At the invitation of Lee Hamilton, one of the nation’s wisest elders, Barack Obama made the speech of his life today, one that presages what he might say as President in January 2009. Typically it was mined for a media headline and reduced to: “Obama Might Send Troops Into Pakistan.”
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, whose director of Middle East Studies is in a Teheran prison, Obama laid out a foreign policy that projects the use of U.S. military strength and diplomacy in a way that would reverse the bluster and bungling of the Bush-Cheney Administration.
He began with an indictment: “After 9/11, our calling was to write a new chapter in the American story. To devise new strategies and build new alliances, to secure our homeland and safeguard our values, and to serve a just cause abroad. We were ready. Americans were united. Friends around the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us...
”We did not finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We did not develop new capabilities to defeat a new enemy, or launch a comprehensive strategy to dry up the terrorists' base of support. We did not reaffirm our basic values, or secure our homeland.
”Instead, we got a color-coded politics of fear. Patriotism as the possession of one political party. The diplomacy of refusing to talk to other countries. A rigid 20th century ideology that insisted that the 21st century's stateless terrorism could be defeated through the invasion and occupation of a state. A deliberate strategy to misrepresent 9/11 to sell a war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.”
From there, Obama proposed in detail a new approach to “stop fighting the war the terrorists want us to fight” and “wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world's most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.”
As President, Obama promised to remove troops from Iraq and put them "on the right battlefield," sending at least two more brigades to Afghanistan and increasing nonmilitary aid by $1 billion as well as initiate a three-year, $5 billion program to share intelligence with allies to take out terrorist networks from Indonesia to Africa.
In Pakistan, he said, “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.”
Obama’s speech is sure to generate criticism from other Presidential contenders and ridicule from commentators and bloggers as a ploy to one-up Hillary Clinton in their squabble about talking to enemies.
But, prepared with the best foreign-policy advice he could get, it is a serious statement by a serious man that should go far to ease voter qualms about his lack of experience or possible softness as Commander-in-Chief.
If the critics have substantive counter-arguments, let’s hear them. Invective won’t cut it.