Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obama Beyond the Sound Bites

After eight years of Bush-Cheney bluster and the promise of a regular-guy version from John McCain, the prospect of a president with more than a sound-bite view of American foreign policy was raised today in Fareed Zarakia's extended CNN interview with Barack Obama.

The Democratic candidate proposed to "bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan but also characterized to a large degree the first President Bush with people like Scowcroft and Powell and Baker...a fairly clear-eyed view of how the world works, and recognized that it is always in our interests to engage, to listen, to build alliances--to understand what our interests are, and to be fierce in protecting those interests, but to make sure that we understand it's very difficult for us to, as powerful as we are, to deal with all these issues by ourselves.

"We need to show leadership...through pulling people together wherever we can. There are going to be times where we have to act unilaterally to protect our interests. And I always reserve the right to do that, should I be commander in chief."

On the overriding issue of Islamic extremism, Obama said he would "hunt down those who would resort to violence to move their agenda, their ideology forward. We should be going after al Qaeda and those networks fiercely and effectively.

"But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.

"And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors...result in us not only being less effective in hunting down and isolating terrorists, but also in alienating what need to be our long-term allies on a whole host of issues."

The Republican spin machine will doubtlessly characterize that nuanced attitude toward American power in a complex and dangerous world as naïveté, weakness and vacillation. If voters believe that, we could be in for four more years of disastrous Neo-Con certainty, mock macho and isolation from the rest of the world.

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