Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Obama: Bush + Competence?

Barack Obama gave his first major foreign policy speech last week at the Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs. Though I have been intrigued by Obama, my main complaint has been that we really didn't know where he stands on most issues, which is understandable given his lack of national and international experience.

From a purely political perspective, this is smart. It allows people to focus on his charisma and inspirational qualities, filling their own beliefs and desires into a mostly empty vessel.

I'm glad to see he's started speaking more substantively, and the content of last week's was both surprising and heartening.

Given the almost incredible unpopularity of the Iraq war and America's overall foreign policy strategy, one would expect Democratic candidates to disavow as much of Bush's strategy as possible. Obama did not do this, and essentially argued that Bush has the right overall philosophy of spreading freedom (though we should work more through our allies), but hasn't taken a nearly expansive enough view of what is required to do so.

This is exactly what someone like me wants to hear as someone who believes Bush was right to go into Iraq, but unbelievably (in the literal sense) incompetent in planning, subtlety, management, and overall execution. It is not clear that a well-executed Iraq war would have succeeded, but it is easily arguable.

Though his inexperience and more liberal views on other issues deserve close scrutiny, I give him provisional credit on last week's speech.

Robert Kagan has a good article on the speech here.


redbarb said...

Once you tried to link Bush and Harry S Truman. I didn't like that. I like this just as little. (Big surprise, huh.)

My first advice to you is to be wary of Robert Kagan. I went to the article you linked and used his link to read Obama's speech. It probably wasn't his error, but the speech it goes to is from 2005. Actually quite interesting in prospective and one you should read to see this guy has not just started thinking about foreign policy in some depth. I googled the actual speech and found, as I expected that Kagan's selective use of quotes and other slicing and dicing make for a distorted view.

Obama is not an isolationist. No serious candidate for president has been since World War II. However, he is no "with us or against us" fool. He talks extensively of the use of international organizations and alliances that reflect an understanding of the limits of US power not W's (and Kagan's) view of America as "empire" meant to remake the world at the point of a gun.

Obama doesn't specifically name the UN Security Council as he spoke on some aspects of his views on the use of force. Read the entire speech however, and the Security Council, the UN, and other international organizations are clearly important to his foreign policy views. Obama will not seek coalitions just for cover like Bush's "coalition of the willing." (Don't forget Poland.)

To see just how far Obama is from W, read his discussion of the need for real efforts against nuclear proliferation. Efforts not limited to just countries we don't like, but also include actions the US should take with its own nuclear weapons.

My reading of the speech (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/fpccga/)
does not lead me to see much of W in his foreign policy at all. Obama presents a much more comprehensive view of foreign policy that is not limited to labels of "good guys" and "bad guys" nor limited to the traditional venues of allies and enemies. It struck me that he was trying to explain a more comprehensive foreign policy that engages all of the world, not just those parts that are declared "strategic." Perhaps, this is his view of how globalization fits into foreign policy.

Bush + competence? No. Where W is "the decider" who seems to stop thinking once he declares "a decision." This speech and the one I read via the mistaken link appeals to my professorial mind much more. I see in Obama someone who wants to continue to question even after "a decision" is reached. Where W loves the word "resolve" perhaps in Obama we find someone who prefers the word "solve." (I know it's cutsey ending, but you know I do like cute.)

Polaris said...

To be fair, I said early on that Bush had the potential to be a Truman if he wanted to be, the comparison being someone who surrounds himself with great people, makes good and tough decisions, and then takes the heat for them. Other than his ability to make unpopular decisions, Bush clearly didn't take that route. My mistake was in underestimating the critical role of plain old intelligence, but the rest constituted a hope for his presidency, not a conclusion.

And "Bush + Competence" is admittedly more catchy than comprehensive in its power of description. If that led you to believe I think they're the same on foreign policy attitude, then I'll have to be clearer in the future.

We disagree on none of the points you make, as far as I can tell. The differences you present (pursuing sound strategy, seeing the world as the complex reality that it is, pursuing merit rather than personal loyalty...) all fall under the umbrella of competence to me.

Dakota said...

On another issue, Obama has also apparently noted that black rappers routinely use the same language (or worse) that got Imus fired, in the context of a broader critique of black America's ills. I am very curious to see how far he takes this.