Reading a speech by Barack Obama is always a transcendent experience; it’s the process of seeing all of your desires for government and for policy translated into eloquent, pervasive oratory. But more so than most, Obama’s foreign policy speech from today is phenomenal. This is what liberal institutionalism should look like in the 20th century. The first thing that strikes you is just how much Obama knows what he’s talking about. He demonstrates a complete mastery of international issues from nuclear proliferation to climate policy to arms control to poverty. He focuses on issues often ignored, such as loose nukes and the lack of knowledge of critical languages (Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu) in the armed forces. He proposes sometimes innovative (his proposal for a independent nuclear fuel generating organization that would prevent peaceful nuclear research from being used as a cover for nuclear weapons development) and sometimes heterodox (his proposal, which I obviously support, to add 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines to the armed forces) but always great policies. But more than that, he grasps the fundamental concepts that should guide US foreign policy for the foreseeable future. Take this section:
Many around the world are disappointed with our actions. And many in our own country have come to doubt either our wisdom or our capacity to shape events beyond our borders. Some have even suggested that America’s time has passed.
But while we know what we have lost as a consequence of this tragic war, I also know what I have found in my travels over the past two years.
In an old building in Ukraine, I saw test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague lying virtually unlocked and unguarded – dangers we were told could only be secured with America’s help.
On a trip to the Middle East, I met Israelis and Palestinians who told me that peace remains a distant hope without the promise of American leadership.
At a camp along the border of Chad and Darfur, refugees begged for America to step in and help stop the genocide that has taken their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.
And along the crowded streets of Kenya, I met throngs of children who asked if they’d ever get the chance to visit that magical place called America.
So I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.
I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so. This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free the world has remained open. And it’s time to fill that role once more.
Wow. Obama gets it. He understands that the US needs to remain the world leader. He understands that we are the best possible candidate for that role. But even more critically, he understands the need to use that power benevolently, as a bulwark of humanitarianism, not of nationalism or imperialism. He is such a Fukuyaman. But no, it gets better:
We have heard much over the last six years about how America’s larger purpose in the world is to promote the spread of freedom – that it is the yearning of all who live in the shadow of tyranny and despair.
I agree. But this yearning is not satisfied by simply deposing a dictator and setting up a ballot box. The true desire of all mankind is not only to live free lives, but lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and simple justice.
Delivering on these universal aspirations requires basic sustenance like food and clean water; medicine and shelter. It also requires a society that is supported by the pillars of a sustainable democracy – a strong legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and an honest police force. It requires building the capacity of the world’s weakest states and providing them what they need to reduce poverty, build healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. And it requires states that have the capacity to fight terrorism, halt the proliferation of deadly weapons, and build the health care infrastructure needed to prevent and treat such deadly diseases as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
Yes, Yes, YES! He does not go the easy route and attack Bush’s democratization rhetoric. He instead states, correctly, that its folly was not in its intent but in its hamhandedness. He understands, better than many on the left, that the US can and should promote liberty both positive and negative worldwide, and that doing so does not render us an empire. This is why I’m so incredibly excited about Obama. Not the rhetoric, though that’s great, but the deep, nuanced understanding of the subtleties of the world and what is needed from the world’s leader in the coming years. No other candidate shows this grasp of the situation. Nay, no other politician in recent years has a better diagnosis and prescription. As I’ve said before, the next president’s job will be to undo the damage done by Bush. But Obama has shown that he can do far more than just that. He can take America’s global standing, moral authority, and moral merit to levels previously unseen.