Obama's Big Tent: When is a Tent Just too Big?
Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake both support Barack Obama. They come from different corners of a many-cornered foreign policy arena. George Soros supports Obama -- and now a Soros-nemesis Martin Peretz has thrown his enthusism behind Obama.
In foreign policy, it's useful and important to have a heterodox range of views and advisers surrounding a candidate. I have great respect for Anthony Lake, Bill Clinton's former national security adviser, who along with Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter and G. John Ikenberry has been encouraging the establishment of a "concert of democracies."
I myself am not averse to coalitions of democracies to tackle some problems, but the reality as I see it is that our largest global and regional challenges can't be tackled well enough without inclusion of many other types of governments -- and self-anointed leagues of democratic states may find themselves on the side of platitudinous irrelevance. Nonetheless, Lake serves as an important punctuation point for the global justice community in Obama's developing "court."
Brzezinski is, on the whole, an unsentimental realist -- who synthesizes interest-driven policy formulations with a progressive, moral agenda for America. Count me among Brzezinski's spear-carriers.
George Soros in my view is the world's most successful transformational diplomat. He and his team understand more about helping to build, encourage, and 'root' the institutions of health civil society and democratic practice than any American government institution. It is a sign of the immaturity and thin skin of the Bush machine that it could not find a way to reach out to Soros to have those focused on the encouragement of open society abroad to learn from Soros's practitioners.
And now in Obama's tent is New Republic edtior Martin Peretz, somewhat of a nemesis to Soros. Peretz seems to ascribe to Obama many of his own views on Israel/Palestine in a Wall Street Journal oped today:
What about the conflict between Israel and Palestine? Many Americans in the policy and opinion elites blindly believe Israel is at fault. This does not appear to be Mr. Obama's belief.
He has made clear again and again that it is not diplomatic ingenuity or American pressure on the Jewish state that is needed to temper the conflict and end it. It is, rather, a transformation in the tempestuous minds of the Palestinian polity, to accept finally the Jewish presence and sovereignty in the land. The Israeli body politic long ago acceded to the idea of a Palestinian state, as Mr. Obama points out again and again.
He has no panaceas for Israel and the Palestinians, which is right. He certainly believes in the peace process, and that American intercession can be helpful and violence-averting. This, too, is right. And like any believer in the peace process and the two-state solution, I imagine that he will insist also upon Israeli concessions, which anyway are inevitable.
There are people in his entourage whose feelings about these matters make me anxious -- who devote most of their thinking about Israeli-Palestinian peace to the devising of axioms and formulas on how to bring the Israelis to heel. Such men and women appear in every campaign and in every administration. But it is the president who counts.
My own qualms about Mr. Obama reflect his enchantment with negotiation. So far he has not allowed that there are conflicts in which negotiation is ipso facto futile, and conflicts in which there may be strategic consequences from the cult of talk. Talking certainly didn't work with Hitler and Stalin, although Western leaders actually negotiated with these tyrants face-to-face. Our partners in those evil days traduced every agreement they made. The same was true of diplomacy with Yasser Arafat.
Mr. Obama says he would be open to a session with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Mr. Obama's Karen Hughes, Samantha Power, says, "we need to get in a room with him -- if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics, regionally and internationally."
Maybe. But the president of the United States has many ways to communicate his opinion of a foreign leader. And when Mr. Ahmadinejad begs to differ, or expresses to the American president his low view of him, or walks out of the room, what then? Not military action, certainly, but the diplomatic option will have been squandered.
I have no doubt that this idee fixe of the Democrats -- their ardent faith in the salvific power of diplomacy -- will be tried and found wanting. Still, we shouldn't forget that many Republicans (Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar, for instance) share the yen to chat. And didn't James Baker talk endlessly with Saddam Hussein, to no point except the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites? A case can be made for sitting down with our enemies -- as long as we understand that they are our enemies.
So Barack Obama's belief in the power of speech worries me in the realm of foreign affairs. But otherwise he has won my confidence. Unlike the isolationists in the guise of idealists, or the cheerleaders for violence who pretend to be pacifists and populists, Mr. Obama is a patriot of the old cadence and the old convictions, and not easily pushed around. If he is elected president, he will disappoint many of his supporters, and surprise many of his detractors.
Recently, I was quoted in an article that focused on Al From's view that Obama's views converge with the policy positions of the Democratic Leadership Council. While I see a gap between Obama and DLC positions, I noted that many groups are going to lay claim to the eventual victor of the Democratic primary race and assert that the winner represents their parochial views. This will happen.
I don't agree with much in Martin Peretz's oped today -- except the line:
If [Obama] is elected president, he will disappoint many of his supporters, and surprise many of his detractors.
Given the size of the Obama tent, that will be inevitable.
-- Steve Clemons