Obama’s Speech

OBAMA’S SPEECH….Barack Obama gave his big foreign policy speech today. “There are five ways America will begin to lead again when I’m President,” he said. Here they are:

  1. Get out of Iraq (but responsibly!)

  2. Increase the size of the Army and Marines by 92,000 soldiers and teach ’em some Arabic. Get support from other countries when we fight wars of choice.

  3. Get serious about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

  4. Rebuild our traditional alliances. Understand that things that affect other countries also affect us.

  5. Double the foreign aid budget.

After reading Michael Hirsh’s cover story in our April issue, I read Obama’s speech looking for influences from Samantha Power, a person I admire but who I suspect has rather too optimistic a view of the potential of American military power. I guess I saw that influence mainly in point #2, which suggests that Obama is assuming that we’ll be conducting more foreign occupations in the future and is already thinking of ways to make them run more smoothly. After all, we hardly need more troops in order to fight the conventional phase of conventional wars.

As usual, I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand, if we’re going to occupy countries, we ought to have the troops to do it right. (Though I note very little in Obama’s speech about what those 92,000 extra troops would be focused on.) On the other hand, I’d just as soon that we didn’t occupy any more foreign countries, and a larger military simply encourages us to think we can do this effectively. On the third hand, not every war is a war of choice. We might well be faced with a defensive war in the near future, and if we are we ought to be prepared for both combat and occupation. On the fourth hand, if we are going to add a few divisions to the active force, it would also be nice to hear at least some lip service paid to scaling back some of our more fanciful technology expenditures.

I don’t expect to make up my mind on this score anytime soon. Most of the time I come down in favor of expanding the military, on the basis that (a) if you’re going to do something, you should do it right, and (b) we’re not likely to continue to be ruled by petulant children forever into the future. Needless to say, (b) is a gamble.

On the whole, I thought it was a pretty good speech, one that set out a much-needed vision not 100% obsessed with terrorism and nothing else — though I’d add the caveat that it’s actually easier to make a good foreign policy speech than a good domestic policy speech. Why? Because people expect policy details when you talk about domestic stuff, but not so much when you talk about national security. Soaring rhetoric (“pay any price, bear any burden….”) goes over a lot better in the overseas sphere.

But even with that caveat, it was pretty good. Obama hit a lot of the right notes, offered more policy specifics than he had to, and set a good tone. Not bad for a guy who supposedly has no foreign policy experience.