I know. For someone who’s still officially undecided about whom to support for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, I post an awful lot about Barack Obama. But read his recent foreign policy speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Despite his opposition to the Iraq war, he’s no isolationist or pacifist.
Unlike George Bush, however, Obama seems to grasp that there needs to be some consistency between stirring rhetoric and actual policies.
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 world has remained open. And it’s time to fill that role once more.
We must lead by building a 21st century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people. We must lead by marshalling a global effort to stop the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons. We must lead by building and strengthening the partnerships and alliances necessary to meet our common challenges and defeat our common threats.
And America must lead by reaching out to all those living disconnected lives of despair in the world’s forgotten corners – because while there will always be those who succumb to hate and strap bombs to their bodies, there are millions more who want to take another path – who want our beacon of hope to shine its light their way.
This election offers us the chance to turn the page and open a new chapter in American leadership. The disappointment that so many around the world feel toward America right now is only a testament to the high expectations they hold for us. We must meet those expectations again, not because being respected is an end in itself, but because the security of America and the wider world demands it.
This will require a new spirit – not of bluster and bombast, but of quiet confidence and sober intelligence, a spirit of care and renewed competence. It will also require a new leader. And as a candidate for President of the United States, I am asking you to entrust me with that responsibility.
We must maintain the strongest, best-equipped military in the world in order to defeat and deter conventional threats. But while sustaining our technological edge will always be central to our national security, the ability to put boots on the ground will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now face. This is why our country’s greatest military asset is the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.
This administration’s first Secretary of Defense proudly acknowledged that he had inherited the greatest fighting force in the nation’s history. Six years later, he handed over a force that has been stretched to the breaking point, understaffed, and struggling to repair its equipment.
Two-thirds of the Army is now rated “not ready” for combat. 88% of the National Guard is not ready to deploy overseas, and many units cannot respond to a domestic emergency.
A 21st century military will also require us to invest in our men and women’s ability to succeed in today’s complicated conflicts. We know that on the streets of Baghdad, a little bit of Arabic can actually provide security to our soldiers. Yet, just a year ago, less than 1% of the American military could speak a language such as Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, or Korean. It’s time we recognize these as critical skills for our military, and it’s time we recruit and train for them.
Former Secretary Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the one you want.” I say that if the need arises when I’m President, the Army we have will be the Army we need.
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…
Finally, while America can help others build more secure societies, we must never forget that only the citizens of these nations can sustain them. The corruption I heard about while visiting parts of Africa has been around for decades, but the hunger to eliminate such corruption is a growing and powerful force among people there. And so in these places where fear and want still thrive, we must couple our aid with an insistent call for reform.
We must do so not in the spirit of a patron, but the spirit of a partner – a partner that is mindful of its own imperfections. Extending an outstretched hand to these states must ultimately be more than just a matter of expedience or even charity. It must be about recognizing the inherent equality and worth of all people. And it’s about showing the world that America stands for something – that we can still lead.
But if the next President can restore the American people’s trust – if they know that he or she is acting with their best interests at heart, with prudence and wisdom and some measure of humility – then I believe the American people will be ready to see America lead again.
They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.
That is not who we are.
Now it’s our moment to lead – our generation’s time to tell another great American story. So someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East. That this was the time when we confronted climate change and secured the weapons that could destroy the human race. This was the time when we brought opportunity to those forgotten corners of the world. And this was the time when we renewed the America that has led generations of weary travelers from all over the world to find opportunity, and liberty, and hope on our doorstep.
Read it all and see what you think.
Update: I was hoping to get more of a response in the comments boxes to what Obama actually said in his speech– which I assume every commenter read in full. But here’s one interesting reaction, from Matt Stoller of the leading US left-of-center blog mydd.com:
I’m having a hard time actually taking his speech seriously, because it was just so awful…
Obama framed everything as a security issue, and argued against the people that don’t believe America should have a place as a global leader and against the throngs of isolationists on the left, who apparently exist somewhere in Samantha Power’s imagination. I don’t really get what motivates these people, but I’m tired of people like Obama telling me it’s cynical to question the moral foundations of America after seven years when we’ve tortured a select few and killed hundreds of thousands of people based on a brief episode of national psycho-drama. And we’re all tired of this whole national security state model which pretends that all our problems must be solved by pumping more money into a military-industrial complex that cannot account for a trillion dollars and centralizes power in the hands of an irresponsible elite. You see, if you put more money into the hands of defense contractors, you end up cutting money for everything else, and those contractors end up supporting the Republican Party.
Anyway if there’s going to be an ideological struggle in the Democratic party between the viewpoints of Matt Stoller and Barack Obama, I’ll be on Obama’s side.