Sunday, April 29, 2007

Obama Foreign Policy, Part 2

In separating Democrats and Republicans, people focus on prescriptions from the two camps. It usually comes down to a litmus test over Iraq: the Democrats advocate withdrawing troops; Republicans support the surge. On Iran, it is less clearcut. Republicans are more likely to advocate isolation and a military solution, whereas Democrats advocate engagement and developing a multilateral consensus.

However, the administration is pursuing a multilateral solution in Iran, whereas Joseph Lieberman has advocated air strikes.

Democratic candidates like Clinton and Edwards currently support phased withdrawal of our troops, but they also voted unapologetically for the war. Clinton speaks of a renewed internationalism, bilateral talks and promoting, "religious freedom, democracy, women's rights, social justice and economic empowerment." But, as I will explore in a later post, it is unclear whether, aside from this rhetoric and her commitments to leaving Iraq, her views would lead her down radically different path from the Bush administration

Obama has tried to separate himself from Clinton and Edwards, since he opposed the Iraq War from the very beginning. He has been the most consistent and convincing in offering an alternate worldview to the one currently espoused by the administration.

Of course, there are his views on Iraq, "there can be no military solution to what has become a political conflict between Sunni and Shi’a factions."

But focusing on Iraq masks what I see as the more important difference in Obama's views: the ideological belief that the problems of the 21st century require a new way of thinking. Neorealists will laugh at this suggestion, but that's exactly the point. Obama argues for a break with the previous worldview. Whether he actually achieves this is less clear.

In some ways, Obama offers more of the same and plenty of platitudes. At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, he advocated expanding the military, the importance of "putting boots on the ground," and the need to sometimes act unilaterally. He praised Bush 1 for garnering clear support before launching Operation Desert Storm. On the liberal side, he wants to decrease the spread of nuclear weapons, strengthen multilateral institutions and stop global warming.

As a candidate who needs to appear more centrist, these words are not surprising.

But his Foreign Policy is certainly neither Neoconservative nor Neorealist. By invoking the wisdom of John Kenney, ("the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people,") calling for American intervention in fighting avian flu and changing the education policies in foreign countries, he is significantly expanding the domain of national security.

He originally opposed the Iraq War, not because of doubts over the validity of the intelligence on WMD, but because, "it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that 9/11 brought to light." Whereas Clinton believed removing Saddam would make the world safer, Obama believed that, in a world where threats cannot be contained by borders and boundaries, cooperation between countries of the free world is paramount in overcoming our challenges.

America cannot lead by "bluster and bombast" or bludgeoning and bribing our allies; we must lead by example, strengthening the principles at home which we want others to install abroad; "we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with;" "we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city."

The US does not lead through its military and State Department alone. It leads through domestic policies and promoting democracy at home rather than forcing it abroad. It leads by supporting the World Bank, WHO and international law. It leads by example rather than force.

This is nuanced neoliberalism and there is little doubt that Obama believes in what he says.

Posted by Peter


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