Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Obama's Foreign Policy Must Emphasize Diplomacy, not Battlefields

Delivering a prepared statement today in Washington, Barack Obama outlined his five part strategy to combat global terrorism.

"When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world's most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland."

A component of this first step, getting on "the right battlefield" in Pakistan, is already drawing plenty of heat. "I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges," Obama said. "But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will. "

It is disappointing to see Obama flex his muscles here, stressing military action largely in response to criticism from opponents who see his previous proposals as weak. This is hardly the "Politics of Hope" that we were promised. In fact, it is exactly the "politics as usual" that Obama is so quick to denounce.

But before we scoff at his entire plan, let's be reminded that the first step in his approach to Pakistan does hinge on diplomacy.

"As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan."

We can trust that most coverage of this Obama speech will center on his comments on Pakistan. And rightly so. This explicit threat of military action is a departure from Obama's previous speeches. Make no mistake about it--if Obama continues to drift toward military solutions to the global terrorism threat, he risks alienating many of his most ardent supporters.

In the spirit of getting to the real heart of Obama's proposals, let's examine elements of the plan that better reflect his fresh, much needed, diplomacy based foreign policy.

  • "...I will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks from the remote islands of Indonesia, to the sprawling cities of Africa. This program will provide $5 billion over three years for counter-terrorism cooperation with countries around the world, including information sharing, funding for training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and targeting terrorist financing. And this effort will focus on helping our partners succeed without repressive tactics, because brutality breeds terror, it does not defeat it."
  • "...there is still about 50 tons of highly enriched civilian nuclear facilities in over forty countries...There are still about 15,000 to 16,00 nuclear weapons and stockpiles of uranium and plutonium scattered across 11 time zones in the former Soviet President, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years."
  • "As President, I will make it a focus of my foreign policy to roll back the tide of hopelessness that gives rise to hate. Freedom must mean freedom from fear, not the freedom of anarchy. I will never shrug my shoulders and say -- as Secretary Rumsfeld did -- "Freedom is untidy." I will focus our support on helping nations build independent judicial systems, honest police forces, and financial systems that are transparent and accountable. Freedom must also mean freedom from want, not freedom lost to an empty stomach. So I will make poverty reduction a key part of helping other nations reduce anarchy."
  • "I will double our annual investments to meet these challenges to $50 billion by 2012. And I will support a $2 billion Global Education Fund to counter the radical madrasas -- often funded by money from within Saudi Arabia -- that have filled young minds with messages of hate. We must work for a world where every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy."
  • "We will open "America Houses" in cities across the Islamic world, with Internet, libraries, English lessons, stories of America's Muslims and the strength they add to our country, and vocational programs. Through a new "America's Voice Corps" we will recruit, train, and send out into the field talented young Americans who can speak with -- and listen to -- the people who today hear about us only from our enemies."
  • "In the first 100 days of my Administration, I will travel to a major Islamic forum and deliver an address to redefine our struggle. I will make clear that we are not at war with Islam, that we will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future, and that we need their effort to defeat the prophets of hate and violence. I will speak directly to that child who looks up at that helicopter, and my message will be clear: "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now."
Obama's tough talk on Pakistan will no doubt draw attention away from the more progressive elements of his plan. In an effort to respond to his critics and appeal to more conservative voters, Obama seems to be infusing some military might into the Politics of Hope.

Not a good idea. Obama set fundraising records and became the leading candidate by emphasizing a politics of peace, unity, and optimism. He must stay true to those promises.

In the meantime, let's focus on the aspects of Obama's plan that are truly hopeful. Let's remind the Obama campaign why we're supporting this candidate in the first place.