. And the only effective way to apply this pressure is to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces, with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a date consistent with the goal set by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. This redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the Iraqi government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed. But we must recognize that, in the end, only Iraqi leaders can bring real peace and stability to their country.

At the same time, we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq, prevent its spread, and limit the suffering of the Iraqi people. To gain credibility in this effort, we must make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We should leave behind only a minimal over-the-horizon military force in the region to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda.
Obama attempts to take full advantage of the Democratic Party's heritage in providing global leadership and in establishing the multilateral institutions of world politics. But his essay's unconvincing in establishing his own clear vision for American leadership. He waffles on the nature of the threats facing America, and how we should respond.

Bringing the troops home from Iraq seems to be the first priority. After that he offers vague platitudes on the need for regional diplomacy and confidence-building. He makes obligatory references to restoring American military readiness, arguing that the U.S. armed forces are facing a crisis. Later, though, he says the U.S. must stand ready to exert military power around the globe, to "support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities." We should only do this, however, with the participation and support "of others."

Obama makes a routine reference to nuclear non-proliferation. He calls for movement toward ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but avoids discussion of America's next-generation nuclear capabilities and defense systems. He speaks of reforming the United Nations, but avoids discussing Democratic Party obstruction of the Bush administration's U.N reform efforts under temporary U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

Obama's piece stresses rebuilding America's soft power. We should restore trust around the world, revitalizing "partnerships" and strengthening "alliances." It almost sounds as though the NATO alliance has collapsed, or that Japan and South Korea have abondoned their longstanding bilateral relationships with the United States. Obama's essentially reviving "foreign policy as social work," which is
the title of a 1990s essay by Michael Mandelbaum of John Hopkins University. Rather than basing American policy on hard interests, American power should be harnessed to promote social and humanitarian projects across the globe. Obama notes the need for more American leadership in combating the African AIDS crisis. Missing, though, is any mention of the Bush administration's far-reaching and positive record of humantarian medical relief to combat AIDS across the African continent.

Barack Obama is a dynamic speaker who demonstrates poise and confidence along the campaign trail. Yet, when comparing his foreign policy agenda to
that of Mitt Romney's, Obama comes off as unsure of the realities of American power and responsiblity in world politics. He seems to think that "rebuilding trust" will have the magical effect of melting away the forces of Islamic radicalism, or that "renewing parnerships" and "sharing responsibility" will adequately balance the emerging anti-American alliance based in the capitals of Caracas, Pyongyang, Tehran.

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