The American Prospect, a progressive magazine and Web site, has a story about Obama "offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we've heard from a serious presidential contender in decades." Let's see what he intends to sweep.
Ending the war is only the first step. After we're out of Iraq, a corrosive mind-set will still be infecting the foreign-policy establishment and the body politic. That rot must be eliminated. …What is this "politics of fear"?
But to understand what Obama is proposing, it's important to ask: What, exactly, is the mind-set that led to the war? What will it mean to end it? And what will take its place? To answer these questions, I spoke at length with Obama's foreign-policy brain trust, the advisers who will craft and implement a new global strategy if he wins the nomination and the general election. 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.
The Obama foreign-policy team describes it as "the politics of fear," a phrase most advisers used unprompted in our conversations. "For a long time we've not seen much creative thinking from Dems on national security, because, out of fear, we want to be a little different from the Republicans but not too different, out of fear of being labeled weak or indecisive," another top adviser says. Identifying that fear as the accelerant of the Iraq War mind-set is the first step to a new and innovative foreign policy.Obama and his advisors are jolly right about our "hollow, sloganeering 'democracy promotion' agenda." Democracy arises out of a people's gradually evolving experience, and to succeed has to be founded on widely accepted principles such as the rule of law, property rights, a willingness to compromise, and civility to opponents. You can't inject those into a tribal society, particularly one ruled by a religion with a 7th-century mindset. Whether you think the Bush administration's rationale of spreading democracy is naive or cynically manipulative, it's not going to work, or work fast enough, to counter the existential crisis created by decaying Third World societies, nuclear weapons proliferation and Muslim aggression.
But "dignity promotion"? Like so much that comes from Obama and his circle, it has a nice ring to it, but only a vague meaning. As far as I can make out from the article, "dignity promotion" is no bold re-think of foreign policy, just another program for social amelioration. As one of Obama's spokespeople says, U.S. policy 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]."
Does Obama have anyone on his staff who is older than 30, or whose memory goes back to before 9/11? What she's talking about is simply foreign aid, and there's nothing in the least new about it. It's been standard operating procedure under Democrats and Republicans for 50 years. While it sometimes helps upgrade living conditions where help is needed, it rarely if ever earns us any gratitude; and more important, there is no evidence that it promotes world peace or removes any threat to the United States's security.
In any case, you can no more airlift dignity from outside than you can supply democracy. Poor people can have dignity and often do; the well-off don't necessarily have it. Aside from the fact that the United States is wallowing in debt, no longer produces much except entertainment, is inflating its currency like bonkers, and can't possibly export prosperity to every global hog wallow, it's a delusion we've nurtured for too long to imagine that exporting technology will cure the world of sicknesses of the mind and soul.
Obama himself seems to me a deeply confused man with no considered ideas, whose sole accomplishment is hiding his uncreated world view behind glittering banalities that appeal to people whose ideals are tied to feelings and slogans rather than actual knowledge of cultures, history, or human nature.
This is why, Obama's advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "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."As regular readers of this blog know, I think that the only hope for Africa and such places is to stop cranking out babies by the millions that their societies, economies, and infrastructure can't support while expecting the rest of the world to provide jobs and decent environments for them. With a population half its present size, sub-Saharan Africa just might be able to get a grip and learn to live within its gradually developing means. If we want to help, the best thing we can do is tell them, "Sorry, it's not our problem. Use your brains and birth control."
Be that as it may, Obama (or more likely his team, because I don't believe he can think beyond how to combine words so they sound elegant) is frighteningly obtuse in imagining that the cause of terrorism is poorly stocked refrigerators. It is even mistaken to identify "terrorism" as the problem: terrorism is only the sharp end of a politicized, ideological religion that believes it is the one true faith and that nonbelievers are unworthy of their share of the planet. That's a politics of fear, and the Obama Doctrine is a laughingstock.