17 August 2007 - Giuliani vs. Obama
Foreign Affairs has been publishing essays by the leading American presidential candidates on their respective visions for U.S. foreign policy. Last month, for example, it published Barack Obama; this month it published Rudy Giuliani. These candidates have the most interesting foreign policy positions because they represent views that are a) clear; b) contrasting; and c) moderate. Here’s my take on each.
Analysis of the problem: “The Bush administration responded to the unconventional attacks of 9/11 with conventional thinking of the past, largely viewing problems as state-based and principally amenable to mhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifilitary solutions.” This is curious, since it implies Bush’s policy is not “neoconservative” but “paleoconservative.” Obama believes the problem of terror can be separated from the states that support it.
First priority: “To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end and refocus our attention on the broader Middle East. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists . . .” Here Obama proposes a “phased withdrawal” or “redeployment” of American troops. (In the old days, they called it a “retreat.”) The U.S. must use regional diplomacy to solve Iraq’s problems.
Second priority: “Changing the dynamic in Iraq will allow us 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.” This somewhat outdated analysis places the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of the agenda. Why this is more important than other issues is not adequately explained.
Israeli-Palestinian issue: “Our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel . . . we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability.” There are no really innovative ideas here; Obama believes the key is renewing the personal commitment of the President to the issue.
Human rights: “The new UN Human Rights Council has passed eight resolutions condemning Israel -- but not a single resolution condemning the genocide in Darfur or human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission.” Obama believes the US cannot fight for human rights if it does not set the example.
Strongest point: “To renew American leadership in the world, I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security.” Obama wants the US to get more involved in reforming the UN and NATO, and to lead on issues of global interest such as climate change. A more engaged America can certainly achieve more than a sullen, passive one.
Weakest point: “Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power -- political, economic, and military -- could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria.” Obama is willing to talk to everyone, using the implied threat of force for leverage but he will not use such force unless authorized by others. (Except Pakistan?)
Analysis of the problem: “The world is a dangerous place. We cannot afford to indulge any illusions about the enemies we face. The Terrorists' War on Us was encouraged by unrealistic and inconsistent actions taken in response to terrorist attacks in the past.” Wishful thinking about terror and its causes allowed 9/11 to happen and is being revived by so-called “realist” ideas about foreign policy.
First priority: “The first step toward a realistic peace is to be realistic about our enemies. They follow a violent ideology: radical Islamic fascism, which uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system.” That means not showing weakness, and it means fighting to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and keeping (some) troops there.
Second priority: “The idea of a post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ was a serious mistake . . . . We must rebuild a military force that can deter aggression and meet the wide variety of present and future challenges.” That means greater investment in both offensive and defensive capabilities, though how this is to be squared with goals of fiscal discipline and other domestic priorities is not adequately spelled out.
Israeli-Palestinian issue: “It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism. Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel.” Make them come to us, in other words.
Human rights: “The next president must champion human rights and speak out when they are violated. . . .[T]he better a country's record on good governance, human rights, and democratic development, the better its relations with the United States will be.” A far stronger and more explicit statement of principle and purpose than Obama provides here, putting human rights at the core of foreign policy.
Strongest point: “Another step in rebuilding a strong diplomacy will be to make changes in the State Department and the Foreign Service. . . .Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident that they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives.” When was the last time you heard an American official give a really stirring defense of U.S. policy?
Weakest point: “A hybrid military-civilian organization -- a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists -- must be developed. The agency would undertake tasks such as building roads, sewers, and schools; advising on legal reform; and restoring local currencies.” Better to give direct support to existing institutions and leaders in other countries, I think.
Both candidates want to see the United States remain active in world affairs, and to reform international institutions. Both see a role for diplomacy and military force, but Giuliani sees diplomacy as a means, not an end. Guiliani’s ultimate strength is that he recognizes a) the danger of appeasement; b) the importance of human rights; and c) the need to win the war of ideas within the democratic world.