Proud but Anxious
Obama's scary foreign policy.
11:00 PM, Mar 5, 2008 • By ALAN W. DOWD
HILLARY CLINTON MAY BE calling herself "the new comeback kid" after wins in Ohio and Texas. But as a number of observers are pointing out, the delegates don't add up. Barring some cataclysm, Sen. Barack Obama's lead will hold all the way to the convention, which means he's going to be the nominee.
What Obama's once-improbable bid for the presidency has achieved at the ballot box makes many Americans proud about how far this country has come. It also makes many Americans a little anxious about the likely policies of an Obama administration.
Count me among the proud and anxious.
First, we should take pride that the promise of Jefferson's masterpiece--"that all men are created equal"--is now underlined by the fact that an American who happens to be black is just a few steps away from the presidency. We are indeed building a more perfect union.
Yet there is another side to this still-unfinished story.
Obama didn't offer too many specifics about what his promise of "change we can believe in" meant until after Super Tuesday. As Time's Joe Klein has observed, "The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is." But when the Illinois senator finally started adding some substance to his style, what he put forward sounded more like the old way than the Third Way: a rollback of NAFTA, reminders that "we've got CEOs making more in 10 minutes than ordinary workers are making in a year," nationalized healthcare, new programs for this group and that group, a promise to "cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university."
No matter what he says about change, these are the same sort of grow-the-government policies that characterized the old way of doing things.
Yet nothing causes as much anxiety as what Obama has said about foreign policy.
Obama, who launched his presidential bid less than three years after being elected to the Senate, has worn his inexperience like a badge of honor at times, contrasting his politics of hope with Hillary Clinton's "politics as usual" and John McCain's "party of yesterday." But the Oval Office is not a good place for on-the-job training. No matter what fans of The Daily Show say, things actually can get worse.
Give Obama credit for consistency. The centerpiece of his foreign policy has always been an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Reasonable people can and do disagree over whether it was right to invade in March 2003, but even some of the loudest critics of the war warn that withdrawing now could derail the fragile progress made during the surge and make a difficult but tenable situation worse.
How much worse? Imagine a Balkan-style ethno-religious war with more guns and less restraint, a Rwanda with arsenals of modern weaponry instead of machetes, or a California-sized Beirut. And then imagine what an American retreat would do to U.S. standing outside Iraq.
Trying to address such worries, Obama assures us that "Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously." But actually, somebody is proposing that--and that somebody is Barack Obama.
In January 2007, for example, he outlined a plan to begin "redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007" and "remove all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008." Today, he vows to "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq."
That is the very definition of precipitous.
Hedging a bit, Obama recently explained that "If al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad."
Even as Obama vows to cede the battlefield in Iraq, where the Iraqi government is fighting alongside Americans against the jihadists, he proposes bombing the jihadists in Pakistan--over the objection of the Pakistani government. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," he has warned.
There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, the Bush administration has attacked targets in Pakistan--with and without the permission of the AWOL Musharraf. But Obama's anti-terror strategy seems to be premised on the notion that the United States can't fight jihadists in Iraq and Pakistan.
In truth, the United States can and must fight the enemy wherever it is--the Sahara and the Horn of Africa, Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the list goes on.
However, there's more--and less--to Obama's foreign policy than pulling out of Iraq and pummeling Pakistan.