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Barack Obama's answer to the challenge of restoring American leadership

Subject:        Barack Obama's answer to the challenge of restoring American
leadership
Date:   Fri, 25 May 2007 10:18:58 -0400
From:   Chas Freeman
To:     Robert Keeley



Bob:

Perhaps my speech should be read in conjunction with this analysis from
"The Globalist," which even more pointedly addresses the conflation of
American power with our military:
http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=6195

Chas

<http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/printStoryId.aspx?StoryId=6195>

* *


* Globalist Perspective > Global Politics
** Barack Obama's American Exceptionalism*

By *Christopher A. Preble
<http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/AuthorBiography.aspx?AuthorId=966>* |
Friday, May 25, 2007

Senator Barack Obama's meteoric rise from relative obscurity to
presidential contender has been aided by the debate over the war in
Iraq. Obama, who was not a U.S. Senator when Congress voted to go to war
in 2002, has worn his opposition to the war as a badge of honor. But as
Christopher Preble argues, that will only carry him so far.





ecognizing the need to lay out a foreign policy agenda defined by more
than opposition to the war in Iraq, Senator Obama set out to explain his
broader vision for U.S. foreign policy in an April 2007 speech before
the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.

The speech contained a healthy helping of high-minded rhetoric about the
need "to stay on the offense, from Djibouti to Kandahar," of leading a
global effort "to keep the world's deadliest weapons out of the world's
most dangerous hands," of the need to build "stronger alliances," and of
leading "a stronger push to defeat the terrorists' message of hate with
an agenda for hope around the world."


       Channeling FDR

The few concrete recommendations, including his proposal to increase
U.S. foreign aid spending to $50 billion by 2012, are conventional in
the sense that they are designed to appeal to his party's liberal base.

*The underlying message implies a willingness to use force abroad that
might be nearly indistinguishable from that of the current occupant of
the White House.*

Equally conventional is his invocation of Franklin Roosevelt. Obama,
channeling FDR, explains that the United States leads "the world in
battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." And so we
must. "We must lead by building a 21st century military to ensure the
security of our people and advance the security of /all people/."
(Emphasis added)

This expansive vision for what the United States can and should do is
consistent with Obama's endorsement of a permanent increase in the size
of the military, an additional "65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000
Marines."


       Expanding the military

Many of the other candidates aspiring for the nomination have embraced
the idea of growing the military, and the logic is consistent with
Obama's accurate observation that "the war in Afghanistan and the
ill-advised invasion of Iraq have clearly demonstrated the consequences
of underestimating the number of troops required to fight two wars and
defend our homeland."

But there are two ways to solve this problem — by either restraining the
impulse to intervene militarily or by increasing the military. Obama
conceded as much. "Of course," he explained, "how we use our armed
forces matters just as much as how they are prepared."


       Praise from Kagan

*Would President Obama have sent troops to Panama? To Somalia? To Haiti?
Would he have declared, as George H.W. Bush did, that Saddam's
aggression against Kuwait would not stand?*

However, the underlying message of his speech, and of his specific
proposals, implies a willingness to use force abroad that might be
nearly indistinguishable from that of the current occupant of the White
House.

Perhaps that explains why the junior senator from Illinois won praise
from Robert Kagan, the Washington Post columnist. He seemed genuinely
excited about Obama's embrace of a highly activist foreign policy.

Kagan had a hand in shaping that policy in the mid-1990s, when he (along
with William Kristol) called for the United States to play the role of
"benevolent global hegemon" — i.e. "world's policeman."


       Playing the policeman

The Iraq war and other global misadventures have revealed that being the
world's cop is a costly undertaking.

And although 76% of Americans, according to a recent poll taken by the
Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, say that
the United States is "playing the role of world policeman more than it
should be," Kagan believes that he has found yet another politician who
believes the United States doesn't play the role often enough — hence
his praise for "Obama the Interventionist."


       "Dumb wars"

But what does Barack Obama actually believe? Is he more or less inclined
than his predecessors to intervene militarily? When asked about his
stance on Iraq, Obama has explained that he was not opposed to all wars,
just "dumb wars." This makes for a good soundbite, but it does not tell
us much about how he would approach the most important decisions that a
president will make.

*Obama's broader vision for restoring U.S. leadership betrays all of the
excesses of "indispensable nation" hubris that entangled U.S. forces in
a host of dubious missions in the 1990s.*

In his speech to the Chicago Council, he attempted to elaborate. He
explained: "No president should ever hesitate to use force —
unilaterally if necessary — to protect ourselves and our vital interests
when we are attacked or imminently threatened. But when we use force in
situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to
garner the clear support and participation of others.

"And when we do send our men and women into harm's way, we must also
clearly define the mission, prescribe concrete political and military
objectives, seek out advice of our military commanders, evaluate the
intelligence, plan accordingly — and ensure that our troops have the
resources, support and equipment they need to protect themselves and
fulfill their mission."


       U.S. leadership

A willingness to ask such questions ties into his pledge to restore U.S.
global leadership by "building the first truly 21st century military and
showing wisdom in how we deploy it."

Unfortunately, Obama's broader vision for restoring U.S. leadership
betrays all of the excesses of "indispensable nation" hubris that
entangled U.S. forces in a host of dubious missions in the 1990s.


       A more competent meddler

*But what does Barack Obama actually believe? He has explained that he
was not opposed to all wars, just "dumb wars." This makes for a good
soundbite.*

At least one of Senator Obama's leading foreign policy advisers,
Samantha Power, wants to recapture that interventionist spirit.

"It's going to take a generation or so," she told Newsweek senior editor
Michael Hirsh in an article for the Washington Monthly, "to reclaim
American exceptionalism." Power lamented that Americans were "neither
the shining example, nor even competent meddlers" in the world's problems.

Is that what Barack Obama offers the electorate — to be a more competent
meddler?


       What would Obama do?

To answer that question, we have to go back to the smart war-dumb war
paradigm. Using his own calculus, which of the other major military
actions conducted by the U.S. military since the end of the Cold War
would be classified as "dumb wars"?

Would President Obama have sent troops to Panama? To Somalia? To Haiti?
Would he have declared, as George H.W. Bush did, that Saddam's
aggression against Kuwait would not stand? Would President Obama have
favored using ground troops in Kosovo, as opposed to Bill Clinton's
air-power-only approach? Or would he have stayed out of that murky
struggle entirely?


       Talking about Darfur

And what of the military actions that were not taken? Would President
Obama have sent U.S. troops into Rwanda in 1994 — in an attempt to halt
the genocide that occurred there? The real test case might be Darfur.
*Most Americans believe that global engagement need not take the form of
U.S. men and women in uniform risking their lives in dubious missions of
questionable import — while the rest of the world looks on from a
distance.*

And yet, the subject merited just 32 words near the beginning of Obama's
Chicago speech.

In the course of documenting his travels around the world over the past
two years, the senator recounts, "At a camp along the border of Chad and
Darfur, refugees begged for America to step in and help stop the
genocide that has taken their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters."

Yet, nowhere in the remainder of the speech does candidate Obama spell
out what he would do to halt the killings. This is a pretty remarkable
oversight coming from a man who wrote, in a Washington Post op-ed
co-authored with Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) in December 2005, that
"only the United States, working in concert with key nations, has the
leverage and resources to persuade Khartoum."


       Worth the risk?

A few months later, Obama said that Americans were "going to have to
provide our military hardware, like trucks and helicopters" to a
20,000-man U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur — and get "Canada,
Australia and non-engaged European nations to commit the troops."

But why would those other nations agree to risk the lives of their men
and women when Americans were risking only trucks and helicopters?
Answer: they wouldn't.


       U.S. intervention burdens

The simple truth is this: Since the end of the Cold War, the Unites
States has regularly engaged in military action, often in places that
had no connection to U.S. vital interests — and Americans have
*This expansive vision for what the United States can and should do is
consistent with Obama's endorsement of a permanent increase in the size
of the military.*

learned to hate these interventions.

Three out of every four Americans are fed up with "benevolent global
hegemony" and are now looking to more equitably share the burdens of
policing the globe with other countries.

This solid majority is weighing the costs and benefits of global
leadership, and most believe that global engagement need not take the
form of U.S. men and women in uniform risking their lives in dubious
missions of questionable import — while the rest of the world looks on
from a distance. It didn't all begin with Iraq, but Iraq certainly
brought the costs and risks in sharp focus.


       Where does he stand?

On the other side of the ideological divide are Robert Kagan and the
other leading advocates for the Iraq war that Obama has labeled "dumb."
Whereas most Americans believe that the United States has taken the lead
too often, and paid too many of the costs of policing the globe, there
are folks who believe that U.S. military power has not been used often
enough.

Where does Senator Obama stand? Despite his recent speech, we still
don't know. And until he explains more clearly his approach to military
intervention and the use of force, we won't.


--
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