Obama on America

A candidate supporter diary for MyDD

The notion of American exceptionalism is on old and noble one and an awareness of it is essential to understanding our historical role in world affairs.  It's an underlying self-perception of our nation widely shared by the general public as much as it is maligned and, especially recently, questioned and deplored by experts.  It has been with us since the sympathetic French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville first coined the idea in 1835 and has informed our public policy and national aspirations on the world stage, for better or for worse, throughout our history:


American exceptionalism (cf. "exceptionalism") has been historically referred to as the belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its national credo, historical evolution, or distinctive political and religious institutions. The difference is often expressed in American circles as some categorical superiority, to which is usually attached some alleged proof, rationalization or explanation that may vary greatly depending on the historical period and the political context.

Wikipedia - American Exceptionalism

This belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations is often implied in phrases like restoring America's position or rebuilding our reputation in the world.  If you harbour a belief that America has a special role to play by virtue of it's size, power, egalitarianism or influence you are subscribing to this idea.  The hijacking of our foreign policy by neo-conservatives, whose notion of 'exceptionalism' was founded solely on our unique status as the last superpower standing in the post-Cold era, has so eroded sympathy for and confidence in American exceptionalism outside our borders that it has undermined the idea of America' special position in the world and led to an abandonment of this concept by intellectuals and our allies on the grounds of illegitimacy and shifting geopolitical sands:


All this has led some to conclude that the world would be better off if America slunk home. As Joyce Carol Oates wrote in The Atlantic: "How heartily sick the world has grown, in the first seven years of the 21st century, of the American idea!" It has become a "cruel joke."

Roger Cohen - Obama's American Idea 10 Dec 07

The criticisms of 'Pax Americana' and comparisons to the imperial ambitions, and decline, of ancient Rome have followed.  Many suspect we have quite simply unsheathed the naked blade of military dominance and promptly broken it.  They have a good point.  In this context there have been few champions of exceptionalism in the foreign policy debate, the right continues to promote the corrupted 'divine right of power' version in their neo-conservative agendas but the left, quite typically, has shied from asserting a bold, coherent, ideological vision, contenting themselves with promises of 'good governance' and remedies for the geopolitical excesses of recent years.  Except, apparently, for Senator Obama.

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Obama on America

The notion of American exceptionalism is on old and noble one and an awareness of it is essential to understanding our historical role in world affairs.  It's an underlying self-perception of our nation widely shared by the general public as much as it is maligned and, especially recently, questioned and deplored by experts.  It has been with us since the sympathetic French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville first coined the phrase in 1831 and has informed our public policy and national aspirations on the world stage, for better or for worse, throughout our history:


American exceptionalism (cf. "exceptionalism") has been historically referred to as the belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its national credo, historical evolution, or distinctive political and religious institutions. The difference is often expressed in American circles as some categorical superiority, to which is usually attached some alleged proof, rationalization or explanation that may vary greatly depending on the historical period and the political context.

Wikipedia - American Exceptionalism

This belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations is often implied in phrases like restoring America's position or rebuilding our reputation in the world.  If you harbour a belief that America has a special role to play by virtue of it's size, power, egalitarianism or influence you are subscribing to this idea.  The hijacking of our foreign policy by neo-conservatives, whose notion of 'exceptionalism' was founded solely on our unique status as the last superpower standing in the post-Cold era, has so eroded sympathy for and confidence in American exceptionalism outside our borders that it has undermined the idea of America' special position in the world and led to an abandonment of this concept by intellectuals and our allies on the grounds of illegitimacy and shifting geopolitical sands:


All this has led some to conclude that the world would be better off if America slunk home. As Joyce Carol Oates wrote in The Atlantic: "How heartily sick the world has grown, in the first seven years of the 21st century, of the American idea!" It has become a "cruel joke."

Roger Cohen - Obama's American Idea 10 Dec 07

The criticisms of 'Pax Americana' and comparisons to the imperial ambitions, and decline, of ancient Rome have followed.  Many suspect we have quite simply unsheathed the naked blade of military dominance and promptly broken it.  They have a good point.  In this context there have been few champions of exceptionalism in the foreign policy debate, the right continues to promote the corrupted 'divine right of power' version in their neo-conservative agendas but the left, quite typically, has shied from asserting a bold, coherent, ideological vision, contenting themselves with promises of 'good governance' and remedies for the geopolitical excesses of recent years.  Except, apparently, for Senator Obama.

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Hillary vs Huckabee

It's interesting to note that the one consistent theme (shhh) I have heard here on the subject of Huckabee as a potential general election candidate has been that he would be possibly our toughest competition and those who hold that view have been right for the longest about Huckabee.  Let us speak no more of it.  We are now in an exhilaratingly tight race for possibly the single most import primary in the Democratic calendar and the most compelling political story, one with which our candidates are now competing for coverage, is the sudden rise of you-know-who.

Not much discussion of that among our various candidates.  Then something MollieBradford said got me thinking:


...the party went after Dean to stop his campaign. Yes, that includes Bill Clinton who threw Clark in to the mix.
But that's not going to happen this time.  It's not 2004, the dynamics are all different.

by MollieBradford on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 09:15:03 AM EADT

The party went after Dean to stop his campaign.  That's true.  But that's not going to happen this time?  Why did they do that to Dean again?  Hmm...?  Because there were serious concerns that he could win the nomination and lose the election, that's why.  And people acted on them.  And quickly, too.  It's not 2004, the dynamics are all different. Well, yes... and no.  

Let me test this thesis with you all.  If the notion that Hillary, particularly, would have trouble in the general election against Mike Huckabee is in any way current within the party then she has a problem.  And while the dynamics are all different the same deal is on everyone's mind.  Is Hillary prepared to take on Giuliani?  Like the Russians were at Kursk.  Romney, McCain, etc You bet.  Huckabee?  Hmm...

What's the polling?  Does she do worse against Huckabee than other Republicans in match-ups?  Her hard times have been almost exactly contemporary with Huckabee's meteoric rise.  ¿Que pasa?  I'm just putting this out there, that Huckabee's rise is adding to Hillary's troubles, somehow, somewhere.  And just to assuage the Hillary supporters who will abuse me I will admit it, Hillary has been getting a bad trot in the media lately.  Not a fair shake at all.  Things have not been going her way.  I wonder why?

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Obama on Iran

A candidate supporter diary for MyDD

It should come as no surprise that the recently released NIE which asserts that Iran had abandoned it's nuclear weapons program in 2003 has descended like a thunderbolt on US politics.  The pros and cons of this assessment are still sinking in and have resulted in some strange turnabouts and the jury, of course, claims to still be undecided on it's impact on previous plans, policies and propagandising:  


The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran's nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

Mark Mazzeti - NYT 3 Dec 07

This report not only up-ends truth-or-dare presidential politics, neo-conservative credos and campaign trail rhetoric but squarely busts the Vice President's resilient bunker.  It certainly throws into disarray the carefully crafted sanctions discussions we now know to have been under-way among the Security Council powers.  And in spite of claims of victory or vindication it is worth considering Senator Barack Obama's position on Iran throughout this campaign, as it has certainly weathered this little storm and is becoming, well, pretty close to mainstream policy:


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Bush to announce "a top-to-bottom review of his Iran policy" and launch a "diplomatic surge" on the country.

"He should announce that his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are prepared to meet anytime, anywhere with their Iranian counterparts to conduct vigorous diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and address the challenges of Iran," the Nevada Democrat said.

Matthew Hay Brown - The Swamp 4 Dec 07

There is no doubt that Senator Obama was ahead of the curve with these comments from a NYT article in early November:


Making clear that he planned to talk to Iran without preconditions, Mr. Obama emphasized further that "changes in behavior" by Iran could possibly be rewarded with membership in the World Trade Organization, other economic benefits and security guarantees.

"We are willing to talk about certain assurances in the context of them showing some good faith," he said in the interview at his campaign headquarters here. "I think it is important for us to send a signal that we are not hellbent on regime change, just for the sake of regime change, but expect changes in behavior. And there are both carrots and there are sticks available to them for those changes in behavior."

Michael R Gordon and Jeff Zaleny - NYT 2 Nov 07

This is precisely the position which Senator Obama has maintained since early February when the campaign commenced and it has endured unchanged while the climate of public opinion has undergone a marked shift.

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Hillary Unveiled

Cross-posted at One Million Strong

The increasingly strident tones of the Hillary campaign have wound up slowly in past weeks like an air-raid siren and are now reaching a climactic shrill register.  Time to head to the shelters until the all-clear sounds, I guess.  I never expected to read this from the campaign trail:

...Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) mounted a new, more aggressive attack against Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Sunday, raising direct questions about his character, challenging his integrity and forecasting a sharp debate over those subjects in the days ahead.

Clinton has hammered Obama recently over his health-care proposal, arguing that he is misleading voters because it omits millions of people and would not lower costs. But Sunday, in a dramatic shift, she made it clear that her goal is to challenge Obama not just on policy but also on one of his strongest selling points: his reputation for honesty.

"There's a big difference between our courage and our convictions, what we believe and what we're willing to fight for," Clinton told reporters here. She said voters in Iowa will have a choice "between someone who talks the talk, and somebody who's walked the walk."

Asked directly whether she intended to raise questions about Obama's character, she replied: "It's beginning to look a lot like that."

Anne E Kornblut - Washington Post 2 Dec 07

Well, it was only a matter of time, one supposes, before adversity lifted the veil from the micro-managed messaging and contrived, controlling media manipulation from which her campaign has gained an apparently ill-deserved reputation for professionalism and skill.  And it seems to me that this is the real Hillary, angry, entitled and combative, accusing her opponent of things she knows she is perceived negatively about herself.  What the heck?:


Clinton, campaigning across Iowa on Sunday, appeared to be spoiling for a fight with her chief Democratic rival in national polls -- even at one point describing the battle as "fun."

"I have said for months that I would much rather be attacking Republicans, and attacking the problems of our country, because ultimately that's what I want to do as president. But I have been, for months, on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks. Well, now the fun part starts. We're into the last month, and we're going to start drawing the contrasts," she said.

I guess so.  Or start throwing everything from mud-pies to the contents of the cutlery drawer and hope something sticks.  

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How It's Done: Out of Iraq Aussie Style

As you are no doubt aware a long time ally of George Bush, former Prime Minister John Howard, has been swept out of office unceremoniously and his government virtually shattered.  An eleven year reign has ended and the Greens almost doubled their representation on the back of a landslide Labor victory.  Making good on a campaign promise the Prime Minister-elect, Kevin Rudd, made these remarks, within days of his victory:


"The combat force in Iraq, we would have home by around about the middle of next year," Mr Rudd told a Melbourne radio station, adding that he would leave behind some Australian soldiers, including those providing security at Australia's embassy in Baghdad.

"We'll have a meeting with the United States ambassador before too long to set up the appropriate processes for discussing that," he said.

Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd came to power in a landslide election victory on Saturday.

He has previously described the decision to go to war as the "single greatest error" of Australian national security and foreign policy decision-making since the Vietnam war.

BBC - 30 Nov 07

Well, he made that look easy.  Now admittedly the Australian component of allied forces in Iraq is, as Obama famously pointed out earlier this year, relatively small.  But the political and diplomatic ramifications aren't.  Interestingly he announced this covenant with his constituency on a local radio station before he discussed it with the United States, which seems significant.  He is a genuine democrat.  And he will negotiate cordially and appropriately when he does, as he acknowledges the strategic relationship between both nations.  A reality for Australia since Curtin, another great Labor leader, Australia's FDR.

Kevin Rudd is young, relatively, and genuinely believes in the will of the people, which was the underlying secret of his win, as it was evident in his character during the campaign.  And while the US has no firmer ally in Asia, a tie inherited from Britain but enhanced by the realities of the Pacific economy and a shared experience in the early days of the Second World War, Kevin Rudd will deal with the US with the mandate of the Australian people behind him and that gives him a strong and ethical position in his dealings with the United States in coming years.

Perhaps a lesson in this for progressives elsewhere.  A day is a long time in politics.  I have never seen a party collapse as suddenly and completely as the Liberal-National coalition did since their defeat last week.

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Obama on Afghanistan

A candidate supporter diary for MyDD

Many of us have Middle Eastern news fatigue, to be sure, but it is worth noting a message emerging from Afghanistan recently, especially in light of the 'dynamics' in Islamabad.  The reports have been increasingly pessimistic in recent weeks, with disclaimers, and the few surprising territorial gains by the Taliban reversed or discounted.  But not without a little operational friction among allies of the ISAF.  But more disturbingly a narrative of political failure has begun to emerge which bears watching, accompanying a shift in the realpolitik:


...the latest assessment concluded that only "the kinetic piece" -- individual battles against Taliban fighters -- has shown substantial progress, while improvements in the other areas continue to lag, a senior administration official said.

This judgment reflects sharp differences between U.S. military and intelligence officials on where the Afghan war is headed. Intelligence analysts acknowledge the battlefield victories, but they highlight the Taliban's unchallenged expansion into new territory, an increase in opium poppy cultivation and the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai as signs that the war effort is deteriorating.

The contrasting views echo repeated internal disagreements over the Iraq war: While the military finds success in a virtually unbroken line of tactical achievements, intelligence officials worry about a looming strategic failure.

[...]

But one senior intelligence official, who like others interviewed was not authorized to discuss Afghanistan on the record, said such gains are fleeting. "One can point to a lot of indicators that are positive . . . where we go out there and achieve our objectives and kill bad guys," the official said. But the extremists, he added, seem to have little trouble finding replacements.

Although growing numbers of foreigners -- primarily Pakistanis -- are joining the Taliban ranks, several officials said the primary source of new recruits remains disaffected Afghans fearful of opposing the Taliban and increasingly disillusioned with their own government.

Overall, "there doesn't seem to be a lot of progress being made. . . . I would think that from [the Taliban] standpoint, things are looking decent," the intelligence official said.

Karen DeYoung - Washington Post 25 Nov 07

In mid-August, Obama made a stir, and was openly mocked for the following remark:


"We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there," Obama said.

Yeah, and RNC Chairman Mike Duncan followed up later in a statement demanding that Obama apologize for his "offensive" statement.  

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A Thought on Bipartisanship

The underlying theme of 'bipartisan' vs 'partisan' has been significant in this campaign, though largely ignored by the media.  It has been a significant part of the debate and often is the crux of misunderstanding and conflict in this forum.  Just as an aside I want to post the following exchange I had with a long standing, uncompromising and well-spoken advocate for a frontal assault on the Republicans hoping he/she does not mind.

I was immediately attracted to dpANDREWS comment because it uses, as a metaphor for our Blue vs Red struggle, the example of our conflict with the Japanese before and during the Second World War.  This is curious as this has been mentioned in foreign policy circles, outside of the States, as a suggestive historical trend for the Bush administration's role in international affairs.

From dpANDREWS, on whether Hillary is 'polarising':


When asked that question I'd like a Democrat to say that the Republicans are like the nation of Japan during WWII.  There is a certain fanatcism about them that prevents them from quiting the fight unless horrible pain is inflicted on them.  So in order to have this peace - this bipartisanship -  we must inflict this horrible political defeat on the Republicans and make politically passive, like we did the Japanese to end World War II, so that like the friendly, productive relations we enjoy with the Japanese today, we can enjoy similar relations with the Republicans.

Whoa!  Them's fighting words for anyone familiar with the incendiary night raids on the cities of Japan.  But impressively stated.  So I reply, cheekily, and the exchange follows:


S: So Hillary is like our General Curtis LeMay?

d: In political terms ... I hope so.  I would to see us politically fire bomb the Republicans.  I really think we are in a great place and that in another 4 to 8 years we could have 56 to 58 D's in the Senate.  If we get there we don't need 60.  The others will fall in line to save their hides.

Well, you know, I totaly agree about the great place we are in, totally.  We'll get the sixty, I'm thinking.  But here's my reply, to all of you who are fighting the partisan war of attrition, not to mention the Civil War re-enactment enthusiasts who just like the smell of cut grass and black powder.  And apologies/thanks to dpANDREWS for being my unwitting interlocutor.

You realise LeMay is not only a legendary figure in the history of US airpower but a shaper of Cold War idiom.  For example, his solution to the war in Viet-Nam had a definite 'shock and awe' theme:


"My solution to the problem would be to tell them frankly that they've got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression, or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age."

General Curtis Lemay - 1965 Mission with LeMay: My Story

Sound familiar?  My take is as I wrote to a freeper troll in an infamous diary on the Peter Paul case late last June:


I would be very happy to work in a context where Democrats and Republicans worked their respective sides of the street with mutual respect and collegial manners.  The core values of Republicans, the party of entrepreneurs, property owners and libertarians, is free markets and small government.  Democrats, everyone else, are for fair distribution of wealth and government funded community resources and services.  And both of them are for the rule of law and the Constitution, give or take an amendment or two.  I don't have a problem with that and think that is probably a good balance.

We can't use their methods against them.  We are actually stronger in a democracy and always will be.  We have lost the plot and this is why I so challenge the narrative of the 'centrist' shift of the 90's, love Bill as I do.  It is now time for us to assume our mantle as the natural leadership of the US according to our principles as Democrats.  Those who don't believe that we are powerful as Democrats and the inherently stronger party are victims of the manipulation of the Constitution and the media that is directly descended from, of all people, Richard Milhous bloody Nixon.  Screw him.  And ever since Reagan set foot in the White House we have bought this f*cking sad-sack attitude and let these used-car and snake-oil salesmen not only run rings around us but convince us that we are somehow gerrymandered or demographicly challenged.  Absolute and total f*cking bullshit.  Park your howitzers, my friends, all we need do is walk to the sea to make salt and we are the triumphant victors.

Obama is the one who has been telling me he understands that.  Let those who have ears hear.

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Obama on Iraq: For the Record

A weekly candidate supporter diary for MyDD

Senator Obama's position, proposals and track record on the war in Iraq have been the strongest planks of his foreign policy.  Since the campaign began early this year there have emerged a variety of narratives on the subject.  Obama's recent Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert has renewed interest in these, as explored in a popular diary from Alegre.  This first diary of a series on Obama and Iraq will review Obama's journey from the speech he gave in 2002 through his election to the Senate with attention to the inquiring and sometimes distorting lens of the blogosphere and the media.  

The prophetic October 2002 speech he made as Illinois State Senator, five months before the actual invasion, though often quoted usually omits the part which really grabbed me on first reading:


What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Senator Barack Obama - 2 Oct 02

Hard to say it much more clearly than that, and he identified the problem from it's source.  In June it was attacked as calculating with ludicrous suggestions which don't warrant rebuttal here.  However David Axelrod's response is worth noting for the insight into Obama's choices at the time:


"There was no discussion whether he was for the war or against the war," Axelrod said. "There may have been a discussion on whether or not to take the point on this ... there were obvious political ramifications and he decided to do it."

John McCormick - The  Swamp 21 Jun 04

From that time Obama has been a State Senator, candidate for the US Senate and Senator and his position has been closely parsed for consistency now that he is a presidential candidate.  

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Obama and Post-Iraq Foreign Policy

Crossposted at One Million Strong

It is clear that the post-9/11 foreign policies of the Bush administration's 'global war on terror' and our attempt to dismantle the Taliban and al-Qaeda, originating with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, are presently in stalemate if not threatened with strategic failure, without even considering the intractable problems created by our war in Iraq.  And while the Republicans, with typical disdain, are offering more of the same it was always assumed that this election was going to become a defining one for Democratic foreign policy, from James Traub's recent article in the Sunday NYT Magazine:

Six years have passed since the terrorist attacks, but it seems that, psychologically, we remain inside their fearful penumbra.

And on this visceral question of fear and threat, the candidates differ greatly. Republicans like Rudolph W. Giuliani promise to assuage our worries by taking the offensive; John Edwards has described the "war on terror" as a slogan rather than a strategy and characterized the supreme goal as reclaiming "the moral high ground that defined our foreign policy for much of the last century." These are the twin poles of the terrorism debate -- bellicosity and benevolence. Democrats are not of one mind on the question. Obama continues to use the expression "war on terror" but shares Edwards's substantive views. He says he believes that while a small core of jihadists must be confronted with superior force, the Islamic world generally is in the position of the faces looking wonderingly at the American helicopter, susceptible to the instruments of soft power. He has pledged to convene a forum in the Middle East with regional heads of state soon after he is elected. On the other hand, centrists like Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, are skeptical about the efficacy of soft power in this case. Obama, says Marshall, appears to believe that "the threat we face is an Al Qaeda threat -- a tiny minority of malignant criminals who have absolutely no public support." In fact, says Marshall, "Al Qaeda has broad support in the Islamic world," and Salafism, the extremist branch of Sunni Islam, "is in the ascendant." And Hillary Clinton, who has expressed qualified support for the Bush administration's confrontational policies on Iran, has positioned herself carefully to Obama's right on the subject.

James Traub - NYT Sunday Magazine 4 Nov 07

So which is it?  Even allowing one of his opponents to frame the debate are we fighting a tiny minority of malignant criminals or an entire branch of ascendant Islam?  And what the hell is this soft power?  It doesn't sound ready for prime-time, not with a name like that.  Well, according to Professor Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who popularised the term:


Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft power are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished.

Joseph S. Nye Jr - The International Herald Tribune 10 Jan 03

Well, that makes sense, persuasion versus enforcement of our will.  Two alternate and exclusive tactics which need to be applied in various situations as circumstances dictate.  Why then have we adopted almost exclusively the 'carrot and stick' approach in our fight against terrorism?  And what approach is going to provide the most beneficial results for the country as a whole?  

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