Monday, March 24, 2008

The Obama Doctrine

The Obama Doctrine - Spencer Ackerman @ The American Prospect

This article from the latest issue of the American Prospect is an examination of the meaning behind Sen. Obama's remark during a debate that we not only need to end the war in Iraq but "end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." Basing his article around this statement, Ackerman interviewed many of the foreign policy team the Obama campaign has put together and questioned them on what a President Obama would do to change the U.S.'s foreign policy and how his vision of American foreign affairs differs from that of Sen. Clinton or Sen. McCain, not to mention President Bush himself. The consensus is that versus taking a democracy-promotion approach a President Obama would take a dignity-promotion approach. What that means is not simply holding free elections but providing the basic underlying infrastruture for a democratic election to actually mean something.
It's an approach that many liberals and commentators have long called for, including Ackerman's close associate Matt Yglesias and the relatively recently converted Andrew Sullivan. What this approach entails is bringing the best the U.S. has to offer in refugee relief, ending dictitorial regimes that prevent such relief, and providing the necessary aid to oppressed peoples that they feel secure enough to either call for elections or bring about their own uprising. Instead of simply offering elections, an Obama presidency would press the issue of human rights, and if you've heard his policy position on free trade, you can see that the human rights issue is a top priority for Sen. Obama.
I believe I've argued before that a foreign policy focused on human rights does more to protect the image of America as the shining city on the hill (which gives us a good deal of legitimacy when we do act) and allow us the freedom to act in regions and in ways that do not conform to standard diplomatic tactics. Sen. Obama's thinking on this isssue rises to the strategic level. The human rights card is available for almost any kind of foreign issue: global warming, labor rights, diplomacy, foreign aid (both monetary and basic food and medical supplies) and, importantly, as a way of pushing 'rogue states' or generally states that have decided to play their own games in their regions of the world to fall in line with U.S. interests or at the very least UN mandates.
Now this might have a touch of American exceptionalism in it, but Sen. Obama's attitude over foreign relations marks a departure from previous administrations unwilling to use military and diplomatic power appropriately. While the need to maintain a large military with full battle gear is necessary the use of Special Forces will certainly rise in an Obama administration. His remarks on Pakistan show his willingness to use military force when certain objectives require it. But it also become a genuine stick to lay in front of troublesome nations while offering a genuine alternative that avoids military confrontation.
In deciding between the remaining three candidates for president it is clear that Sen. Obama is the only one who is offering a real foreign policy and one that attempts to show the best of American power. It's a Teddy Roosevelt style policy of speaking softly but carrying a big stick. Our actions must do more to prevent radicalism from spreading than simply fighting the radicals that already exist. It's a foreign policy that I can support with confidence, particularly coming from a new generation of Democrats unafraid of the Republican attack machines.

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