Saturday, March 8, 2008

Why Barack Obama is the Best Candidate for U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security

In recent weeks, the Hillary Clinton campaign has repeatedly argued that Barack Obama is unprepared to engage in international relations as President.  These are my top ten reasons why I strongly believe that a President Obama would be highly successful in international relations, much more so than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain.

1. There's no doubt that Sen. Barack Obama has more global appeal than any other candidate for President. He's the son of an African immigrant and a woman from Kansas, which represents an obvious departure from the past.  

2. Obama has lived in other countries and traveled abroad extensively, and as a result fully understands many other cultures particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.  

3. Obama studied international relations in college and consequently understands important nuances of foreign policy. He has brought his academic expertise to the U.S. Foreign Relations committee and has worked in a bipartisan fashion to chart a new American foreign policy. For example, Obama spearheaded the effort – along with Republican Senator Richard Luger - to emphasize the importance of helping eliminate “loose nukes” in Russia and Eastern Europe – a project that had been vastly under-funded by the Bush Administration.  
4. He has seen poverty and related social problems firsthand on a daily basis as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago and will have a greater understanding of comparable Third World issues as a result. His experience at the grassroots level in the U.S. will enable him to devise viable, innovative solutions to global problems as poverty, hunger, lack of adequate health care, infant mortality, AIDS, organized crime, and homelessness.  
5. He has credibility in the world because he opposed the Iraq War from the very beginning (unlike Hillary Clinton) and understood in 2002 that Bush's pre-emptive war in Iraq would seriously hurt America's standing in the world. After all, the Iraq War is the Number One reason why the U.S. has become so incredibly unpopular in recent years.  
6. Obama has clearly demonstrated good judgment in such foreign policy decisions, unlike Hillary and McCain - who made the worst foreign policy decision in decades when they voted to authorize Bush’s invasion of Iraq.  
7. Obama is highly diplomatic in his personal style and never shrill or temperamental (unlike McCain and Hillary), which will help win back good will around the world. He doesn't lose his cool or cry "shame" when he disagrees with someone. Rather, Obama knows how to bring people together and forge compromises - and this characteristic will help him immensely in any diplomatic initiatives he undertakes with foreign governments.  
8. Obama is willing to meet with virtually any leader in the world without unnecessary bureaucratic preconditions (unlike Hillary and McCain), thereby signaling a new, more open, stance for American foreign policy. He understands that the U.S. never stopped meeting with Soviet leaders during the Cold War, so why should we not meet with our enemies today? He contends that adequate preparation for such meetings is absolutely necessary, but continuing the obstructionist saber-rattling cowboy antics of the Bush Administration (as Hillary seems to favor) will get us nowhere.  
9. Obama knows how to prioritize national security concerns (unlike Bush, McCain, and Hillary) and will act accordingly in shifting the emphasis in the war on terror back to Afghanistan/Pakistan, where it truly belongs. Of course, he will also use his diplomatic skills to help bring together disparate Iraqi factions and fully involve Iraq’s Muslim neighbors and the United Nations in a multilateral effort to achieve lasting stability in the region.  
10. Electing Barack Obama as President will be a clear and unambiguous signal to the world that the U.S. is charting a brand new course. Rather than looking backwards, the U.S. will be moving forward with fresh new ideas and innovative bipartisan approaches in foreign policy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Reflections on Democratic Party "Insiders" and "Outsiders"

Someone mentioned to me the other day that there are basically two major “wings” of the Democratic Party. Actually that is somewhat of an oversimplification, since there are actually many factions.  But there is some truth to that bisected depiction.  Indeed, there are certainly party "insiders" on the one hand (i.e. the establishment) and "outsiders" on the other. There are those who almost always play it "safe" on major policy issues (the insiders) and those who stand up for what they actually believe on a given issue, even though their positions may not be popular with the nervous poll-driven party establishment. Paradoxically, sometimes the outsiders eventually become insiders and appear to "sell out" in the process.

I'm old enough to remember how Sen. Gary Hart (labeled an outsider) challenged the Democratic Party establishment candidate of the 1984 presidential election, Walter Mondale. In fact, I ran and was elected as a Hart delegate that year. At the time I was really excited by all of his fresh “new ideas.”  He was touted as a “neo-liberal” reformer that wanted to dramatically change Washington’s political climate.  He was even a defense policy expert. 

However, that was right after the "superdelegates" had been created, which helped Mondale win.  More importantly, the Mondale campaign was able to lift a simplistic line from a Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?” to question whether Hart's ideas actually had any real substance.  As a result, the party insiders slowed Hart’s momentum and triumphed in the short term by winning the nomination.  But the lackluster candidacy of Mondale went down to defeat against Ronald Reagan in the general election.

Ironically, Bill Clinton was deemed n "outsider" in 1992 by challenging the traditional liberal orthodoxy of the Democratic Party establishment. After years of losing presidential elections to conservative Republicans, Clinton’s strategy was to move the Democratic Party to the center and therefore appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate. 

Though many neo-liberals and progressives - including myself - were disturbed by some of Bill Clinton’s more conservative positions (on issues such as the death penalty, welfare reform, and growth of the prison-industrial complex), we still appreciated his charisma and leadership skills.  Despite my misgivings, I liked him personally and credited him with some important accomplishments - especially regarding balanced budgets, the booming economy, and the peace processes in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

The dynamic of Democratic insiders/outsiders changed again as a result of the Iraq War. The Clinton-era moderates had become the new insiders by this time, though a new cadre of more liberal/progressive outsiders was now on the horizon.  Countless thousands of liberals and progressives across the country had spoken out against the use of force resolution, urging Congress to vote against it.  It was obvious to virtually anyone who followed politics that President Bush intended to go to war against Iraq and was seeking Congressional “cover,” particularly since the U.N. route had been ruled out by this time. 

Many Democrats - including a majority of Democratic members in the House of Representatives - voted against the use of force authorization of 2002. But a plurality of Democratic Senators - including several that had planned to run for President such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden, voted in favor of the resolution.

This was a defining moment for "liberal outsiders" such as myself who were mad as hell that any Democrat in Congress would basically give Bush a green light to invade Iraq. That's why I supported the maverick liberal outsider, Howard Dean, for president in 2004.  That's also what initially attracted me to Barack Obama in the current election. But I soon found out that Obama was much more than just another anti-Iraq war outsider.  He was filled with specific new ideas and policy prescriptions, while at the same time heading up a nationwide grassroots movement dedicated to overturning the corrupt status quo in Washington, D.C.

Of course, John Edwards reinvented himself as an "outsider," after leaving the U.S. Senate, adopting populist rhetoric, and actually apologizing for his Iraq war vote.   But Hillary did not follow suit and for this reason further alienated many anti-Iraq war liberal outsiders such as myself.  Despite my generally fond feelings for Hillary, I felt betrayed by her 2002 vote and her stubborn refusal to renounce that vote.  

Ironically, Hillary had become the consummate insider, reaping the benefits of "insider" party patronage and network ties from her years spent in the White House.  Though the idea of the “first woman president” was appealing, the idea of another poll-driven Machiavellian candidate of the corrupt Washington status quo was revolting.   

For those of us who have seen countless liberal outsiders go down to defeat in the primary season over the years, Barack Obama has given us hope that the status quo can be challenged successfully this time.  Now more than ever we are particularly hopeful that the new outsider (Obama) will ultimately triumph over the new insider (H. Clinton). 

But the insiders are very adept at fending off such challenges from outsiders and tend to use overly simplistic attacks to marginalize their opponents.  Mondale played that game and won the nomination in 1984.  Hillary Clinton is employing similar tactics today, no matter what lasting harm that may be done to the Democratic Party.  Hopefully, this time the outsider candidate will secure the nomination and lead his party – and more importantly his social movement - to victory in November.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Xenophobic Attacks on Obama are Disturbing, Especially When the Clinton Campaign is Involved

I'm really disturbed by the narrow-minded attacks leveled at Barrack Obama over the last several days regarding such non-issues as his middle name (which was his Kenyan grandfather's name) and the photo showing him wearing tribal robes presented to him while visiting Kenya. Even though Obama is a long-time Christian who was born in the United States, some of his political opponents are resorting to fear mongering about his ethnic/ancestral background. 

There has been a not-so-subtle use of such xenophobic themes by persons associated with the Clinton campaign and an all-out frontal assault by far-right talk radio commentators and bloggers in recent days. Anyone who would resort to such tactics is attempting to appeal to the unwarranted fears of many voters, particularly those who are easily swayed by such race-baiting demagoguery. 

I would expect such ethnocentric tactics from conservative talk show hosts such as Bill Cunningham and Rush Linbaugh, since they are notorious for appealing to the dark side of the American electorate. But to have fellow Democrats employ such tactics is really sickening. As Linbaugh of all people noted on the O'Reilly Factor recently, the origin of the "controversy" over Obama's middle name goes back to Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton. It was actually a Clinton surrogate, former Senator Bob Kerry, who first repeatedly used Obama's middle name back in December while he was campaigning on behalf of Sen. Clinton. 

As a Democrat, I am very disturbed that the Clinton campaign would use or condone such a xenophobic approach. Did Hillary apologize for Bob Kerry's remarks or admonish him in any way, shape, or form? No. It's very sad that Sen. Clinton's campaign is apparently resorting to such tactics even while John McCain has criticized such language. 

There is also reason to believe that someone associated with the Clinton campaign was behind the leaking of Obama's Kenyan photo to the Drudge Report. What's going on here? Why does the Clinton campaign feel the need to encourage xenophobia in attacking their rival? This sort of thing is very ugly and Senator Clinton owes the American people an apology for her campaign's thinly veiled attacks on her rival's ethnic/ancestral background.