The foreign policy offered by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is bold, idealistic, muscular, expansive, Kennedy-esque.
It also is, as his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) charges, naive and irresponsible. It sounds like the vision of a freshman Senator. Or, possibly, a Texas governor with no foreign policy experience.
Obama promises that, as president, he will do it all — visit on an unconditional basis with five of the world’s worst dictators in his first year; get out of Iraq and fight harder in Afghanistan and, maybe, Pakistan; rebuild old U.S. alliances and establish new ones; and double U.S. foreign aid and improve U.S. intelligence-gathering while abandoning nasty means like warrantless wiretapping.
He will “not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened.” And he also would use force “beyond self-defense ... to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations or confront mass atrocities.”
And that’s not all. He also will get control of the world’s loose nukes, reach out to the Muslim world in his first 100 days, close down Guantanamo Bay and give full constitutional rights to enemy combatants, rally the world to address global climate change, and kill and capture terrorists anywhere on the globe, but never, ever kidnap or torture any.
Of course, it’s perfectly legitimate for a presidential candidate to lay down a broad foreign policy vision, as Obama did in his terrorism speech Wednesday and in a Foreign Affairs article earlier this year.
But completely missing from Obama’s breathtaking agenda is any sense of priorities, limits, difficulties — or humility. His pronouncements exude hubris and inexperience.
Obama cannot speak or write without excoriating President Bush. His deepest dig on Wednesday was “because of a war in Iraq that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged, we are now less safe than we were before 9/11.”
Besides being untrue — most Americans hardly knew there was an al-Qaida threat before Sept. 11, 2001 — his unremitting criticism of Bush will make it difficult for Obama to do what he says he wants to: reunite the nation behind difficult common purposes.
He accused Clinton, in their testy exchanges after the July 24 CNN-YouTube debate, of pursuing a foreign policy that is “Bush lite.” In fact, it’s Obama who most recalls Bush, notably his overambitious, we-can-implant-democracy-anywhere 2004 inaugural address.
Clinton, by contrast, conveyed a sense — well-earned — of having been around the Oval Office when hard choices had to be made. She had to know from her husband’s bitter experience convening a last-ditch Mideast summit at Camp David in 2000 that it’s dangerous for a president to undertake personal diplomacy “without preconditions.”
Any Democratic president — and any smart Republican, too — will abandon Bush’s first term policy of non-negotiation with adversaries. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in fact, has abandoned it already.