Friday, April 18, 2008

Barack Obama and American Foreign Policy

What would US foreign policy be like under a Barack Obama administration? The question is worth looking into.

One thing we know is that Mr. Obama has promised not only to begin withdrawing US soldiers from Iraq immediately upon taking office, but he plans to withdraw all US presence from Iraq. Here's what he said in response to a question posed to him in the April 16 debate with Clinton.

GIBSON: And, Senator Obama, your campaign manager, David Plouffe, said, "When he is" -- this is talking about you -- "When he is elected president, we will be out of Iraq in 16 months at the most. There should be no confusion about that." So you'd give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?

OBAMA: Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie. That's not the role of the generals. And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, "Well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus." Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer. Now, I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with respect to tactics, once I've given them a new mission, that we are going to proceed deliberately, in an orderly fashion, out of Iraq, and we are going to have our combat troops out. We will not have permanent bases there.

Take a close look at the last sentence.

We will not have permanent bases there.

It is a remarkable commitment. It would mean that America would withdraw from Iraq with no demonstrable source of victory or even of a positive consequence for having entered. It would mean unequivocally that the US would lose the war.

Two bottom lines: First, John McCain and Fox News will surely attack Obama as weak on foreign policy throughout the general election. Mr. Obama will have to develop a compelling set of reasons to make a foreign policy decision as drastic as losing a war. It will be difficult to do so for three reasons. 1. The media will not be friendly to the idea. 2. Americans will find it scary and weak. 3. Our mouthy adversaries around the world (namely, Iran) will find even more reason to taunt us. In sum, withdrawal will be a difficult case to make. It is questionable whether Mr. Obama is up to the task.

Second bottom line: Obama's best, perhaps only, chance in the general election is to break toward the center on foreign policy -- he should keep his insistence on greater diplomacy with Iran, but be more reasonable about Iraq. Obama as candidate has hardly a fraction of the knowledge that he will have at his fingertips as President; so why would he tie his hands now? Obama: keep your options open. If your campaign strategy is to toe the conventional liberal line and run a campaign merely on "fairness" and "hope," your chances in November are none. To win, you must beat McCain in the pragmatic center.

No comments: