Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Barack's World

I dug deep. Well not really, actually I was pleased to find, buried deep within the vitriolic melee that plagues the media regarding the looming presidential election, a small gem. A pair of essays published in Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007) written by two front runners of each party. The obvious theme? Foreign policy. The candidates? Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Democrat and Republican respectively. The former a political “rock star” and Illinois senator the latter the governor of Massachussetts who affects a Reagen-esque polish.

This is a two part post that will analyze and comment on the two essays. Certainly a few hundred words isn’t nearly adequate to layout a complete and immense strategic/ideological framework for something so complex and confounding as foreign policy. However, both candidates present a sound synopsis of what could be to come in regards to foreign policy would each win the highest seat. I’ll highlight various snippets of each essay and divide them into three categories: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

First Candidate: Barack Obama

Obama qualities:

Open Minded
Rock Star

On Iraq:

The Good:

“…it is time for our civilian leaders to acknowledge a painful truth: we cannot impose a military solution on a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions.”

Indeed the sectarian divisions are only compounded by each sects intra-tribal/factional divisions. Short of a repeat of Hama, overt military might is nearly useless in neutralizing a civil war. If anything the militant approach results in a slow bleed as the civil conflict between sects (and tribes) is waged not in open battle rather through sporadic (yet daily) combination soft target terror attacks and mini crusades.

The Bad:

“…it is time for our civilian leaders to acknowledge a painful truth: we cannot impose a military solution on a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions. The best chance we have to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political solution.

Ah, no. Sorry. The idea that an elite group of “politicians” representing each tribe or faction would/could come together (at this point) and find a political solution to a dogmatic/cultural/ideological divide as deep as Iraq's seems simply foreign to me. This solution assumes a political stability that simply does not exist in Iraq right now. As though the Sunni’s, Shiites and Kurds are simply at loggerheads politically in the same fashion of our own bi-partisan political system. The reality is each, from a macroscopic view, is vying for their own ends whether it be political or religious dominance or autonomy (as is the case of the Kurds.) Getting the elected officials to agree is hard enough. Getting the various tribes and sects to fall in line with that agreement seems impossible at this time.

The Ugly:

“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 of US forces, with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008...”

Again Senator Obama imagines a political structure that simply doesn’t exist. Withdrawal will certainly ratchet up pressure on the essentially defunct Iraqi government but will almost certainly have quite the opposite effect regarding both the Shia militias and Sunni insurgents. If anything the sudden vacuum would result in both a massive increase in factional aggression and the collapse of the already steadily decaying government. A government whose solidarity is not the Iraqi social structure and legal constitution but the presence and support of the very same armed forces Obama would see redeployed. What Senator Obama sees as a disciplinary action meant to drive the Iraqi government into action would actually be it’s death knell. Personally I'm in favor of withdrawal for the purpose of accelerating the inevitable civil war but to see withdrawal as a tool to bring Iraq together is, in my opinion, ridiculous.

The Middle East:

The Good:

“Tough minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power-political, economic and military-could bring success even when dealing with long standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria. Our policy of issuing threats and relying on intermediaries to curb Iran’s nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism and regional aggression is failing. Although we must not rule out using military force, we should talk directly to Iran.

Indeed the Bush administration is well known for it’s patently myopic strategy of simply ignoring ones enemy. This steadfast and bullheaded approach is reminiscent of Cato (the elder) who in the run up to the third Punic war (which could be just as easily known as the Unnecessary Solid Pounding of a Defeated Carthage) ended his every oration, no matter it’s subject with, “Carthage must be destroyed!” Such single mindedness lends depth and color to the legacy of a long dead Roman fundamentalist but hasn’t been an effective tactic in current foreign policy. A quick glance at the Gaza strip is all one needs to see the failure of refusing to acknowledge ones adversary.

The Bad:

“Diplomacy combined with pressure could also reorient Syria away from its radical agenda to a more moderate stance- which could, in turn, help stabilize Iraq, isolate Iran, free Lebanon from Damascus’ grip and better secure Israel.”

Two things:
One, Iran is more likely to succumb to a soft kill approach than Syria. They maintain both an unruly populace and a very real pro-democracy/western element within that populace.

Two, having spurned the current agenda (and one assumes, administration) for it’s issuing threats in place of diplomacy Senator Obama does an odd about face and talks of isolating Iran. Not an exact dichotomy but does lend one to believe that Obama is playing his pan-partisan card and making an attempt to appease all lines of thought regarding Iran. I'm not clear on how one can both engage his enemy and isolate him at the same time.

The Ugly:

Obama tosses Israel around quite a bit in his discussion of the middle east to the point where his ME policy seems to pivot around the security of Israel rather than include the security of Israel as a major element of his ME policy.

“Our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel…”

“…help stabilize Iraq, isolate Iran, free Lebanon from Damascus’ grip and better secure Israel.”

I suppose that’s politically wise even if it is a bit vague and simplistic. But the ugly here is not what the senator iterates rather what remains unsaid. That the rise of Hamas and the glorification and bolstering of Hezbollah (and yes this is a subjective position but bear with me) following last summers IDF debacle in Lebanon are products of the above mentioned “Cato mind set” that plagues both countries regimes. Simply replace Carthage with Hamas or Hezbollah.

This isn’t to suggest that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah bear any responsibility. Quite the contrary an attack on ones soldiers within ones border is an act of war and a military response is in line with reason. However, such a response and it’s ramifications must be fully explored and I’d argue that Israel’s reaction was anything but. The consequences left a generally pro-western Lebanese regime teetering, destabilized Israel’s own government and provided Hezbollah with an excellent opportunity to cash in on the moral high ground as they launched relief and rebuilding efforts in the aftermath. Uncle Naz became a folk hero and the legacy of invincibility that the IDF had enjoyed for more than half a century was dispelled.

What I would have liked to read from Obama is that while Israel is our most valuable ally in the region and her security is of great importance our course of action is in dire need of change. That writing off Hamas as a mere "terror group" and acting accordingly ignores the reality of Hamas' political presence. That Israel and the US should and have learned from the events in Gaza and Lebanon and that ally or no ally Israel isn’t going to simply receive a US endorsed political blank check and pat on the ass the next time the IDF is mobilized.

China and Global Warming:

The Good:

“We will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others. Our essential challenge is to build a relationship that broadens cooperation while strengthening our ability to compete.”

That statement is almost enough to make me go out and slap an Obama ’08 sticker on my bumper. Almost. A very clear headed approach that’s a reasonable change from the current Next Big Threat ideology regarding China that infects some politicians.

The Bad:

I’ll jump straight to the Ugly here.

The Ugly:

Obama devotes a good deal of words to the “epochal, man-made threat to the planet: Climate change.”

I’m not going to delve into the aged argument of whether or not our CO2 emissions are going to end the world. Rather what leaves me shaking my head here is Obama’s approach to global warming is “defeating” it and makes zero mention nor effort toward adaptation. In essence he’s basing a good chunk of his foreign political ideals (“assistance policies and export promotions,” etc.) on the “fact” that if we’d just stop making CO2 the earth would stop warming up. He shows zero consideration for the possibility that CO2 or not the planet might well warm up anyway. And yes I realize this flies in the face of scientific consensus but I’d hesitate to bet fate on the assertions of those that promise to know what the climate will look like decades from now yet are often inaccurate in their predictions of a year from now (last year was going to be a whopper of a hurricane season- it wasn‘t) or even a week from now.

Concluding thoughts:

Senator Obama is no doubt an intelligent and seemingly honest politician. His speech at the 2004 DNC impressed the hell out of me and his pan-partisan approach (assuming it’s a reality and not a gimmick) would be a refreshing change in American leadership as our country is in dire need of more leading for the people and less (zero) leading for the party.

His approach to foreign affairs seems too polished and while it does contain some glimmers of hope I suspect a good deal of it is political rhetoric aimed at the audience rather than the policies. His recent virtual threatening of Pakistan did him no favors in my view either. While I agree action in Waziristan is a necessity for defeating the Taliban I’m certain promising to use military force without the consent of Pakistan was cowboyish and reminiscent of a speech given not long ago about a particular “axis of evil.” I think I’d agree with his democratic rival, Hilary Clinton, that he’s a bit na├»ve.

Related Links:

Obama's Lack of Sea-Legs in Foreign Policy- ZenPundit

An impressive breakdown of the two articles at- WhirledView. Looking forward to the analysis.

Krauthammer's wrong on Obama- T. Barnett

Barnett's Wrong on Obama- tdaxp


Dan tdaxp said...

It's easy to imagine that Obama is actually a Clinton mole, makign a cown of himself in an attempt to make Hillary look sane & reasonable by comparison.

Jay@Soob said...

That's an interesting thought. I think it was Newt Gingrich who recently commented that a Clinton/Obama ticket would be a winner. It certainly makes sense to be. Imagine the first woman president and first African American vice president. People might well vote for them just to be able to tell their grand kids they'd voted for the first lady president and her running mate, a black man. Or vice versa though I suspect Clinton is the stronger candidate.

Adrian said...

Samantha Powers, from the Obama campaign, on Obama vs. Conventional Wisdom:

Jay@Soob said...

Hmm. A dead link but I've sussed out some reflection of Obama's FP via your link. Lot's of promise not a lot of "how we'll do it."

My take on Mitt (a future post should I actually accomplish such a feat given the aspect of time!) will entail a similar context. Though Mitt's take leans (reflects?) Barnett's grand strategy in some respects it's a bit vague and (from my perspective) naive/ignorant.