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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is Obama's Foreign Policy Changing?

President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech gave conservatives, or dare I say neoconservatives, plenty to love.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.


Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.


And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists -- a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations.

Without a doubt, sprinkled into his Nobel Peace Prize speech were shots at the previous administration and tacit acknowledgements to the Euro liberals about America's past moral failings. Still, the general tenor of the speech was a very vigorous defense of a muscular foreign policy.

The speech came within a week of the President's announcement that he would send more troops to Afghanistan. The speech was applauded by no less than Newt Gingrich, who called it Obama's best, and Sarah Palin. Meanwhile, Neoconservative stalwarts William Kristol and Fred Kagan had this to say following the announcement of Obama's Afghanistan strategy.

Obama's decision, and the speech in which it was announced, were not flawless. The president should have met his commander's full request for forces. He should not have announced a deadline for the start of the withdrawal of U.S. forces. He should have committed to a specific and significant increase in the size of the Afghan National Security Forces. He should also have explained more clearly the relationship between defeating the Taliban and defeating al Qaeda, the significance of such a victory, and the reasons his Afghan strategy can succeed. The secretaries of defense and state, as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made those arguments far more compellingly in subsequent congressional testimony than the president did at West Point.

We shouldn't miss the forest for the trees, however. When all the rhetorical and other problems are stripped away, the fact remains that Obama has, in his first year in office, committed to doubling our forces in Afghanistan and embraced our mission there. Indeed, the plan the president announced on Tuesday features a commendably rapid deployment of reinforcements to the theater, with most of the surge forces arriving over the course of this winter, allowing them to be in position before the enemy's traditional fighting season begins.

In fact, the Nobel Peace Prize speech moved Bill Kristol to say this.

There was a fair amount for Bush Doctrine-supporters, American-exceptionalist patriots, and neocon warmongers to like in Obama's Oslo speech. He sounded hardheaded and pro-American, certainly by contrast with his previous rhetorical forays abroad--his utopian world-without-nuclear-weapons remarks in Prague in April or his apologetic speech to the Muslim world in Cairo two months later.

In Oslo, Obama began "by acknowledging a hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes." The implication of that? "There will be times when nations--acting individually or in concert--will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

Note that "acting individually." Despite much talk elsewhere in the speech about the international community acting together, Obama held open the possibility that nations will have to act alone and will be morally justified in doing so.

Similarly, despite his professed admiration for Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Obama explicitly said, "as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone." Indeed, Obama went on implicitly to rebuke Gandhi: "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies."

Kristol goes on to speculate if the Oslo speech was a precursor to a strike on Iran.

One thing that was underreported was the reaction to Obama in Europe following this speech. The Nobel Peace Prize speech was by far the most bellicose acceptance speech for the Nobel PEACE Prize that I can think of. Yet, there was little if any criticism of its bellicosity. In fact, the general reaction was positive.

Obama has in fact set things up to lead the world into aggressive action against Iran if that's what he chooses to do. His foreign policy has slowly but surely moved away from the naive leftist fantasy that it started out as to a much more realistic one.

It's true that Obama continues to insist on closing GITMO and trying KSM et al in country is disastrous. At the same time, Obama has effectively continued Bush's Iraq policy. He's followed a similar strategy in Afghanistan. If the Nobel Peace Prize speech is any indication, he may be moving to a muscular policy toward Iran as well.

The beauty is that if that's what he chooses he's in fact set himself up perfectly. The Europeans are enthralled with Obama. Only President Barack Obama could convince the Europeans to take a muscular stance against Iran. That doesn't necessarily mean a rush to war. In fact, he could lead the charge against serious sanctions, a Naval blockade, removal of ambassadors, and any other meaningful act against that nation. He set out a muscular foreign policy in Oslo and the Europeans didn't merely not criticize but applauded.

Obama can in fact demand such a policy of the Europeans and he's about the only person capable of leading it. It's too early to tell if Obama's policy real has moderated on foreign policy. There is however plenty for those like me to like lately.

There is always an X factor in any presidency. That is that the office itself changes and evolves the holder. It's very possible that the office has shown President Obama that the policies he was in favor of when a candidate are untennable and the office is forcing Obama to moderate. It's something to watch as his own presidency evolves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have a good point that only a Democrat can undertake unpopular right-wing policies like balancing the budget and attacking Iran. But I promise you that it will win him exactly ZERO votes from the Tea Party crowd. Because it never fails that when given the choice between a democrat acting like a republican, and a republican, people will choose the genuine article.