The Weekly Standard Online
March 6, 2008*
By Alan W. Dowd
Sen. Hillary Clinton may be calling herself “the new comeback kid” after wins in Ohio and Texas. But as a number of observers are pointing out, the delegates don’t add up. Barring some cataclysm, Sen. Barack Obama’s lead will hold all the way to the convention, which means he’s going to be the nominee.
What Obama’s once-improbable bid for the presidency has achieved at the ballot box makes many Americans proud about how far this country has come. It also makes many Americans a little anxious about the likely policies of an Obama administration.
Count me among the proud and anxious.
First, we should take pride that the promise of Jefferson’s masterpiece—“that all men are created equal”—is now underlined by the fact that an American who happens to be black is just a few steps away from the presidency. We are indeed building a more perfect union.
Yet there is another side to this still-unfinished story.
Obama didn’t offer too many specifics about what his promise of “change we can believe in” meant until after Super Tuesday. As Time’s Joe Klein has observed, “The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.” But when the Illinois senator finally started adding some substance to his style, what he put forward sounded more like the old way than the Third Way: a rollback of NAFTA, reminders that “we’ve got CEOs making more in 10 minutes than ordinary workers are making in a year,” nationalized healthcare, new programs for this group and that group, a promise to “cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university.”
No matter what he says about change, these are the same sort of grow-the-government policies that characterized the old way of doing things.
Yet nothing causes as much anxiety as what Obama has said about foreign policy.
Obama, who launched his presidential bid less than three years after being elected to the Senate, has worn his inexperience like a badge of honor at times, contrasting his politics of hope with Hillary Clinton’s “politics as usual” and John McCain’s “party of yesterday.” But the Oval Office is not a good place for on-the-job training. No matter what fans of “The Daily Show” say, things actually can get worse.
Give Obama credit for consistency. The centerpiece of his foreign policy has always been an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Reasonable people can and do disagree on whether it was right to invade in March 2003, but even some of the loudest critics of the war warn that withdrawing now could derail the fragile progress made during the surge and make a difficult but tenable situation worse.
How much worse? Imagine a Balkan-style ethno-religious war with more guns and less restraint, a Rwanda with arsenals of modern weaponry instead of machetes or a California-sized Beirut. And then imagine what an American retreat would do to U.S. standing outside Iraq.
Trying to address such worries, Obama assures us that “Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously.” But actually, somebody is proposing that—and that somebody is Barack Obama.
In January 2007, for example, he outlined a plan to begin “redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007” and “remove all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008.” Today, he vows to “immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq.”
That is the definition of precipitous.
Hedging a bit, Obama recently explained that “If al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.”
McCain couldn’t resist pointing out the obvious: “Al Qaeda is in Iraq. And that’s why we’re fighting in Iraq.”
Even as Obama vows to cede the battlefield in Iraq, where the Iraqi government is fighting alongside Americans against the jihadists, he proposes bombing the jihadists in Pakistan—over the objection of the Pakistani government. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will,” he has warned.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the Bush administration has attacked targets in Pakistan—with and without the permission of the AWOL Musharraf. But Obama’s anti-terror strategy seems to be premised on the notion that the U.S. can’t fight jihadists in Iraq and Pakistan.
In truth, the U.S. can and must fight the enemy wherever it is—the Sahara and the Horn of Africa, Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the list goes on and on.
However, there’s more—and less—to Obama’s foreign policy than pulling out of Iraq and pummeling Pakistan.
Obama, who reminds us that his grandfather served in “Patton’s army and marched across Europe” and helped shut down Hitler’s death camps, says it is not America’s job to prevent genocide—in Iraq or elsewhere, apparently.
The AP reported it this way in July 2007: “Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.”
His defense of this position sounds surprisingly, jarringly, similar to that of isolationists on the far fringes, who always justify non-intervention somewhere by pointing out that America has not intervened everywhere.
“If that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces,” Obama explained, referring to genocide, “then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now—where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife—which we haven’t done.” He continued: “We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done.”
But the problems with Obama’s fusion foreign policy don’t end there. When a questioner during the CNN-YouTube debate asked whether as president Obama would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, his answer was unequivocal. “It is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them,” he intoned. Worse, as the New York Times reported last November, Obama made it clear “that he planned to talk to Iran without preconditions.”
Without preconditions? The mullahs wouldn’t have to stop funding and fomenting the guerilla war that is killing American troops in Iraq, or come clean with the IAEA on their subterranean nuclear program, or stop arming Hamas with rockets that terrorize and kill Israeli civilians?
Now that would be a disgrace.
*This piece was also featured on the website of CBS News.