Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Here is the best article about Obama's foreign policy vision that I've read yet.

This quotation sums up the analysis:

Obama's foreign policy brain trust . . . envision[s] 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.

I have two comments about the quotation:

1) I like the idea of "dignity promotion": I appreciate and support the desire to address "conditions" that "prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root." I agree that we have thought too litle about this in recent years and I would appreciate it if we come to see Obama 'put his money where his mouth is' and explicitly make the kinds of arguments that Kerrey, et. al, are somewhat more cautious in making, but which many Democrats apparently believe. I agree that the Democrats will not be come credible about foreign policy by being "lite Republicans."

2) I am not comfortable with the apparent dismissal of the idea of "democracy promotion." The US is not simply a charitable organization. It has fundamental interests at stake that are tied to the promotion of democracy. Is it possible that the focus on 'dignity' rather than 'democracy' implies a focus on basic needs and a relative neglect of the political and civil forms that stabilize free and prosperous societies?

As Aristotle writes in Politics (IV.4:1291a19ff):

If the mind is to be reckoned as a more essentially a part of a living being than the body, parts of a similar order must equally be reckoned as more essentially as parts of the city than those which serve its basic needs. By this we mean the military part, the part concerned in the legal organization of justice, and (we may also add) the part engaged in deliberation, which is a function that needs the gift of political understanding.