The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


One of the core problems in examining the candidacy of Barack Obama is trying to understand his true positions. He is a rhetorical master who weaves platitudes brilliantly, but remains purposely ambiguous about his true intent.

In an excellent and lengthy article in the Left-leaning American Prospect, Spencer Ackerman lays out Obama’s foreign policy position. He argues, and I agree, that the best way to intuit a candidate’s true positions is not through his speeches or his debate responses, but rather through the foreign policy team that has been assembled to guide him.

Ackerman writes:
Obama is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we've heard from a serious presidential contender in decades. It cuts to the heart of traditional Democratic timidity. "It's time to reject the counsel that says the American people would rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right," Obama said in a January speech. "It's time to say that we are the party that is going to be strong and right." (The Democrat who counseled that Americans wanted someone strong and wrong, not weak and right? That was Bill Clinton in 2002.)

All well and good. There’s little question that our foreign policy, as exemplified by our State Department, has been a mess. But exactly what “sweeping liberal foreign-policy” changes do Obama (or better, his core of advisors) envision?

Ackerman has interviewed Obama’s foreign policy team and writes:
They envision a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering "democracy promotion" agenda in favor of "dignity promotion," to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root. An inextricable part of that doctrine is a relentless and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda. Is this hawkish? Is this dovish? It's both and neither -- an overhaul not just of our foreign policy but of how we think about foreign policy. And it might just be the future of American global leadership.

So … democracy promotion is “hallow” and an example of “sloganeering.” On this I have to agree. The idea sounds good in theory, is properly idealistic, and would seem to have merit, but trying to implement it in cultures that are neither ready or receptive is difficult at best and close to impossible when violent Jihadist interests work against it.

But what is one of the cornerstones of Obama’s foreign policy braintrust? It’s "dignity promotion." The idea sounds good in theory, is properly idealistic and would seem to have merit, but trying to implement it in cultures that are neither ready or receptive is difficult at best and close to impossible when violent Jihadist interest work against it.

Hmmm. I said the same thing twice, didn’t I?

Dignity promotion is a lot like the politically correct “self-esteem” movement that has gripped parents and schools in the US. Sounds good in theory. Every child should have self esteem. The problem, of course, is that self-esteem cannot be given to someone. It must be achieved through accomplishments, through good acts and through good character. We can encourage it (and should) but we can’t hand it out like candy.

If dignity promotion is to be a cornerstone of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, it represents a different variety of American hubris. We cannot fix the world, no matter who resides in the oval office. We can’t even expect others (e.g., the U.N.) to fix the world. Countries and people must fix themselves and achieve the dignity that accrues as the 'fixing' bears results.

And yet, Obama’s foreign policy team is adamant:
This ability to see the world from different perspectives informs what the Obama team hopes will replace the Iraq War mind-set: something they call dignity promotion. "I don't think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does," says Samantha Power, a former key aide and author of the groundbreaking study of U.S. foreign policy and genocide, A Problem From Hell. "Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking]," she says. "If you start with that, it explains why it's not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It's not a human way to live. It's graceless -- an affront to your sense of dignity."

Okay … how do we provide “dignity” for the beleaguered people of Darfur? One way might be to eliminate the Arab JaJaweed militias who continue to slaughter people by the thousands. But that would require military action. Would Obama take such a unilateral step? Would he go to the U.N.? If so, for what? Hard questions. No answers.

I find it interesting that Obama’s advisors excoriate President Bush’s neo-con brain trust for their hubris in the conduct of the Iraq war. They’re right to criticize. But it appears that Obama’s braintrust exhibits some hubris of their own. They argue that US can somehow impart dignity in the Sudan, in Arab states, in Iran, in North Korea, and that will change behavior significantly. Please ...

Ackerman continues by quoting Samatha Power:
"Look at why the baddies win these elections," Power says. "It's because [populations are] living in climates of fear." U.S. policy, she continues, should be "about meeting people where they're at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That's the swamp that needs draining. If we're to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we're not [providing]."

Or advisor Scott Gration:
"It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."

The thing that seems to escape these folks is that hundreds of billions of aid dollars have been provided in the very places that Power and Gration mention. It becomes lost in a maze of corruption and criminality that is so complex and so pervasive that it cannot be corrected from the outside. We tried it … repeatedly … we’ve failed … repeatedly. What has changed in the interim?

What both Power and Gration are saying (and what, I believe, Barack Obama believes) is as idealistic and as doomed as Bush’s “freedom agenda.”

Maybe it’s time for a dose of pragmatism. Maybe it’s time to see the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be. Maybe it’s time to recognize the USA cannot singlehandedly impart either democracy or dignity to people who are not yet ready. Maybe it’s time to recognize that starry-eyed programs to promote dignity will not defeat an Islamofascist enemy who understands the indigenous culture, has boots on the ground, and an ideology that will be difficult to crack.

Before the electorate allows Barack Obama to implement his dignity agenda, with all of the strategic moves it implies, it might be a good idea to question him on it directly and forcefully. MSM? Are you listening?