This diary is another in a series of diaries I am doing examing the policy positions and policy teams of the candidate I support in the Democratic primary, Senator Barack Obama.
This diary takes a look at Barack Obama's foreign policy team through the lens of two of his core proposals not related to Iraq or the military: Cuba and foreign aid and how Obama embodies the concept of "soft power." I would also like to introduce the voice and insights of Obama advisor Samantha Power.
When I looked at Obama's Technology positions and Health Care proposals, key innovative figures took center stage. In the case of technology, Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, and on Health Care, Harvard Economist David Cutler who stands at the center of a team of innovative and outside-the-box thinkers on domestic policy. When it comes to foreign policy that theme is expanded. As James Traub wrote, in his must-read, but mixed, review of Obama's foreign policy bona fides in his November 2007 piece in the New York Times magazine:
The great project of the foreign-policy world in the last few years has been to think through a "post-post-9/11 strategy," in the words of the Princeton Project on National Security, a study that brought together many of the foreign-policy thinkers of both parties. Such a strategy, the experts concluded, must, like "a Swiss Army knife," offer different tools for different situations, rather than only the sharp edge of a blade; must pay close attention to "how others may perceive us differently than we perceive ourselves, no matter how good our intentions"; must recognize that other nations may legitimately care more about their neighbors or their access to resources than about terrorism; and must be "grounded in hope, not fear." A post-post-9/11 strategy must harness the forces of globalization while honestly addressing the growing "perception of unfairness" around the world; must actively promote, not just democracy, but "a world of liberty under law"; and must renew multilateral instruments like the United Nations.
In mainstream foreign-policy circles, Barack Obama is seen as the true bearer of this vision. "There are maybe 200 people on the Democratic side who think about foreign policy for a living," as one such figure, himself unaffiliated with a campaign, estimates. "The vast majority have thrown in their lot with Obama." Hillary Clinton’s inner circle consists of the senior-most figures from her husband’s second term in office — the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the former national security adviser Sandy Berger and the former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke. But drill down into one of Washington’s foreign-policy hives, whether the Carnegie Endowment or the Brookings Institution or Georgetown University, and you’re bound to hit Obama supporters. Most of them served in the Clinton administration, too, and thus might be expected to support Hillary Clinton. But many of these younger and generally more liberal figures have decamped to Obama. And they are ardent. As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, "There’s a feeling that this is a guy who’s going to help us transform the way America deals with the world." Ex-Clintonites in Obama’s inner circle also include the president’s former lawyer, Greg Craig, and Richard Danzig, his Navy secretary.[Emphasis mine.]
There's an ongoing theme here across the policy spectrum. Younger, more innovative, more cutting-edge policy analysts have flocked to the campaign of Senator Obama. That does not mean that his foreign policy team lacks gravitas. Heavyweights like Anthony Lake, Richard Clarke, Lawrence Korb, Gen. Tony McPeak and...Zbigniew Brzezinski can be counted among Senator Obama's advisors. But the operative name that writers have begun to pay attention to, is Senator Obama's work with foreign policy and human rights expert Samantha Power. (More articles: Berkeley Interview and this Commencement Address at Santa Clara University Law School) Samantha Power is, for those of us who've come of age in the era of Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Bush, one of us. She speaks with a moral clarity on human rights and foreign policy. Here's a sample from the commencement speech linked above:
In politics this refusal to face inconvenient truths carries life-and-death stakes. And yet only after 3,000 American lives were lost on 9/11 did it become evident that FBI agents had warned of the danger that terrorists would hijack American planes and fly them into tall buildings. Only after more than 800 Americans died in New Orleans and tens of thousands of lives were ruined did we go back and read the stellar reporting in the Times-Picayune and see that people had been yelling and screaming about the vulnerability of the levees for years. And only after gas prices hit $3 did George Bush begin talking about freeing the United States of its oil dependence and speeding up the production of hybrid cars. We have known about our energy crisis since the OPEC crunch of the 1970s. Why are we only now, suddenly, talking about rushing to mass-produce hybrid cars?
Samuel Johnson was most certainly right when he said, "Nothing focuses the mind quite like a hanging." But we can't afford to wait until we stand at the gallows to change the way we govern our country and live our lives. As individuals, as citizens, we have the power to focus our government's mind, to get resources allocated, to save lives. We have the power to concentrate the powers of the American imagination. This power comes through politics. It is the rare politician who thinks more about the collective good than he does his or her individual fortune. I believe that Senator Obama is one who does. But politics is too important to be left to the politicians. It is up to the rest of us to demand that our representatives are attentive to the human consequences of their decision-making. And that means making ourselves heard. It means, according to Lesson Number Three, not turning our noses up at politics. It means using politics to trigger the imagination and to face inconvenient truths before a crisis strikes.
That could be the summary of the mindset that those of us under fifty understand cold. It's our preference. We must focus on a new pro-active approach to the "human consequences of decision-making"...we must use "politics to trigger the imagination and face inconvenient truths before a crisis strikes." Power, pulitzer-prize winning author of A Problem from Hell: American and the Age of Genocide is not one to leave the discussion in vague generalities most suited to a commencement address. She knows what she's talking about first hand, here she is discussing the genocide in Darfur:
Is this someone you would like working in executive branch for you? I thought so.
Let's take a look at two key topics that offer a politics of distinction for the Obama campaign: Cuba and foreign aid.
Barack Obama has taken a bold, fearless, innovative stance on Cuban policy. The United States should break down walls with Cuba and as a first step, we should ease travel to Cuba for Americans with relatives there and ease the transfer of funds between Americans and their Cuban relatives. (Herald Tribune.) This may seem like a minor policy difference, but it exemplifies Obama's ability to take a bold, new stance that actually makes whole lot of sense:
Now most Cubans in the U.S. can only visit the island once every three years and can only send quarterly remittances of up to $300 (€223) per household to immediate family members. Previously, they could visit once a year and send up to $3,000 (€2,226). The U.S. also tightened restrictions on travel for educational and religious groups. The Cuban-exile vote is considered key to winning Florida, and top presidential candidates have generally followed the recommendations of the community's most hard-line and vocal leaders, who support a full embargo against Fidel Castro's government. Castro, 80, is in poor health and turned over temporary power last year to his brother Raul.
But sentiment in the Cuban-American community is changing. Unlike the early waves of immigrants who brought their entire family, often by plane, to the U.S., most Cubans now flee by boat and are forced to leave relatives behind. Fewer of these immigrants were overt political opponents of the government, and they want to be able to visit loved ones and to send money home. Many Cuban exiles are also frustrated with the U.S. embargo, which has failed to yield fruit after nearly 45 years. And with the specter of an ailing Castro and a possible change in leadership, they are more open to changing U.S. policy.
Last week, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party came out against the restrictions. Obama will speak at a fundraiser for the chapter Saturday at the Miami-Dade Auditorium, the same Little Havana site where Ronald Reagan won over many in the Cuban-exile community more than two decades ago. Joe Garcia, the group's chairman, praised Obama's proposal.
Senator Clinton cannot take this bold stance. The very same "tried and true" approaches that her supporters claim she will bring to government and foreign policy happen to represent "tried and true" failures of conventional wisdom. Sure, there is a political risk in refusing to take a "hard line" Cuba stance that politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken for decades mainly out of consideration of their political fate in Florida. But, as Obama well knows, that stance hasn't worked. Obama is willing to say that. A new generation of Cuban-Americans are ready for something new. Barack Obama can give a fresh start to U.S. Cuba policy. Clinton can't and won't.
There was a telling moment in the last Democratic debate. Senator Clinton absolutely refused to support Senator Obama's commitment to raise U.S. foreign aid by $25 Billion per year by 2012 and pointedly questioned how he would pay for it. (Obama's proposal to double our foreign aid to $50 Billion per year dwarfs, as it should, all private efforts. Bill Clinton's foundation, to just name one contrast, has raised a grand total of $500 million, much of it tied to the Clinton's own politics.)
Putting aside the fact that Obama would pay for this increase in foreign aid out of the windfall gained by winding down the war in Iraq, the contrast couldn't be clearer. Obama is committed to proactive foreign policy solutions. He fights conservatism on the right fronts to fight. He spells this out:
"I know that many Americans are skeptical about the value of foreign aid," Mr. Obama said then. But he added, "A relatively small investment in these fragile states up front can be one of the most effective ways to prevent the terror and strife that is far more costly, both in lives and treasure, down the road."
This position has found wide-spread support both on the blogs and in policy circles. Why? Because, for those of us in Democratic politics tired of the "same old" answers based on the fear of conservative backlash, an increase in foreign aid is a sane investment that sends the right message about America. We are committed to an America that uses our resources and strength on the front end of problems. We are active in seeking to build the American reputation in the world day in and day out and not simply as a response to a crisis. We seek partners, not enemies.
This simple commitment, more than anything, represents a true Democratic "post 9/11" foreign policy: engagement, the projection of power through the building of allies. Not only will Seantor Clinton not commit to doing this, but she attacks Barack Obama on his foreign aid proposals through a GOP lens; she raises the specter of "profligate spending."
The money Senator Obama is talking about spending will go to make every American more safe. Those of us not blinded by the "old ways" of partisan politics know this to our bones. Compared to Iraq, $25 Billion additional per year on foreign aid is cheap. It's proactive. It's the right thing to do and sends the right message about America.
I can think of no greater contrast that spells a clearer difference between Clinton and Obama than this one.
Per the James Traub piece I linked above, "Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who popularized the term "soft power" to describe the capacity to gain support through attraction rather than force" states:
A President Obama would do more for America’s soft power around the world than anything else we could do.
Nye, it should be noted (another member of the "fear of Iran" camp), does not support Barack Obama; but, in my mind, that's an even more powerful statement given that reality. Clinton, with Madame Albright and Sandy Berger and General Clark and Richard Holbrooke at her side will not send a new message to the world. Not even close. Isn't that something to think about?
What Nye is saying is that electing Barack Obama President and sending him around the world on Air Force One would fundamentally reconfigure the possibilities of American Foreign Policy. (For an example, look at what Barack Obama accomplished with this one gesture regarding HIV Testing in Kenya.) The question isn't even what Clinton could do if she chose. The stark question facing American voters is to realize all that Clinton simply won't do.
There's a reason that innovative, liberal foreign policy experts are flocking to Obama and would form, if Obama is elected, a new wave of policy experts in the manner of the administrations of Roosevelt or Kennedy: that is because Barack Obama represents the coincidence of the fresh possibilities (embodied in his identity and history and perspective) with fresh approaches (embodied in his willingness to push for innovation and pathbreaking ideas.)
Clinton simply can't and won't embrace bold approaches to anything. Clinton is a foreign policy hawk who cannot and will not embody a fresh approach to the use of American military or diplomatic power. There is nothing that embodies this more than her vote for the Lieberman/Kyl amendment.
the crux of the matter
At the crux then, are some core questions that imply a great deal about a broader and essential contrast in foreign policy philosophies of the two leading Democratic contenders.
Do you think America has more to fear from sticking with the same tired Cuba policy...or from embracing a new approach?
Do you think America has more to fear from Iran...or from the risks of investing too little in reaching out the rest of the world with foreign aid and the promise of a new relationship with the United States as a global partner?
When supporters talk of the "sure hand" of Clinton foreign policy they mean the exact same team that gave us American foreign policy in the 90s. (Iraq, Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia) Think about that and then consider those no-bullshit, very focused words that Samantha Power had about Darfur and human rights in general.
Is 2008 a year of fear? Is now a time to go backwards in search of a sense of security from the 1990s that we discovered never existed?
Why is Hillary Clinton attacking Obama's proposal to spend more on foreign aid? Doesn't that get to the very core of a policy difference? And why are young, innovative thinkers going with Obama? The two things are, in my view, essentially linked.
Finally, why haven't all those folks talking and debating and rehashing the same old ideas during the Democratic primaries all over the blogosphere shown us more of the voice of this eminently sensible and persuasive woman?
From the 2nd clip above:
A lot of people are saying, "Obama, I think he'd be a great president, but why does he have to be president now? He's a fine young man, he'll make a great president someday." And my point is we don't have...we cannot afford to lose, the Democrats cannot afford to lose in November 2008 and we cannot afford to wait eight years to deal with restoring America's reputation in the world, to deal with getting out of Iraq, to deal with 46 million uninsured, to deal with melting ice caps.
We need somebody to pull the country together to face these challenges. These challenges are monumental.
-Samantha Power, Charlie Rose Interview