Magazine article The American Conservative

The Bushian Barrack

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Bushian Barrack

Article excerpt

Barack Obama decided to end the media debate about his lack of foreign-policy experience by demonstrating decisively that he is out of his depth when it comes to international affairs. In the space of a few days in late July and early August, he stated publicly that he would meet with the leaders of five rogue states without preconditions during the first year of his administration, launch military strikes into allied Pakistan against al-Qaeda targets if Islamabad would not act, and then ruled out using nuclear weapons in any such attacks. The opponent of the Iraq invasion, who rightly declared himself opposed to "rash" and "dumb" wars, has lately been throwing himself rashly and foolishly into political fights for which he is not prepared and will not win. At least no one thinks that his routine claims to audacity are merely rhetorical now.

Most political observers and all of his Democratic rivals gleefully pounced on Obama's missteps, citing them as evidence that the junior senator is too green to contend for the presidency. With only two years in the Senate, his inexperience is to be expected, as is his apparent lack of understanding about much of the rest of the world. What separates Obama from past candidates whose foreign-policy background was virtually nonexistent is his supreme confidence that he can see the flaws in standing policy and create effective alternatives. Where even Candidate Bush in 2000 tread carefully and said little that specifically contradicted current policy, Obama is a fountain of proposals that seem designed to worsen relations with key allies.

From his widely reported spat with Prime Minister John Howard over Australian troop levels in Iraq to his saber-rattling against an unstable, vulnerable, and strategically critical state, Obama is proving as adept at irritating and unnerving U.S. allies as the Bush administration was in 2002 and 2003. Indeed, together with some incendiary remarks by Rep. Tom Tancredo, Obama's statements caused such a tumult in U.S.-Pakistan relations that the State Department called on all presidential candidates to refrain from speaking so carelessly about foreign policy.

Yet Obama continues to swing wildly: dovish toward "rogue" regimes, then cartoonishly aggressive, then back again to a ban on the use of nuclear weapons on the "right battlefield" to which he is interested in taking us. Beset by criticism from both parties (if enjoying some disturbingly positive remarks from Rudy Giuliani and the Wall Street Journal), Obama has held his ground, arguing that he represents "change. …

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