Obama's speech yesterday is his most detailed yet on foreign affairs. It is emphatically not isolationist; it is emphatically not against the use of military force when necessary; it is emphatically pro-military in its call for many more troops. On the critical issue of Iraq, Obama has taken a stand - a clear one for withdrawal, with the possibility of a strike-force over the horizon. This is a very difficult call, and the timing and execution of withdrawal will be dispositive. But one core strength of Obama's candidacy is that he got this war right when many of us got it wrong. He deserves more of a listening than many of us do. If his speech yesterday was any indication, there will be much to chew on. I'm sorry to see no commitment to a carbon tax; I'm unsure of whether diplomacy can or will work with Pyongyang and Tehran. We will all have to listen and watch Obama closely these next few months in weighing his candidacy against others'.
But this much we can already say: Obama brings something no one else does to this moment. By replacing one of the most globally despised and domestically divisive presidents in American history with a young leader half-Kansan and half-Kenyan, America would be saying something to the world: Bush-Cheney is not who we are. America is not what it has come to appear to be. This country is among the most culturally and racially and religiously diverse on the planet. America has long been a powerful and vital beacon for human rights - not, as recently, the avatar of torture, rendition and executive tyranny. The simple existence of Obama as a new president in a new century would in itself enhance America's soft power immeasurably, just as a clear decision to leave Iraq would provide much greater leverage for diplomacy and military force in a whole variety of new ways. Obama would mean the rebranding of America, after a disastrous eight years. His international heritage, his racial journey, his middle name: these are assets for this country, not liabilities.
This is the reason for his ascendancy. This is what the American people sense and the world awaits. This is what the Islamists fear. That last alone is reason to feel hope.
And the reaction over at DailyKos? Obama presents a "weak, mealy, and shockingly conservative platform. ... apparently Obama has joined the exalted ranks of the criminally misguided on foreign policy." This, of course, on one of the back pages, because the Kos front page has decided Obama doesn't exist unless they have something they can rag on him for (particularly if they can contrast him with their golden boy, John Edwards).
Sullivan likes it, the Kossacks hate it; I'm sold. I've commented before on the lack of a moderate liberal net presence as sites like DailyKos have drifted farther towards the fringe. So far I haven't found a liberal answer to thoughtful moderate conservatives like Sullivan, The Cunning Realist, Greg Djerejian, and Dan Drezner. I won't be surprised if we start to see some schisms in the liberal netroots over the next 6-8 months as the primary season heats up, and I'm hopeful something a little more reasonable will come out of it.
To close, an excerpt from Obama's address:
In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.
Whether it’s global terrorism or pandemic disease, dramatic climate change or the proliferation of weapons of mass annihilation, the threats we face at the dawn of the 21st century can no longer be contained by borders and boundaries.
The horrific attacks on that clear September day awakened us to this new reality. And after 9/11, millions around the world were ready to stand with us. They were willing to rally to our cause because it was their cause too – because they knew that if America led the world toward a new era of global cooperation, it would advance the security of people in our nation and all nations.
We now know how badly this Administration squandered that opportunity. In 2002, I stated my opposition to the war in Iraq, not only because it was an unnecessary diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th, but also because it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that 9/11 brought to light. I believed then, and believe now, that it was based on old ideologies and outdated strategies – a determination to fight a 21st century struggle with a 20th century mindset.
There is no doubt that the mistakes of the past six years have made our current task more difficult. World opinion has turned against us. And after all the lives lost and the billions of dollars spent, many Americans may find it tempting to turn inward, and cede our claim of leadership in world affairs.
I insist, however, that such an abandonment of our leadership is a mistake we must not make. America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We must neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission – we must lead the world, by deed and example.