Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Policy’


By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-23-12

Could it be that despite all that tension and testosterone, that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree a whole lot more about foreign policy than they disagree? I learned from the debate that both candidates hope to stop Iran, contain China, support Israel, and magically conjure up a peaceful solution in Syria while seeing a flourishing Democratic Arab spring. I also learned that both candidates would prefer to speak about domestic issues than foreign issues, as they repeatedly segued into their economic and education programs, claiming that achieving a “strong America” is a foreign policy issue too. These shifts reflected the American people’s mood – this election is much more about domestic policy than foreign policy.

True, at heart Barack Obama is more an idealistic internationalist, preferring multilateralism and global cooperation, while Mitt Romney is a muscular isolationist, yearning for American autonomy and insisting on American strength. But these differences pale before the fact that it is difficult to assess any candidate’s foreign policy ideology – let alone how that candidate will act as president. Predicting how a president will function in foreign affairs is as reliable as guessing how first-time parents will act when their children become teenagers – lovely theories succumb to tumultuous unforeseen squalls.

Foreign policy is particularly elusive due to the unpredictability of foreign events, the mushiness in American foreign policy ideologies, and the often-constructive tradition of presidents abandoning their preconceptions once they actually start governing.  Barack Obama himself is proof of the haziness here.  To the extent that Senator Obama had a foreign policy vision in 2008 as a candidate – when he had as little foreign policy experience as Governor Romney has in 2012 – his presidency has frequently succeeded by forgetting it. As Obama boasts about getting Osama Bin Laden and approving the Afghanistan surge, and as Guantanamo Bay remains open, pacifist leftists are understandably wondering what happened to their anti-war, human rights hero. If Obama is correct that the Republican candidate’s newly moderate domestic policies reflect “Romnesia”; pacifist leftists could mourn many such “Obaminations.”

Ultimately, the convergence offered a welcome reminder, as this campaign intensifies, that America’s greatest foreign policy victories, including winning World War II and the Cold War, were bipartisan moments uniting the nation not dividing parties. Whoever wins will have to lead from the center, in both foreign and domestic affairs – moving from the theoretical clashes of the campaign trail to the necessary reconciliations of governance.


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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-2-12

Ronald Reagan campaigning in Columbia, South Carolina, on October 10, 1980, a few weeks before the only debate of the 1980 election. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Happy October, which every four years becomes debate month in American presidential politics. On October 3, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will debate domestic policy in Colorado. On October 11, their vice presidential running mates, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, will debate in Kentucky. Five days later on October 16, voters at a town meeting in New York will question the two presidential candidates about any issues and on October 22 — two weeks before Election Day — Obama and Romney will debate foreign policy in Florida.

These debates — which are more like side-by-side press conferences with some exchanges — are usually the political equivalent of military service: long bouts of boredom punctuated by bursts of melodrama. Usually, they reinforce media narratives and voter impressions. But they have sometimes changed outcomes, particularly in 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s aw shucks, “there you go again” dismissal of President Jimmy Carter’s attacks triggered a Reagan surge — and the largest last-minute switch in poll results since polling began in the 1930s.

Treating history as an authoritative tarot card rather than a subtle source of wisdom, Mitt Romney’s supporters have been touting that ten-point swing as proof that the Republicans will win. The 1980 moment appeals more broadly to Republicans as indication that a gaffe-prone, ridiculed, seemingly out-of-touch former governor can defeat an earnest Democratic incumbent afflicted by a sagging economy, Middle East troubles, and accusations that the twin pillars of his foreign policy are appeasement and apology not power and pride.

The 1980 debate should sober Obama and buoy Romney. In his recent book, The Candidate: What It Takes to Win — and Hold – the White House, Professor Samuel Popkin, an occasional Democratic campaign adviser, recalls his failure coaching Carter in 1980. Playing Reagan in debate “prep,” Popkin echoed the Republican’s devastating anti-Carter criticisms. Popkin describes the kind of careful criticism Romney should launch against Obama, knowing that if the challenger is too aggressive he looks angry and insolent but if he is too deferential he seems weak and intimidated. Reagan, Popkin writes, “resorted to more subtle, coded criticisms that were harder to defend against. He appeared respectful of the office and the president, suggesting that Carter was hamstrung by defeatist Democrats in Congress.” This approach forced Carter to rebut the premise — and plaintively claim he was strong — or the conclusion — by insisting Democrats were not defeatists. “Contesting one point left him tacitly conceding the other,” Popkin writes.

Obama’s caveat is in Carter’s reaction. Offended and embarrassed by the criticism, Carter ended the session after eleven minutes. Popkin as Reagan had pierced Carter’s “presidential aura,” unnerving everyone in the room. Trying to dispel the tension, Carter’s chief domestic policy advisor, Stuart Eizenstat, himself Jewish, resorted to ethnic humor by pointing to Popkin and joking, “You didn’t know Governor Reagan was Jewish, did you?” Popkin, who quickly replied “Well, Governor Reagan is from Hollywood,” realized that many of Carter’s people, including the aggrieved president, were unfamiliar with Reagan’s attacks because the majesty of the presidency insulated Carter from serious criticism or serious study of his challenger.

Of course, in an ideal world the debates would emphasize issue flashpoints not gaffe-hunting. In Denver, Romney should, Reagan-style, subtly question President Obama as to when he as president will take responsibility for the anemic recovery and lingering unemployment rather than scapegoating his predecessor. At Hofstra University, Romney should ask Obama to explain to the voters present and the American people how his increasing reliance on the heavy hand of federal regulations and big government does not reflect doubt in the traditional invisible hand of individual entrepreneurial Americans and the markets themselves. And in Boca Raton, Romney should prod Obama on the Arab Spring, asking him at what point he would concede that his policy failed rather than simply dismissing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the murder of American diplomats in Libya, and other Obama-orchestrated disasters as “bumps in the road.” In response, Obama should emphasize his successes in halting the economic freefall, his faith in American ingenuity guided by the government’s occasional, competent, and gentle helping hand, and his muscular defense of American interests in hunting down Osama Bin Laden, boosting troops in Afghanistan, and reprimanding Egypt’s president for delays in defending America’s Cairo embassy. Meanwhile, reporters and voters should push both candidates to explain what sacrifices they will demand from Americans, where they will deviate from their party’s orthodoxy, how they will end partisanship, and what bold solutions they have to American debt, demoralization, and decline.

While such substantive exchanges would allow Americans to weigh the candidates’ dueling philosophies and records, it is more likely that the debates’ verdict will pivot around some theatrical moment. Since televised presidential debates began in 1960, when John Kennedy’s aristocratic calm contrasted with Richard Nixon’s sweaty, herky-jerky intensity, style has usually upstaged substance in debate reporting and debate perceptions.

It is too easy just to blame the press — although broadcasters and reporters will be seeking “gotcha” moments when a candidate stumbles and “grand slams” when a candidate dominates. Moreover, American voters respond more to debate theatrics than polemics. The mass reaction reflects one of the realities of modern leadership, which too many academics ignore and editorialists lament: image rules, style counts, a successful president or prime minister must communicate effectively not just administer smoothly.

This season, as the American campaign peaks and the silliness surges, it will be easy to mock American politics. But the presidential campaign remains a remarkable effective and dramatic ritual that gets two individuals conveying their messages to a polity of 300 million people.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-20-08

Although conflict fuels political campaigns, election contests also illuminate the political consensus. It is as important to understand where candidates agree as to see where they disagree. In the second, foreign-policy-oriented debate between the two presidential nominees, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama demonstrated that they both agree that Iran threatens America and the world.

“And our challenge right now is the Iranians continue on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons, and it’s a great threat,” one of the nominees said. “It’s not just a threat — threat to the state of Israel. It’s a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.” His rival proclaimed: “We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.” Only the most devoted partisans could identify which nominee made which statement – and only the most devoted partisans could find a basis anywhere in those statements for them to clash. Obama’s earlier stated willingness to negotiate without preconditions haunts him. But this question of preconditions is a skirmish about tactics not a war about fundamentals.

Tragically, this broad American consensus against Iran’s going nuclear is undermined by European ambivalence – and cravenness. The latest reminder came from Germany’s Ambassador to Iran who allowed his military attache to attend an Iranian military parade in Tehran last month. The parade featured the usual calls to destroy Israel – and America.

Anticipating November 5, the day AFTER the election, Americans must start emphasizing these points of bipartisan agreement, to accelerate what will be a necessary healing process. Anticipating January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day, Americans must start thinking about the consensus the new president can count on – along with the strategic threats he will face.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. just released a noteworthy report offering a blueprint for the next president to follow in approaching Iran. (Full disclosure – I am a Visiting Scholar at the Center but did not work on the report). The report is essential reading for the two candidates, their advisors, and every concerned Westerner. Deeming a nuclear weapons-capable Iran “strategically untenable,” the report says that, whoever wins the presidential election will have the “formidable task” of forging an effective bipartisan policy within the United States – along with a muscular multilateral policy abroad.

Balancing adeptly between scholarship and strategy, the report analyzes Iran’s past and present while presenting a thoughtful, integrated approach to nudge that country toward a more peaceful future. Reflecting the sensibilities of the project director, Dr. Michael Makovsky, a distinguished diplomatic historian, the report includes historical analysis showing that the media caricature of Iran as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s duchy is simplistic. There are complex historical, political and economic forces that can be channeled to America’s advantage. The new president will have to mix diplomatic, informational, and economic strategies, reinforced by possible military options. The task force, headed by former Senators Chuck Robb and Dan Coats, advocates European cooperation, predetermined timetables for negotiation, and formidable, effective sanctions.
Oil remains at the heart of the issue. America will have to consider blockading first Iran’s gasoline imports, then its oil exports, if negotiations fail. Calling for a “comprehensive strategy” and “vigorous execution” – both of which have been sorely lacking – these experts deem the military option “feasible” but a “last resort.” The authors detail just how problematic – and destabilizing – resorting to violence would be. But here is the great conundrum. To be strong enough to avoid going military, and ready to launch if necessary, America has to build better alliances and pre-position military assets in the region immediately.
The scariest conclusion estimates that once Iran had an “adequate supply of low-enriched uranium” — which it might acquire within a year or possibly sooner — Iran could then enrich 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in “four weeks or less,” thus becoming “nuclear-weapons capable.” The most reassuring call is for “leverage building,” the process whereby America and her allies find just the right pressure points to avert this potential strategic disaster. The examples of John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis and George H.W. Bush during the crisis prompted by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait are more instructive – and inspirational – than George W. Bush’s overreach in Iraq. “[I]t is not too late for sanctions and economic coercion to work,” the authors insist. “Despite near record oil prices, Iran’s economy remains weak. While the United States, its European allies, and the United Nations have imposed some sanctions on Tehran, each has a range of more biting economic tools at their disposal.”

Although the authors pull their political punches in true bipartisan spirit, the current administration’s failures haunt the report. The initial mishandling of the Iraq war emboldened Iran and undermined confidence in a military option, if it becomes necessary. Moreover, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that underestimated Iran’s commitment to going nuclear lessened pressure on this rogue regime. Still, charting a bipartisan and multidimensional approach for the next president is the best way to progress, without bogging down in partisan recriminations.

Bipartisanship is easily hailed and just as easily ignored, especially during an increasingly ugly election campaign. This report reminds us that the most serious challenges any nation faces transcend party. All Americans suffer from the stock market woes just as they are equally threatened by a nuclear Iran. Without ignoring partisan differences, without reducing complex issues to apple-pie generalities, America’s leaders have to lead away from partisan recrimination and toward national action. These kinds of bipartisan reports on these kinds of transcendent, existential national issues are helpful reminders of all that unites Americans – and useful roadmaps toward the kinds of strategies needed during this precarious time.

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Video: Latest : Obama in Europe : Canada AM: Gil Troy, U.S. presidential historian, on Barack’s whirlwind tour

U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama arrived in Berlin on Thursday as part of a whirlwind international tour to raise his diplomatic profile.

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JPost, July 20, 2008


A JPost.com exclusive blog 

Barack Obama and John McCain clashed over foreign policy last week – or did they? While some headlines emphasized the two candidates’ differences, proclaiming “McCain Slams Obama on Iraq Surge,” the two also agreed on many important fundamentals – as well as key policies.

Their points of overlap demonstrate that both are patriots, both are “anti-terror,” both seek an American victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that the previous sentence needs to be written, of course, illustrates the absurd extremes to which so many partisan critics take the polarizing discourse about the candidates.

Appropriately, Israel was not a central thrust of either speech. But the fundamental equation remains operative – what is good for America in this election will be good for Israel. And if the winning candidate sticks to the vision articulated in either of the two speeches, America, and Israel, will be all right.

Characteristically – and in fairness, due to the setting – Obama’s speech at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building in Washington was more sweeping, more visionary, more programmatic. McCain’s response at a town hall meeting was more focused, more hands-on, more strategic.

Obama built his speech by remembering America’s Cold War containment policy, embracing George Marshall’s faith in “judgment,” mixing what we now call “hard” and “soft” power.

Before finishing with an inspirational return to his history lesson, Obama demonstrated his commitment to righting the wrongs of the Bush years with a deft combination of self-sacrifice, selflessness, muscle-flexing and nation-building – in the United States and abroad. He sees foreign policy – like domestic policy – as a vehicle for national renewal, for encouraging Americans to work together and build a national sense of mission and community, while defending their nation and improving the world.

Less loftily, Obama proclaimed “five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Obviously, the rhetoric of a campaign speech does not necessarily anticipate a president’s track record in the Oval Office. But the bulk of Obama’s speech would be thoroughly acceptable to most Ronald Reagan Republicans. In particular, both Obama and McCain agreed about the need to beef up the American troop presence in Afghanistan.

In response, John McCain focused part of his stump speech in New Mexico on Obama, Afghanistan, and Iraq, rather than delivering a more formal foreign policy address.

Highlighting the contrast between the young, eloquent, intellectual visionary and the wizened warrior, McCain came out swinging, “I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars,” McCain told his Albuquerque audience. “And if I’m elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory, I know how to do that.”

Sharpening his elbows, McCain said: “In wartime, judgment and experience matter. In a time of war, the commander in chief doesn’t get a learning curve.”

And more directly, he mocked his opponent, reading two Obama quotations, one back in January 2007 doubting the surge would work, and a second one a year later, acknowledging that more troops in Iraq led to more stability. “My friends, flip-floppers all over the world are enraged,” McCain chuckled.

In fact, both candidates are converging, not only about Afghanistan. Both understand that in the wake of the Bush presidency, America needs to experience an economic, diplomatic, and ideological renewal. Obama is more explicit about that – but McCain rides heavily on the fact that he was calling for what became the “surge” while George W. Bush was still blindly defending “Rummy” – Donald Rumsfeld – and pooh-poohing reports of chaos in Baghdad.

And even on Iraq, Obama is cautiously, cleverly, and responsibly, narrowing the gap between his policies and McCain’s. Obama still talks about giving the military “a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war” – an interesting choice of words considering that the traditional goal of most militaries is to win the war not just end it.

Still, analysts noted that Obama’s sixteen month timetable, now is set to begin on Inauguration Day – six months from now, and he spoke about a “residual” force remaining. Clearly, as the possibility that he just might become Commander-in-Chief grows, Obama is realizing that his rhetoric and his postures may have serious life-and-death implications.

This convergence in a campaign is good. It is not just the gravitational pull to the center we often see after primaries. It is not just the “oh, boy, I might be president” flight from irresponsibility. It is also precisely what the American people want. A Washington Post poll this week found that 78 percent of those surveyed, “said it is more important for a candidate to adjust positions to changing circumstances than to stick to his original stands (18 percent prioritize consistency).”

By this poll, more than three-quarters of the American people are more mature than most reporters and bloggers, partisans and pols. The challenge is for the candidates to show they can campaign vigorously, disagree passionately on some issues, while still reassuring the American people they understand that they both share many common values, common dreams, and common-sense policies.

Support for Israel remains a part of this consensus. Judging by this week’s exchange, as well as the more Israel-focused AIPAC speeches, the hysterical claims that Obama is going to abandon the Jewish State, or that McCain is going to so blindly support Israel there will be no constraints are both overstated.

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HNN, May 21, 2008

To counterattack or not to counterattack, is one of the most vexing questions campaigns face. Democrats – with the dramatic exception of Bill Clinton and his War Room – have frequently taken the high road when attacked, and lost. The failures of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004 to respond to Republican assaults seem to justify more aggressive responses. But sometimes, silence is golden. Sometimes counterattacking simply publicizes the initial attack. Looking at last week’s great appeasement brouhaha, Barack Obama overreacted by counterattacking, and may have fallen into a White House trap.

George W. Bush clearly was being mischievous when, speaking to the Israeli Knesset, he quoted Senator William Borah’s tragically naïve and utterly self-involved exclamation at the start of World War II. Dismissing talk of negotiating with “terrorists and radicals” as a “foolish delusion” we have heard before, Bush said: “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history,” Bush proclaimed.

Obama condemned this “false political attack” and led a chorus of Democrats shocked that a president would politick on foreign soil. All innocence, the White House press secretary Dana Perino denied that the Knesset remark had anything to do with Obama: “I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case,” she said. This was White House speak for the old schoolyard taunt, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

Presidential pronouncements from Israel about American-Israeli friendship rarely generate headlines. But all of a sudden, whether or not Obama had been accused of appeasement – and was an appeaser – dominated the news. As a result, Obama’s name became more linked than ever with the appeasement charge. This linkage is doubly problematic for Obama. Not only does the controversy broadcast the Republican charge that Obama is too soft, too left, too willing to negotiate away American honor. It also publicizes the broader question: having talked his way from obscurity to the precipice of the presidency so quickly, will the 46-year-old wunderkind be too enamored of his own skills, too swayed by his own silver tongue? By contrast, John McCain, the grizzled war veteran, looks sober, mature, reliable.

In fairness to Obama, he also has to prove that he is not a wimp. Especially after the “swiftboating” of John Kerry, Democrats are anxious for a return to the days of the Clinton counterpunchers – although it seems without a Clinton in charge. One of Bill Clinton’s great triangulating skills was playing off two political personae, as the populist and the progressive, as “Bubba” and the Yalie, or, as was often said “Saturday night Bill” and “Sunday morning Bill.” Obama has a harder task here. Having floated to the top so quickly as the saint of centrism, as a seeker of civility, Obama cannot emphasize the hand-to-hand political combat skills he must have picked up during his apprentice in Chicago politics. At the same time, if Republicans smell weakness, they will pounce.

Fortunately for Obama, McCain is encased in a similar pair of silk handcuffs. McCain also has built his reputation as the Republican rebel, as the party maverick always willing to cross lines, build bridges, promote civility. It is hard to make nice while brandishing a stiletto.

Moreover, while Obama took the White House bait and bristled defensively that he was not an appeaser, the White House trap did not help McCain as much as it could have. One of McCain’s great strengths is appearing to be the Republican most distant from Bush; embraces from an unpopular lameduck president are not what the party maverick needs. And, as in 1992, when another young, relatively unknown Democratic politician defeated an older, more experienced, former war hero, this election does not appear to be about foreign policy thus far – it is, as it was in the election wherein Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton unseated the incumbent President George H.W. Bush, “the economy, stupid.”

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HNN, April 29, 2008

During Senator Barack Obama’s bad week last week, when he lost Pennsylvania, Jimmy Carter’s rogue diplomatic mission to the Middle East did not help. I know of no surveys tracking the impact of Carter’s Hamas hug on Obama’s popularity. Still, Democrats who want a muscular, effective American response to Islamism noticed. Having this presidential has-been embracing terrorists haunted Obama, with Carter as the ghost of Christmas past preying on fears that Obama himself will be the ghost of Christmas future, perpetually globetrotting, blinded by moral relativism, imprisoned by lovely rhetoric and high ideals, absolving dictators and terrorists of their anti-American sins and crimes against humanity.

In fact, Obama forcefully condemned Carter’s meeting with the Hamas leadership. Nevertheless, acting more shrewdly than fairly, Senator John McCain pounced. McCain understood that Carter’s trip made the time right to exploit one Hamas leader’s recent pronouncement that “We like Mr. Obama.” McCain responded: “I never expect for the leader of Hamas… to say that he wants me as president of the United States.” The Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory reappearance on Monday, praising Carter, denouncing Zionism, further eased McCain’s Obama-Carter-Hamas bankshot.

Had Jimmy Carter succeeded as president, Barack Obama would be emphasizing their parallels. Like Carter in 1976, Obama has rocketed to presidential-level prominence with a simple, compelling message. Like Carter, Obama has little formal foreign policy experience. And like Carter, Obama seems most comfortable with the Democratic Party’s post-Vietnam, anti-war wing.

Unfortunately, Carter’s high ideals often produced great disasters. Although he successfully facilitated the Camp David Accords and Panama Canal return, Jimmy Carter inherited a demoralized nation — and left it deeply depressed. In abandoning the Shah of Iran, Carter eased the Islamist takeover there, a critical turning point in Islamism’s rise worldwide. When the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary goons kidnapped American diplomats, Carter’s impotence saddled America with the image of a musclebound giant in ways still haunting the country.

Like a substitute teacher losing control, Carter ricocheted between being contemptibly weak, and unduly harsh. Carter’s mix of high ideals and rank amateurism in dealing with the Soviet Union made him take everything too personally, and miss the mark tactically. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan he felt insulted, after all his lovely overtures. In 1980, Ronald Reagan did not win a mandate for conservative revolution but triumphed in an ABC election – voters wanted Anybody But Carter.

As an ex-President, despite his laudable commitment to fighting disease and building houses for the homeless, Carter’s diplomatic efforts are often laughable. Carter has frittered away his credibility by kowtowing to dictators and outlaws, from China to North Korea, from Zimbabwe to Nepal. His perceptions of Israel have been particularly skewed and harsh. His book accusing Israel of the South African crime of Apartheid, was sloppy and intellectually lazy – slapping on an inflammatory title while only perfunctorily discussing the charge in the text.

On this recent Middle East trip, Carter demonstrated his bias and self-delusion. By laying a wreath at Yasir Arafat’s grave, Carrer dishonored the memory of two American diplomats Arafat ordered killed in Khartoum in 1973, George Curtis Moore and Cleo Noel, in addition to thousands of other terrorist victims. After undermining American policy by meeting with Hamas’s leaders, Carter proclaimed that Hamas was clearly committed to a cease fire – until his hosts clarified that their offer was more ambiguous. And in his post-trip New York Times op-ed, Carter again showed that his delusional diplomacy rests on his distorting of history. Carter said “Hamas had been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel,” without mentioning the terrorism that prompted the designation. Carter said “Eventually, Hamas gained control of Gaza,” without mentioning the violence Hamas used against fellow Palestinians to gain that control.

There is nothing wrong with Carter being pro-Palestinian. He errs by failing to use his credibility with Palestinians to wean destructive Palestinian forces like Hamas from their addiction to terrorism. Sanitizing Hamas feeds delusions that enable more violence.

Unfortunately, Carter is a hero to those in the Democratic Party who, doubly traumatized by the Vietnam and Iraq wars, pooh-pooh any threats to America because America does not always handle the threats effectively. Some prominent liberals such as Paul Berman and Peter Beinart have argued that it is particularly absurd for liberals, academics, intellectuals, students, feminists, and gays to ignore the dangers of Islamism.

As a prominent opponent of the Iraq War, Barack Obama has deep roots in this “Peace Camp” that too often overlooks grave threats to peace. Moreover, Obama’s stated willingness to meet with America’s enemies, including the anti-American, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also reeks of this appeasement-oriented Carterism.

Obama’s challenge – and opportunity – is to move beyond American foreign policy’s simplistic hawk-versus-dove, deluded-peacenik-versus-paranoid-warrior polarities. Obama must bury Carterism and Bushism along with the assumption that the only choice is the false choice between them. He must show he recognizes that there is a time for peace and a time for war, a time to boycott and a time to negotiate, a time to defy and a time to concede.

The world is too complicated, for someone to become president stuck singing in only one key. America’s next leader must synthesize Jimmy Carter’s idealism with George W. Bush’s anger, George H.W. Bush’s coalition-building patience with Ronald Reagan’s saber-rattling resolve, Bill Clinton’s ability to charm the world with Richard Nixon’s ability to understand it.

Those skills are difficult to demonstrate while campaigning. But Obama was right to distance himself from Carter’s amoral grandstanding and Wright’s wrongheaded rants. Obama should worry about how to reassure American voters who see the evil in the world, without alienating his base among those who are far quicker to see faults in America than in America’s enemies.

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