In the United States, the Bush administration and the pseudo-military group in Lebanon, Hezbollah, put “old” foreign policy goals onto the front pages. Bush went before the Israeli Knesset and appallingly condemned Obama in front of a foreign audience for expressing a willingness to negotiate with Iran, Syria, and potentially Hamas and Hezbollah. And when Hezbollah flexed its muscles in Beirut John McCain pounced on Obama again for entertaining the idea of “negotiating” with Hezbollah. This squabble in the United States was more about Obama than about policymaking as the Republicans have nothing really to say lest it be pointed out that Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and other Islamic hardliners have done quite well as a result of the Bush administration’s “Mess-o-potamia” foreign policy. Still, Obama had to demonstrate he could establish credibility towards stability in the Middle East especially because he has put forth an innovative approach (diplomacy, how novel).
The deans of Washington seem to believe that Obama “passed” this hysterical “test.” David Brooks, in his latest New York Times column writes:
Obama doesn’t broadcast moral disgust when talking about terror groups, but he said that in some ways he’d be tougher than the Bush administration. He said he would do more to arm the Lebanese military and would be tougher on North Korea. “This is not an argument between Democrats and Republicans,” he concluded. “It’s an argument between ideology and foreign policy realism. I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
In the early 1990s, the Democrats and the first Bush administration had a series of arguments – about humanitarian interventions, whether to get involved in the former Yugoslavia, and so on. In his heart, Obama talks like the Democrats of that era, viewing foreign policy from the ground up. But in his head, he aligns himself with the realist dealmaking of the first Bush. Apparently, he’s part Harry Hopkins and part James Baker.
As always, having a Democrat who can surf the waters between “realist” and “idealist” is a good thing. The next president’s foreign policy agenda is largely set. The top five priorities:
1) Leaving Iraq;
2) Leaving Iraq;
3) Leaving Iraq;
4) Leaving Iraq; and
5) Leaving Iraq.
After that, the United States will have to create an innovative energy policy that can deal with climate change, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and aid more democratic regimes in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Iran and Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine, China, Russia, and Latin America will surely play a major part in determining how America engages in the world no matter which party is in power.
Senator Obama, however, should not let Washington insiders (and other party hacks) control his foreign policy vision. Liberal commentators in the press, particularly the New York Times, have argued that he would instantly change America’s image in the world, reflecting global ethnic diversity in a way no American president ever has. Roger Cohen argued that Obama fits well with the world after having a conversation with Senator Obama’s half-sister Auma: “He can be trusted,” says Auma, “to be in dialogue with the world.”
I hope that Senator Obama would go beyond that and create a foreign policy that incorporates a global worldview back into American public life. Most importantly, there is a very real and very dangerous gap in resources and opportunity that exists for American citizens that is denied to those both close (or within the United States, in the cause of the Latin American immigrants doing so much of our work today) and far away.
On Saturday, Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times reported on the heartbreaking starvation in Somalia, not far from Obama’s father’s homeland of Kenya:
Somalia – and much of the volatile Horn of Africa, for that matter – was about the last place on earth that needed a food crisis. Even before commodity prices started shooting up around the globe, civil war, displacement and imperiled aid operations had pushed many people here to the brink of famine.
But now with food costs spiraling out of reach and the livestock that people live off of dropping dead in the sand, villagers across this sun-blasted landscape say hundreds of people are dying of hunger and thirst.
This is what happens, economists say, when the global food crisis meets local chaos.
“We’re really in the perfect storm,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and top United Nations adviser, who recently visited neighboring Kenya.
Around 3 million Somalis require immediate food assistance, and this at a time when the United States Congress once against preserved its regressive and wasteful agricultural payment system for large farms that drives up farm prices and destroys local food production across the world.
Starvation in the Horn of Africa will not remain a contained “humanitarian crisis,” but will likely feed anger and resentment at the continued gap in economic power between the United States and the rest of the world. Our ability to consume 1/4 of the world’s fossil energy resources and food consumption cannot continue without tremendous repercussions for our security and credibility in the world. This is a challenge, among many others, that the next President must take up and Senator Obama is certainly the right candidate to do it. But even Senator Obama, showing his “James Baker” side, voted in favor of continuing large agricultural subsidies, no doubt for fear of alienating farm states in this fall’s general election. Let’s hope that the vision of global cooperation he wrote so beautifully about in Dreams of My Father emerges if he becomes president, as he is surely the only candidate this year capable of creating a new foreign policy to help those starving in Africa and mollify those seething in locales throughout the rest of the globe. “James Baker” simply will not do in 2008.