Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Foreign Policy, Obama Disappoints

In Foreign Affairs' July/Aug edition, out now, Barack Obama lays out his vision for America's foreign policy. It reads like typical Obama: bipartisan, inspirational, hopeful, and eloquently written. But peel away all the flowery language and grand ideals, and you're left with almost nothing. In Obama's 15 page piece, he fails to propose actual solutions to almost all of the problems he presents. Here's a blow by blow analysis of his piece:

1) He starts out strong, presenting as his thesis: "The security and well-being of each and every American depends on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders. The mission of the US is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity." It's a good thesis for the problems he highlights in the intro: global terrorism, rogue states, wmd, and "rising powers that could challenge the international foundation of liberal democracy" (*cough* china). As we've seen, the go-it-alone, us-versus-them mentality doesn't really work.

2) The first issue he addresses is the war in Iraq, and his naivety becomes apparent. He says that, "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...." In his mind, there is not yet enough 'pressure' on the Iraqi government to perform. By his logic, an increase in violence (the inevitable result of any troop withdrawal) will apply the necessary pressure, because current situation is not desperate enough.
His second point is that "we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq..." That would work if other countries like Iran and Syria were driving the civil war there, in which case we could tell them to stop. Unfortunately, Iran and Syria merely supply the weapons, the Iraqis supply the hatred. What can Iran or Syria offer us diplomatically that would end the civil war there? Nothing really. They couldn't even help us broker a deal there, as the Iraqis have no history of friendship with Syria, and even Shiite Iraqis resent the Iranians (it's an ethnic thing).
In all fairness, we can't really blame Obama, because his Iraq stance is lifted straight out of the Baker-Hamilton report, which was written by some very smart, not-naive people. What most people don't realize, however, is that the authors of that report never actually believed their recommendations would lead to an improvement in the situation. Baker and Hamilton, being the smart people that they are, had already come to the conclusion that Iraq was a lost cause. They took it upon themselves to use their report to provide for the President a face-saving disengagement strategy. The report was filled with catchphrases and quick-to-grasp ideas that everybody but the President latched onto; ideas that basically add up to "the Iraqis are being spoiled. We need to practice tough love by withdrawing." All Bush needed to do to withdraw honorably was cite the 'experts' of the Iraq Study Group, and pull out.

Interestingly enough, a major reason why a "lasting political solution" has not yet materialized is because the Shiites gave up on peace even earlier than Baker-Hamilton. The Shiite controlled government has at every turn avoided working with Sunnis, knowing that eventually the US will withdraw, and they would then run the whole show. Just last week, the Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki (a Shiite) said that US forces were "free to leave anytime" and that the Iraqi security forces were capable of stepping up. That's an obvious lie. The only reason he would say something like that is because he wants US troops to withdraw so that he can have free reign to crush the Sunni insurgency Shiite style.

3) Obama writes, "We must strive to secure a lasting settlement of the conflict (Israel vs Palestine)." This isn't an idea. Everybody wants a settlement. How is Obama planning to do this? Even he has no idea.

4) He proposes dealing with Iran by toughening sanctions. That's the oldest cop-out in the book.

5) "Expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines." That's fine, but then he continues, "Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best..." The problem with expanding the size of the armed forces is that we are forced to accept soldiers of lower quality- people we used to turn away. How does he plan to recruit more soldiers without lowering standards? He doesn't say.

6) "When we use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others." Well, it's a no-brainer that we should "make every effort," but what if the world remains ambivalent? He doesn't say what he would do. Interestingly, he hints that he would be amenable to using US forces to "confront mass atrocities" like those in Darfur. It's a nice idea, but is a pretty liberal use of America's armed forces. Has he considered how long we would stay there? How would be make sure the genocide didn't start up again after we left? The Sudanese government doesn't want us there, will we take over and occupy Sudan?

7) To secure nuclear warheads floating around, he suggests that he will "work with other nations," especially Russia, where we still "must not shy away from pushing for more democracy and accountability." Saying that we will "work with other nations" does not qualify as an idea. What will be offer them? How will we work with them? And what will we offer Russia for her cooperation, if we are still bugging them to allow greater democracy? Obama doesn't say.

8) He wants to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Fine, good idea.

9) Obama very lucidly describes the danger posed by the proliferation of nuclear technology and material, but suggests only measures to monitor foreign weapons programs, and does not suggest any ways to enforce international nuclear proliferation agreements. But the problem has always been with enforcement, so on this point, he offers no real solutions.

10) He wants to increase the number of US forces in Afghanistan, and to use "sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban." Increasing the number of US forces in Afghanistan is a dangerous proposition, especially as the Afghans will be pretty tired of the US presence by 2009, and as expertise and manpower from the Iraqi insurgency heads over into Afghanistan. Personally, I think we absolutely need to send more troops to Afghanistan, I just don't believe he realizes what he'd be getting himself into. As for his diplomatic push, the Taliban is as isolated diplomatically as any group can get. Diplomacy is not a solution in this case. That he proposed it as a solution shows his naivety.

11) To protect the homeland, he suggests that we reform and reorganize the intelligence community. He doesn't say how.

12) To combat Islamic extremism, he argues that America must "export opportunity - access to education and health care, trade and investment - and provide steady support for political reformers..." I agree with his idea that we need to "export opportunity." In fact, I think that's THE thing we need to do. But how do we improve education and healthcare, and increase trade and investment in the Muslim world? His proposal basically suggests that we throw money at the problem. Some more specifics on how he plans to do export opportunity, other than throw money at the problem, would be nice.

13) He goes on at length about why we need to rebuild global alliances (war on terror, stopping genocide, global warming...etc). It's true, we do. How does he plan on going about it? His only concrete suggestion is that we stop being condescending.

14) To combat global warming, he plans to enact a "cap and trade system" for carbon emissions. Good idea. Will he get it through Congress? He can always try...

15) He wants to build "just, secure, democratic societies" around the world. He plans to do this by "investing in building capable, democratic states...." This investment will come in the form of an extra $25B allocated to foreign aid by 2012. But what is $25B by 2012? It's too little to make a difference.

Overall, the few solutions he offers usually involve investing in developing countries overseas. What will we invest in? Will we wait for these governments to reform and become less corrupt? Will we encourage democracy, even if Islamic fundamentalists would win elections? (Egypt, Pakistan).

Obama gives no indication in his piece that he possesses any sophisticated understanding of how the world works, and how foreign policy is implemented. We already have one dolt in the White House, it would be a shame if he was followed immediately by another.

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