This story was written by Alexander Pherson, Daily Bruin
Last Tuesdays election was, among other things, a call for a new approach to foreign policy in the post-Sept. 11 world. The war on terror has convinced many people that the Bush administrations spoken desire to spread democracy was just a pretense for greater power and foreign domination.
Obama will try to use popular disillusionment with the Bush Doctrine to turn a new page in American foreign policy. He will try to harken back to the days of JFK, extending his hand to foreign leaders and ingratiating himself with flattery. He will court them with his citizen of the world claptrap, as he did in his Berlin speech and as Kennedy tried to do in his Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner) speech.
But those who think that the world will prostrate itself at Obamas feet will be sadly let down. Decades-old problems wont go away simply because Bush does. Iran is not going to drop everything once a new candidate albeit a goodwill candidate takes office. Ahmadinejad will continue to deplore Israel and revile it as a stinking corpse, and Iran will stop at nothing to cultivate nuclear weapons.
Russia, in turn, will still work to piece together the lost Soviet empire that chimera of Russian dreams that its leaders will never fully let go of, and Muslim extremists will pursue the holy war they have waged for centuries.
Certainly Obamas attempts to reach out to these entities will be lauded and probably reciprocated in the short-term for political expediency. Countries that were shut out during the Bush administration will quickly vouchsafe their willingness to normalize relations and re-engage with us. Of course, they will not remain so complacent. As they have been known to do for decades, these countries will exploit our trust and bleed it dry.
Hence, global realities will hedge Obamas ability to create a sea of change in U.S. foreign policy. Ultimately, he will have to take a hard-line approach to the grave challenges that face this country, challenges that cannot be solved by flabby rhetoric and tete-a-tetes with rogue dictators.
Obama cant risk a war by relaxing the current administrations forceful confrontation of terrorism, either. As Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith warned, He will realize that any legal climb-down that is later perceived as even indirectly responsible for an attack would be a personal and political disaster.
Obama has tried to assure us that he is not averse to force in the abstract. He qualifies his anti-war stances (on Iraq) by insisting, for instance, that he would consider intervening in places like Darfur. However, he will be reticent to proceed militarily, as he risks a mutiny from a core part of his fan base that, since Iraq, has become almost religiously anti-war.
Despite the country clamoring for change, Obama would be wise to take a more conservative approach to the challenges he inherits. He should start with Iraq.
Bushs purpose in Operation Iraqi Freedom was noble, and his resolve to stay there in the face of trying conditions was only necessary. It is certainly nobler, and more practical, than Obamas call to withdraw troops as soon as circumstances permit a course that would almost certainly doom the fledgling democracy to a precarious fture. Let us not repeat the grave mistakes of the Carter administration, whose slipshod attempts to generate rapid liberalization in Nicaragua left that country on the verge of collapse.
Instead, Obama should heed the words of Ronald Reagans foreign policy adviser Jeane Kirkpatrick, who admonished that decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits (of a democratic society).
In an environment where global cooperation is required to adequately address problems such as terrorism and poverty, its important that America opens itself to new alliances that could be beneficial to our interests. However, its equally imperative that we refrain from using solely the kind of soft-power diplomacy that has been pernicious in so many cases in the past. We must always be cognizant of the forces that wait on us to avert our eyes, and who will use our inattention to further some immoral purpose. That said, Barack Obama will not and should not purport to remake the world in the next four years. All we should hope for is that it is still largely intact when he leaves office.