'The most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique in decades'

That’s how The American Prospect magazine refers to The Obama Doctrine, which is based on a very good concept that, unfortunately, doesn’t follow through.

The article opens with this:

When Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met
in California for the Jan. 31 debate, their back-and-forth resembled
their many previous encounters, with the Democratic presidential
hopefuls scrambling for the small policy yardage between them. And then
Obama said something about the Iraq War that wasn’t incremental at all.
“I don’t want to just end the war,” he said, “but I want to end the
mind-set that got us into war in the first place.”

Sounds enlightened. Noble. Sweeping. What does he mean, though? Yes, the writer says,

to understand what Obama is proposing, it’s important to
ask: What, exactly, is the mind-set that led to the war? What will it
mean to end it? And what will take its place?

To answer these questions, I spoke at length with Obama’s
foreign-policy brain trust, the advisers who will craft and implement a
new global strategy if he wins the nomination and the general election.
They envision a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then
moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering “democracy promotion” agenda in
favor of “dignity promotion,” to fix the conditions of misery that
breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity
from taking root. An inextricable part of that doctrine is a relentless
and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda. Is this hawkish? Is this dovish?
It’s both and neither — an overhaul not just of our foreign policy but
of how we think about foreign policy. And it might just be the future
of American global leadership.

The “politics of fear” is political sloganeering itself, which begs
the question of why these advisers consider “democracy promotion” to be
a hollow agenda. Is it correct and well-researched intelligence or
insight that reveals that anti-Americanism is bred in conditions of
misery? Conditions that ‘prevent liberty and justice’, conditions
America is responsible for causing?

The central core of this foreign policy vision is ”dignity
promotion”. Sounds excellent, the concept upon which a global program
for peace and justice could, finally, be built and sustained. But what does it mean, in terms of a foreign policy program for a future president?

His brain trust doesn’t exactly say. “Freedom from fear and freedom
from want”, one offers. “The destruction of al-Qaeda” by targeted hits
in Parkistan, is a start, to eliminate some of the fear. We are, one
adviser suggests, competing with extremism, so we can’t fill stomachs
and reduce misery until we get rid of “the baddies”.

This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security
depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will
never be able to destroy al-Qaeda.

Couple of things…

One, the Economist political blog wonders where this worldview is going, which is a good question.

Most of the studies of terrorist motivations I have seen
find little to support the thesis that material want per se is a “root
cause” of terrorism. More typically, the terrorist is an educated male
with a middle-class background, as the 9/11 hijackers were.

And for another thing…

it is not so much absolute deprivation that is a
precursor to violence as the resentment that comes from the belief that
one has less than one is due—and the search for the villain who is
keeping one from it.

Now what if the “less” refers to domination?

Early on in “Faith, Reason and the War Against Jihadism,”
author George Weigel explains the complexities of understanding the
violence here and abroad, which requires more than a plan for targeted
hits on terrorist hideouts in the desert.

The kind of terrorism visited upon America on 9/11…was
terrorism intended to “effect maximum destruction,” both material and
psychological-terrorism that, as a mtter of principle, declined to
discriminate between those who were “guilty” (in terms of specific
political grievances) and those who were “innocent” in respect to those
grievances. The notion that there are “no innocents”-that the enemy is
“guilty” simply by reason of drawing breath-was itself something new
and reflected a deliberate strategic choice: a strategy of open-ended mayhem based on the radical dehumanization of the “other.” [emphasis added]

That’s the strategy of the “war that burst upon us”. It was not bred
out of misery and want. It sought to dehumanize us as “other” and
destroy us. ‘We cannot not understand this,’ says Weigel.

Even more important, in terms of clarifying what we must
face over the long haul, 9/11 forced us to see what we had hitherto
refused to see: that we are now confronted by an existential enemy,
that is, one for whom a greater share in the world’s wealth or power
may be a subsidiary goal, but whose primary motivation is the overthrow
of our very way of life-our civilization.

Yes, promotion of human dignity is primary in advancing the
possibility of living together on the planet in peace. And it rests, as
Weigel points out, on theological foundations.

At the moment…the important thing would seem to be to concentrate on working at such common borders as exist between us…

If, for example, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and agnostics (as well
as Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of other religions) could agree
that there are certain moral truths “built into” the world, built into
us, and built into the dynamics of human striving-moral truths that we
can know, by careful reflection, to be true-then we would have the
first building blocks of a philosophical foundation on which to
construct, together, free and just societies that respect religious

That’s the most sweeping foreign-policy critique in modern times.


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