Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Obama's Foreign Policy

Senator Barack Obama gave a major address yesterday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in which he laid out his vision for US foreign policy should he win the 2008 presidential election. The highlights, with commentary:

The first way America will lead is by bringing a responsible end to this war in Iraq and refocusing on the critical challenges in the broader region.

In a speech five months ago, I argued that there can be no military solution to what has become a political conflict between Sunni and Shi’a factions. And I laid out a plan that I still believe offers the best chance of pressuring these warring factions toward a political settlement – a phased withdrawal of American forces with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31st, 2008.
First, there is increasing evidence that the surge is paying dividends. It's too early to claim that it's working, but it does seem to be creating the possibility of success in the future. It's clear that Congress is not going to stand up to the president's veto and try to enforce a hard withdrawal deadline. What's not so obvious is how the tune changes when a presidential candidate becomes president. It's one thing to snipe, it's another thing to change direction. Remember Candidate Clinton's threat to make China's MFN status contingent on improvements in China's human rights record? Or Candidate Bush's antipathy towards nation-building? Candidate Obama may want to bring the boys home, but President Obama will see that decision in a different light.

The second way America will lead again is by building the first truly 21st century military and showing wisdom in how we deploy it.

We must maintain the strongest, best-equipped military in the world in order to defeat and deter conventional threats....That’s why I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines....

I couldn't agree more with Obama here. The US military is too small, a result of American belief in the peace dividend following the Cold War and insufficient attention to the dangers of foreign affairs. However, the military doesn't just need to grow, it needs to do so smartly. The US military is clearly sufficiently large and well-equipped and trained to deal with a traditional military threat. Now, the US military needs to develop a nation-building capability. The needs of nation-building are not the same as combat, and the US needs to be capable of both.

The third way America must lead again is by marshalling a global effort to meet a threat that rises above all others in urgency – securing, destroying, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction....Countries should not be able to build a weapons program under the auspices of developing peaceful nuclear power. That’s why we should create an international fuel bank to back up commercial fuel supplies so there’s an assured supply and no more excuses for nations like Iran to build their own enrichment plants. It’s encouraging that the Nuclear Threat Initiative, backed by Warren Buffett, has already offered funding for this fuel bank, if matched two to one. But on an issue of this importance, the United States should not leave the solution to private philanthropies. It should be a central component of our national security, and that’s why we should provide $50 million to get this fuel bank started and urge other nations, starting with Russia, to join us.

Again, this is an excellent idea, although one that is not likely to have any real impact on the problem of proliferation. The fuel bank, while certainly a nice idea and a good signal of US commitment to non-proliferation and peaceful nuclear energy, is a solution to the problem of proliferation if countries are proliferating as an inevitable result of their quest to develop new energy technologies. But that's not why countries proliferate. They proliferate because they perceive possessing nuclear weapons to be in their interest. Does anyone, even Obama, really believe that if North Korea, Iran, or even India or Pakistan, would have forgone nuclear proliferation if they could have obtained fissile material from fuel bank? Those that seek nuclear energy for unquestionable peaceful purposes can already get technological assistance from the IAEA. Making fuel more obtainable will help those countries develop clean and more green sources of energy, but it won't help the problem of weapons proliferation.

...the fourth way America must lead is to rebuild and construct the alliances and partnerships necessary to meet common challenges and confront common threats...it’s become fashionable to disparage the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations. In fact, reform of these bodies is urgently needed if they are to keep pace with the fast-moving threats we face. Such real reform will not come, however, by dismissing the value of these institutions, or by bullying other countries to ratify changes we have drafted in isolation. Real reform will come because we convince others that they too have a stake in change – that such reforms will make their world, and not just ours, more secure.

NATO’s challenge in Afghanistan has become a test case, in the words of Dick Lugar, of whether the alliance can “overcome the growing discrepancy between NATO’s expanding missions and its lagging capabilities.”

We must close this gap, rallying members to contribute troops to collective security operations, urging them to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization, streamlining decision-making processes, and giving commanders in the field more flexibility.
Not a particularly controversial proposal, unless you're a non-American member of NATO. It would be great if the NATO members, especially the larger European ones, could increase their military capabilities. But it's not going to happen. These countries are barely able to maintain forces for deployment and have almost no power projection capabilities (read this article for an excellent discussion of this problem) and Europe is unlikely to cut domestic spending to increase military spending. What makes more sense is to encourage the Europeans to develop the kind of nation-building forces I mentioned above; a sort of military division-of-labor. The US should remain focused on doing the heavy-lifting of military combat, while the Europeans should specialize on dealing with the aftermaths of those conflicts.

The fifth way America will lead again is to invest in our common humanity – to ensure that those who live in fear and want today can live with dignity and opportunity tomorrow.

Delivering on these universal aspirations requires basic sustenance like food and clean water; medicine and shelter. It also requires a society that is supported by the pillars of a sustainable democracy – a strong legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and an honest police force. It requires building the capacity of the world’s weakest states and providing them what they need to reduce poverty, build healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. And it requires states that have the capacity to fight terrorism, halt the proliferation of deadly weapons, and build the health care infrastructure needed to prevent and treat such deadly diseases as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

As President, I will double our annual investments in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed towards these strategic goals.

For the last twenty years, U.S. foreign aid funding has done little more than keep pace with inflation. Doubling our foreign assistance spending by 2012 will help meet the challenge laid out by Tony Blair at the 2005 G-8 conference at Gleneagles, and it will help push the rest of the developed world to invest in security and opportunity. As we have seen recently with large increases in funding for our AIDS programs, we have the capacity to make sure this funding makes a real difference.

Part of this new funding will also establish a two billion dollar Global Education Fund that calls on the world to join together in eliminating the global education deficit, similar to what the 9/11 commission proposed. Because we cannot hope to shape a world where opportunity outweighs danger unless we ensure that every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy.
There's a lot to like in this last one...but plenty not to like. First, the aid problem isn't just one of amounts. The process of governmental aid is broken; it's crippled by domestic priorities that insist that only US goods be used in the aid process, raising the cost as the goods must be shipped from the US rather than purchased from the area being aided (which would in turn help those economies). Of course the amount of monies lost in the US bureaucratic process is staggering. The Millennium Challenge was a step in the right direction, but even better would be to get the US out of the business of foreign aid altogether, and instead channel aid through NGOs and individual initiatives, like micro-finance operations, as well as provide massive amounts of consulting advice.

I don't really have any conclusions here. There's definitely some good stuff in here, but there's a lot of stuff that seems more directly as public consumption than serious foreign policy. Of course, that's part of the campaign process. But, it's important to remember that with regards to foreign policy presidents, even more than congressmen, tend to gravitate towards a fairly common understanding of "national interest" that looks more realist than liberal, regardless of whether the president in question is a Democrat or Republican.


Matthew said...

The concept of an international "fuel bank" is not Obama's (Lantos has legislation pending on it), and it certainly is not a new one. The DOE under the Bush administration has embraced a variation of it in its GNEP initiative ("Global Nuclear Energy Partnership").

Isn't it the idea to pass along only LEU to states that have verifiably forgone the fuel cycle in the hopes of minimalizing - if not eliminating - the possibly of states using their assured fuel supply to "leapfrog" to HEU levels of upward of 85%? Also, what effect do you think this would have on the chances of a terrorists and other non-state actors getting their hands on fissile material if it were placed under international control?

The idea is shaky - even the U.S. government admits it - and there is reason to believe that many developing/NAM countries would be highly skeptical of any such arrangement. And, as you correctly point out, states that were intent on pursuing a breakout capability if not an arsenal...would opt out of joining the partnership. The trade off, though, as I see it, could be akin to your "institutional signaling" theory: states that did not wish to participate in the fuel bank would likely come under intense international scrutiny thereafter.

Your thoughts?

Matt Bondy said...

I'm encouraged by Obama's remarks.

It has stands of Kennedy, I think: unabashedly strong, and with no trepidation about maintaining American military supremacy. But also respect for int'l institutions, improving diplomatic relations and addressing issues related to poverty.

My instinct is that a lot of US voters would support a mainstream Democratic contender in '08 if they received an affirmative answer to this question: "Will you, when all else fails and our security is at stake, decisvely pull the trigger?"

If Obama can give can answer affirmatively, I like his chances.

Matt Eckel said...

Building a bit off of Matthew's earlier argument, it's not so much that an international fuel bank would deter nations bent on nuclear weapons capability from pursuing it, but rather that it would leave states like Iran, which claim that their nuclear development is for purely peaceful purposes, bereft of credibility. The international community (in the expansive sense of the term, meaning citizens as well as governments) would give little credence to the notion that nations developing high-level nuclear fuel production technology were doing so for legitimate purposes. It would force countries like Iran to pay market value for their politics.

merben said...

I also felt encouraged by Obama's speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. I especially liked the part where he says that he believes that America is still the best last hope of the earth. I think that this speech will earn him a lot of votes for the 2008 presidential race. I showed that he is capable when it comes to US foreign policy.

WeeZie said...

what is crazy is that for all the talk about the improving conditions in Iraq, they are not counting people who died in car bombs as part of the statistic. They only count bodies that are found in the streets, so by that measure, things do appear better but in fact, more people on average have been killed since the surge.