Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obamush In Office

What would RN be doing? Plumbing the foreign policy sections of the President's address. Obama's first comment:

Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.

Good. We do have enemies. He didn't call them evildoers, but he called them haters. Same difference. Regretably, that's the high point.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

This bit he got backwards. Not only can we imagine the perils our forebears faced, we learn precisely what they were by studying history. In contrast, they couldn't have imagined the perils we face. Obama seems to be saying that because George Washington wouldn't have tortured someone to find out where a British cannon was hidden that could have killed or injured a half-dozen colonial soldiers, we shouldn't do so to find a nuclear weapon hidden in Manhattan that could kill half a million. I'm not advocating torture. I'm just saying that this particular invocation of the founders wasn't persuasive.

And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

President Bush probably heard that as a criticism. He may also have wondered why Obama didn't pledge that the U.S. would be a friend not only of those who seek peace and dignity but also those who deserve liberty.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations.

Oddly, still no mention of freedom as one of our enduring convictions. It may be that the anti-neoconservative foreign policy realism of Brent Scowcroft and my Nixon Center colleagues is showing. That's not bad in and of itself. Focusing U.S. policy on promoting freedom and democracy is the paramount neocon aim, even if it means we overextend ourselves in reckless adventures. Instead, Obama stresses alliances, prudence, patience, and a Nixonian faith in "the force of our example." Ironically, W. talked about humility in his first inaugural as well. That was of course before Sept. 11.

We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.

Worst split infinitive in inaugural history? I'll leave that to the experts. What does he mean by "responsibly?" Ditto. If he thought he could get out quickly, he'd probably have given Iraq its own sentence. "Forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan" is vague and far inferior to a promise to track Osama bin Laden and his savage, murdering cronies to the ends of the earth until they scream for mercy. During the campaign, he strongly criticized Bush for failing to do so.

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Is that all we get on Iran's nukes? Half a sentence leading to global warming?

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Another run-on mess of a sentence, striking fear in the hearts of no one besides Strunk & White.

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.

What a dispiriting muddle. I wonder if the otherwise gratuitous religious survey was an antidote to Rick Warren's gratuitously exclusionary prayer. The passage also suggests that the world is America writ large, that its sectarian, racial, and regional hatreds will fade because America's have. And yet our common national humanity has been drawn forth methodically and painfully over two centuries against the anvil of the genius of republican government and through the tragedy of civil war. RN too believed that freedom would win out in the end, but he was thinking in terms of generations or more. Obama's utopian vision will take a lot longer than four or eight years to be realized. Will the world's old hatreds pass, for instance, before Iran threatens its neighbors with a nuclear weapon? If not, what do we do in the meantime?

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.

Another letdown. We do care about what oppressed peoples think of their oppressors. We care more about what their oppressors intend to do to Americans and our interests. What will we do if hostile powers and movements don't unclench their fists? He just doesn't say. We're at war, as he said, and yet he doesn't ever manage a direct, stark threat aimed at our enemies.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

In the economic circumstances we face, there has never been an emptier promise of more foreign aid. And what does he mean by saying that "the world has changed"? First he says that the world will follow our example. Now he's saying we should follow the world's.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

What they principally have to tell us is that they have volunteered to fight and risk death for freedom, their families, and their country. I would've preferred if he had left it at that.

And that's all he wrote. Obama's foreign policy vision was mush during the primaries, and mush it remains.

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