2.6.07

Catching Obama in a foreign policy Mitt

When I was in the 8th grade, I ran unsuccessfully for Student Council President in a field of 6 or 7 candidates. One of those candidates was an immigrant from India named Surinder Singh. He spoke with a very thick accent, wore a turban, and was generally unaccustomed to American pre-teen life. Thus, Surinder had some hard times at Franklin Avenue Middle School.

But to his credit, that didn't stop him from standing as one of my competitors in the election of 1989. To this day I can remember elements of Surinder's campaign speech. He began:
"My name is Surinder Singh. My goal is to make school a better place. We will have longer lunch and recess. We will have more rec nights and field trips. I will clean up the bathrooms!"
And on he went from there with a hilarious litany of pie-in-the-sky campaign promises.

I only bring this up because after reading Barack Obama's 7-page foreign policy outline published in the most recent Foreign Affairs issue (a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations), Surinder's ludicrous wish list was the first thing that sprang to mind.

Here are some excerpts from Obama's plan:

"If elected president, I will start renewing [America's] promise and purpose the day I take office...

I will clearly define the mission, seek out the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and ensure that our troops have the resources and the support they need...

I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests...

I will work with other nations to secure, destroy, and stop the spread of these weapons in order to dramatically reduce the nuclear dangers for our nation and the world...

I will work to negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material...

I will join with our allies in insisting -- not simply requesting -- that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups...

I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region...

I will build a twenty-first-century military and twenty-first-century partnerships as strong as the anticommunist alliance that won the Cold War...

I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security...

I will rebuild our ties to our allies in Europe and Asia and strengthen our partnerships throughout the Americas and Africa...

I will rally our NATO allies to contribute more troops to collective security operations and to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization capabilities...

I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea...

I will also encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power -- to help lead in addressing the common problems of the twenty-first century...

I intend to enact a cap-and-trade system that will dramatically reduce our carbon emissions...

I will work to finally free America of its dependence on foreign oil -- by using energy more efficiently in our cars, factories, and homes, relying more on renewable sources of electricity, and harnessing the potential of biofuels...

I will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries leapfrog the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development...

I will strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity...

I will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012...

I will couple our support with an insistent call for reform, to combat the corruption that rots societies and governments from within. I will do so not in the spirit of a patron but in the spirit of a partner -- a partner mindful of his own imperfections...

I will capitalize a $2 billion Global Education Fund that will bring the world together in eliminating the global education deficit...

I will show the world that America remains true to its founding values...

ummm, how many terms does this guy plan on serving? If anyone had any doubts that Barack Obama is totally out of his league and thoroughly unqualified to be President of the United States, this ought to remove them. (yes, those are all exact quotes!)

(continued...)

But Obama's piece reveals much more than his amateur status. In addition to all the promises he listed above, his views on foreign aid also make it more than clear just how ultra-liberal he is:

"the security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders...

...the United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty and joining with our allies in sharing more of our riches to help those most in need.

For the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance funding has done little more than keep pace with inflation. It is in our national security interest to do better."

Where does this guy intend to get all the money for his many proposals?

In the little bit he devoted to Iran, Obama managed to contradict himself within 2 sentences:
"Our policy of issuing threats and relying on intermediaries to curb Iran's nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and regional aggression is failing. Although we must not rule out using military force, we should not hesitate to talk directly to Iran. Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners."
Relying on intermediaries doesn't work, but somehow we're going to apply tougher sanctions and increase pressure from trading partners? Like who? UNSC veto-wielding China, which recently signed a long-term $100 BILLION dollar energy deal with Iran?

Admittedly though, there were some bright spots and points that I commend Obama for raising:

"We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed...including in foreign languages and other critical skills...

We must invest still more in human intelligence and deploy additional trained operatives and diplomats with specialized knowledge of local cultures and languages."

This mirrors part of my platform when I ran for Congress 3 years ago. The Herald News wrote:
"Ajjan also supports training military personnel to better understand Arabic culture in order to help the transition into democracy, and root out terrorists...'in order to defeat the enemy, we need to understand them. They're doing it to us, we need to also.'"
Most importantly, though, Obama directly addressed the need to:
"...focus our attention and influence on resolving the festering conflict between
the Israelis and the Palestinians -- a task that the Bush administration neglected for years...Now more than ever, we must strive to secure a lasting settlement of the conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security...Sustained American leadership for peace and security will require patient effort and the personal commitment of the president of the United States. That is a commitment I will make."
Of course, then-Governor Bush promised much of the same in 2000, and to have a humble foreign policy, and not to do nation building, and to protect the civil rights of Arab-Americans, but I digress. But the direct pledge to address the Israel-Palestine conflict (notice he didn't address the overall Arab-Israeli conflict, which would include settling land disputes on Israel's northern borders, which is much more low-hanging presidential legacy fruit) showed a distinct difference with the similar article of Mitt Romney which also appeared in the most recent Foreign Affairs issue.

Romney began:
"...lines have been drawn between those labeled 'realists' and those labeled 'neoconservatives.' Yet these terms mean little when even the most committed neoconservative recognizes that any successful policy must be grounded in reality."
Just for kicks, here are some examples of the "reality" in which "successful policy" must be "grounded", according to Romney.
  1. "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps." - Ken Adelman, February 2002
  2. "...the new government of Israel -- as the terror threat is removed and security improves -- will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- (applause) -- and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end." - President Bush, February, 2003
  3. "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." - Vice President Cheney, March 2003
For his part, Romney continues to spout neocon rubbish:

"We need not look to ancient history, but only to the courage and determination of our parents and grandparents to see a stark contrast with the confusion and infighting of Washington today."
Exactly. Who needs to understand 6,000 years of Mesopotamian History? We're descended from the Greatest Generation, so how could we possibly fail in Iraq?

I've said before that Romney is a karaoke superstar, and not only has he perfectly memorized the lyrics, but he continues to play the same three chords from AEI's Greatest Hits:
"Many still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, specifically by those extremists who promote violent jihad against the United States and the universal values Americans espouse...Radical Islam has one goal: to replace all modern Islamic states with a worldwide caliphate while destroying the United States and converting all nonbelievers, forcibly if necessary, to Islam."
Gee, you'd think he'd have the good sense to be a bit more highbrow than to insult the readers of Foreign Affairs with his cookie-cutter definitions and bizarre meandering about a caliphate.

On strictly military matters, Romney forcibly argues for increasing spending. But he seems to miss the point that Obama touched upon, relating to new skills being cultivated in a military context. He seems to view the military through a very conventional lens.

"But today's threats are fundamentally different...our enemies now have sleeper cells rather than armies. They use indiscriminate terror rather than tanks. Their soldiers -- as well as their victims -- include children...

U.S. troop levels and our investment in the military as a percentage of GDP remain lower than at any time of major conflict since World War II...we need to increase our investment in national defense. This means adding at least 100,000 troops and making a long-overdue investment in equipment, armament, weapons systems, and strategic defense."

To compensate for his conventionality, however, Romney proposes a wide-ranging program of civil service overseas, giving a "button-downs and khakis" makeover to the image of neocon arrogance and excess foreign intervention:

"Just as the military has divided the world into regional theaters for all of its branches, the work of our civilian agencies should be organized along common geographic boundaries. For every region, one civilian leader should have authority over and responsibility for all the relevant agencies and departments, similar to the single military commander who heads U.S. Central Command.

These new leaders should be heavy hitters, with names that are recognized around the world. They should have independent objectives, budgets, and oversight. Their performance should be evaluated according to their success in promoting America's political, military, diplomatic, and economic interests in their respective regions and building the foundations of freedom, democracy, security, and peace."

This is one place where corporate experience seems to fit, but doesn't. When you work for BCG, it's easy to send in a "heavy hitter" to run a project somewhere, streamline the work processes, improve quality while reducing lead times, cut inventory, and reduce the number of FTEs. All quantifiable results, the team leaves the facility when the contract ends and the relationship effectively severs. I fail to see how this is applicable to an ongoing relationship between 2 countries, and what sort of quantitative metrics can be developed to measure such nebulous objectives.

Back to the Middle East again, while Romney totally neglects to mention anything substantial about the peace process, he does prove himself capable of more than just oversimplified rants against Arabs and Muslims. In fact, he sees ways for NGOs to play a role in combating the threat from "Islamofascists" (to his credit, he didn't use that term in his essay).

"In no area is our leadership more important and more urgently needed than the Islamic world...Today, thousands of Americans, such as former Senator Bill Frist, are helping to alleviate problems in the vulnerable parts of Africa and the Middle East, showing that we are a compassionate people. And other leaders in this effort, such as the musician Bono, have highlighted the need to address problems far from one's borders in today's interconnected world. Recent government efforts such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative of the G-8, and the Forum for the Future are a start, but they have garnered nowhere near the degree of attention, resources, and commitment necessary to address such serious problems.

If elected, one of my first acts as president would be to call for a summit of nations to address these issues. In addition to the United States, the countries convened would include other leading developed nations and moderate Muslim states. The objective of the summit would be to create a worldwide strategy to support moderate Muslims in their effort to defeat radical and violent Islam. I envision that the summit would lead to the creation of a Partnership for Prosperity and Progress: a coalition of states that would assemble resources from developed nations and use them to support public schools (not Wahhabi madrasahs), microcredit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic health care, and free-market policies in modernizing Islamic states. These resources would be drawn from public and private institutions and from volunteers and nongovernmental organizations. A critical part of this effort would involve creating new trade and economic opportunities for the Middle East that could be powerful forces, not only economically, but also in breaking down barriers to cooperation on even the most intractable problems.

Muslim countries pursuing free-trade agreements with the United States, for example, have dismantled all aspects of the Arab League's boycott of Israel. The power of trade to break down barriers and build ties is also seen in the Qualified Industrial Zone program that grants U.S. free-trade benefits to Egyptian products that incorporate materials from Israel. When the program was first suggested, some Egyptian officials balked, saying that trade with Israel would spark protests. When the program was launched, there were indeed protests -- from Egyptians who were excluded from the program and wanted to participate. Congress must give the president the authority to move forward with these efforts so that we can expand and integrate our existing free-trade agreements in the region."

Once again, this is the right approach for the long run. I totally agree that free trade will be a major factor in moving the Middle East forward. But to think that any such plan can be implemented in a sustainable and successful manner before there is a just and comprehensive regional peace is foolish. Romney mentions Egypt - well I seem to recall a story (could not find a link) about an Egyptian factory a few years ago in which the workers went on strike when they discovered that one of the raw materials was imported from Israel. And these are 2 countries that have had a peace treaty for nearly 30 years.

Until all the land issues are resolved and the Arabs recover their sense of dignity, whatever work-around trade measures are implemented will represent just a fraction of the region's potential. Why Romney or any of the other candidates, not to mention President Bush, cannot see the good that would come of a deal that would settle Israel's land disputes with Syria and Lebanon, thus opening up a market of 20 million consumers directly on its borders, is beyond me.

I look forward to reading these essays from the other presidential candidates, maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. Regardless, I am pleased that Foreign Affairs have provided these essays. They are much more substantial than the talking points I heard from 6 of the campaigns during a recent AAI conference.

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