David Ignatius in the Washington Post is right on about Obama and the future. The Republicans have basically self-destructed, and after a national debate with whoever their candidate is, the serious flaws of that person will be exposed, and Barack will make toast of him (or her). Anyone who appreciates more than a political horserace, looking to the issues before us will look towards Obama’s second term.
Ignatius praises Obama’s record to date in foreign policy, and agrees, he is justified in self-congratulation to date. But then he makes three recommendations about Obama’s next foreign policy efforts. (1) The “global political awakening.” This refers to the fast changing situation in north Africa, Russia, and elsewhere, all based on a citizenry empowered by social media and awareness of other countries’ examples. (2) A “reset” with Pakistan. Fareed Zakaria and others have made the point that supporting a military government is not productive. Its purpose is self-preservation, taking precedence over any sort of values- or rights-based government. And those Pakistanis don’t really like us these days, though we say we’re trying to help. And, (3) A sane, comprehensive strategy for Iran. The right is worried a lot about Iran, though Ron Paul wants us to stay away. It is important to deal proactively with this scary country. My fear about the right is that they will recklessly invade like crazy people.
Yes, Obama needs to get past the fact – as true and wonderful as it is – that he is definitely not W. You will notice that the only reference to W being made by Republican candidates is that they like his tax cuts. And Ignatius’s three recommendations are good ones for him and whoever takes Hillary’s place (So she has hinted. I am guessing John Kerry). But let me make an additional request. Obama needs to expand ways of dealing holistically in foreign policy, knowing it is increasingly linked to economics.
North Africa will stay friendly to the west, if tourists and trade ships and dollars flow freely between them. If Pakistan and Afghanistan base their economies on tribal efforts, drugs and guns, they cannot compete globally, and their own interests will have to be limited to keeping a regional balance of power. “If our country is behind, we’ll do all we can to keep you down too.” The trick to good foreign policy may begin with human rights and empowerment that technology brings, but without regular people that feel good about their financial situation, there is no stability. That is a bad future for any country, and bodes poorly for relations.
Helping another country’s economy prosper was the trick that turned the tide in Iraq (W’s war of choice, using the touch that Rumsfeld never had). And in each country’s own particular way, that is how we must flavor our State and Defense Department dealings. We are getting better at finding the balance between cultural empiricism, which justifiably ticks off the foreigners, and economic development, which can yield mutually beneficial results.
You go, Barack. While I look forward to you making short order of Mitt, or Newt or whomever, I really look forward to your continuing high poll numbers for foreign policy in your second term.