Friday, November 16, 2007
Since I finally got around to reading Hillary Clinton's Foreign Affairs essay, I figured I should do the same for Barack Obama's essay from a few months ago. In doing so, I realized that the reason I didn't dive right into them when they first came online was that I'm never that impressed with these kind of exercises. They reward boilerplate platitudes, especially in foreign policy, which by nature is more unpredictable and reactive than domestic policy. Obama's (staff's) boilerplate seems to be as good as Hillary's (staff's) boilerplate: the same broad brushstrokes that seven years of Bush render somewhat obvious. That said, I liked this little throwaway paragraph at the end:
Ultimately, no foreign policy can succeed unless the American people understand it and feel they have a stake in its success -- unless they trust that their government hears their concerns as well. We will not be able to increase foreign aid if we fail to invest in security and opportunity for our own people. We cannot negotiate trade agreements to help spur development in poor countries so long as we provide no meaningful help to working Americans burdened by the dislocations of a global economy. We cannot reduce our dependence on foreign oil or defeat global warming unless Americans are willing to innovate and conserve. We cannot expect Americans to support placing our men and women in harm's way if we cannot show that we will use force wisely and judiciously. But if the next president can restore the American people's trust -- if they know that he or she is acting with their best interests at heart, with prudence and wisdom and some measure of humility -- then I believe the American people will be eager to see America lead again.
We tend to think of foreign policy as something that takes place beyond our borders, but obviously it grows out of our culture, our character, and our perceptions here at home. All the more so in the age of mass-media democracy. In fact, media infrastructure and government transparency combine to form one imbalance in the globalized world that in some ways handicaps America's ability to project its power and influence. American foreign policy is under much more scrutiny than that of, say, China, Russia or Iran, with fewer shadows to hide behind, relatively speaking.
In light of which, Obama's talent for sharp analysis and his ability to effectively communicate it really do make a compelling case for him being the better-qualified candidate to rally American opinion for the much-needed repair work ahead.