As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Foreign Policy Obstacle Course

From the beginning, my enthusiasm for an Obama Administration was in the field of foreign policy, where it seemed he was bringing a new mindset of progressive internationalism that is a fitting break with the neoconservative policies of the past. The intervening weeks of the transition gave me some pause that he was falling back on Clinton retreads and moving in a more hawkish direction. And I still feel that his speech had a little too much bravado about "we will defeat you" that seemed shoved in there to appeal to Republicans. But overall, there was a refashioning of US foreign policy that is commendable, and Marc Lynch notes that his remarks to the Muslim world were spot-on.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

I do hope he follows this up, because the counsel he is likely to get from the team he has assembled is not likely to express their beliefs in quite this way. I was pleased to hear that Obama met with several foreign policy progressives in secret before the inauguration, and that Samantha Power still apparently has a role as a counselor, but like Matt Yglesias I'm not sure why the meeting had to be in secret:

And then there’s the matter of this national security team featuring Denis McDonough, Ben Rhodes, Daniel Shapiro, and Samantha Power with Lee Hamilton in the background as an eminence grise. That sounds to be an awful lot like the Obama national security team I remember from the campaign. What ever happened to those guys? Or to non-Hamilton folks like Scott Gration and Richard Danzig? Obama feels like he’s already “in the bubble” but it appears to be a bubble overwhelmingly of his own devising. The names we’ve got for the most senior positions—Gates, Lynn, Flournoy, Clinton, Steinberg, Slaughter, Jones, Donilon—are all well-qualified people, but it’s really striking that none of them are Obama’s people. It’s not surprising to me that he might start to feel uncomfortable with that situation, but I don’t really see why he created the situation in the first place.

It could be that he's comfortable enough with his vision of foreign policy that he wants it tested against those who don't share exactly the same views, but that certainly makes it harder on Obama for no discernible reason. There is an outpouring from the country and the world on which a wise leader can capitalize, but that requires good information and a wise course. Why did Obama turn that into an obstacle course?

(by the way, definitely click on the above link to see the front pages from over 700 newspapers around the world)

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