Obama’s Foreign Policy, Splintered Liberals, and The Military

In a beautiful home just outside of Pittsburgh, not but a few weeks ago, I remember having a comfortable chat with Mr. Tedesco, who owns this site. We’ve known each other for some time, but have yet to meet in person until that weekend, and despite apprehensions of awkwardness, managed to get on rather well.

Of course, we had politics. Same with the greasy spoon diner where we met up with Fester, and the coffee shop after. I admit, at the time I might have been a little loopy, haven driven through the night and my circulatory system seeming to pump pure caffeine… Hey, these things happen.

But as I was saying I remember having this talk, mainly because up until then I was trying desperately to avoid sounding like, “Obama this,” and “Obama that.” I was trying to impress, and didn’t want to sound like I was singing a one note song.

However, I could only hold it in for so long. As we jumped back and forth from policy to blogging, and back to policy, and then to politics, I finally broke down and made my case. Barak was my man.

This should come as a surprise to no one. I’ve seen the man speak in person, and have kept an eye on his political career since he hit the national stage three years ago, and have remained a fan throughout.

What strikes me, perhaps, more than anything else is that the man believes in a positive campaign. If he is going to attack his opponent, he will do so on the issues, remaining sure that he stays above the belt at all times. But back in Pittsburgh, after listening to his latest book, Audacity of Hope, on the drive up, I realized that his path to the Presidency was not assured.

He had a few things he needed to do first.

The first is something any candidate has to do on some level, and that is attain name recognition. Especially on the presidential stage, you have to claw your way into the public psyche, chucking elbows and cutting in line until at the bare minimum you are a household name.

He is doing this, and I’m sure he will continue to do this, particularly when you look at how successful he has been with his fund raising thus far.

Next, I remember stating that the Senator needs to stop referencing his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. There’s nothing wrong with the speech, don’t get me wrong, it was a fabulous speech, possibly one of the best in recent times, and helped catapult him into the national public consciousness in the first place. But to lean on it too heavily would make him seem like a one trick pony (see… I resisted the urge to say one trick donkey. I respect you, the readers, far too much for such silly wordplay), and lend credibility to the argument that all the man is is a pretty speech.

And finally, I asserted that he needed to directly answer the claims that he has no substance on foreign policy. The idea that Barak Obama is all style and no substance is an old one, predominantly put out by conservatives whom I believe fear his mass appeal. It doesn’t help deter this image when it becomes readily apparent that Barak knows how to work a room, electrifying large crowds with the one line zingers, but softening his tone to engage minds in smaller town-hall style venues.

But I think that those who have kept track as well as I have can say that there are many issues upon which Barak has a solid grasp on substance. His ideas on healthcare, job creation, reform of our own inner cities and education, and other domestic programs are sound, valid, and encorporate ideals of responsibility and mutual burden sharing.

Yet, until recently, his stance on foreign policy has been a question mark in the minds of those who are following the presidential hopefuls through this early primary season. And so yesterday he delivered his foreign policy speech.

I encourage you to read it, as he lays out a five point plan in regards to foreign policy, but to try and boil that down to bullet points does not give it justice. Ultimately, I find it intelligent and comprehensive. He definitely does talk about building up our muscle, but he does that in a nuanced context that far outstrips the war hawks’ ideals of bigger better stronger.

Sure, he calls for more troops, but he also makes the wise assertion that we must train them differently, and use them more wisely. Not necessarily as a blunt instrument to be slammed down upon anyone who would do us ill, but as a scalpel able to cover a broader region, and not just Iraq.

Even more clever, he artfully ties in national defense with both foreign aid, and domestic programs, and does a wonderful job of showing how interrelated all of these issues are. You want to reduce terrorism? How about changing the living conditions of those areas that seem to breed terrorism in the first place.

I had to smile when I reached that point of his speech. I remember years ago speaking with Cernig of The Newshoggers at great length on this subject. It’s not necessarily that terrorists hate our freedoms. That’s not what starts all of this. You look at the conditions in which these terrorists live, you look at the turmoil that we have created in Iraq, you can’t just look at the hating freedom factor, but you must look at all the factors that go into creating a single terrorist, and then you may have a shot at looking for a solution.

And Obama gets it right here. And then he goes for the uppercut, acknowledging that you can’t engage in building up foreign communities without turning an eye inward and fixing our problems at home.

Now, I did groan a little, as Obama does fall into the same cadence and speech patterns as his keynote address from 04 early on… please, sir, stop, move on. But even this is a minor transgression as the pattern may be the same, but the subject is not.

All in all, a very good speech, and one I would hope would quell any misgivings the general public may have on his abilities to engage in the foreign policy arena. But then I head on over to read Kevin Drum, and while Kevin’s analysis is short and sweet, and he does little to endorse or pan the speech, reading the comments for it kind of unnerved me.

What I saw is something that has always bothered me since first entering into the political fray; splintered liberalism. One thing we as a political group seem to be able to do in spades is disagree to the point of self destruction, and I saw a great deal of that here. We want an alternative to Hillary, we complain about how she’s unelectable and we need someone who is both electable and inspiring and… well…

One thing I noticed was how out of touch the arguments were. It was almost as though many of the people were going off of Kevin Drum’s sparse analysis. There was mischaracterization after mischaracterization, and of course, plenty of military bashing.

To listen to some, it would almost seem as though they felt that we shouldn’t have a military at all.

I think it was this last point that really bothered me. Now I’m not going to toy with you. I’m not going to give you the same drivel about how you should just blanket support the military or you’re unamerican. I don’t believe that. But I also don’t think that a lot of anti military types understand just exactly what role the military plays in the development and maintenance of our nation.

It’s not just about guns and getting your war on. It’s not just about the industrial military complex that promises ten, twenty years down the line all of our children will be wearing khaki uniforms to school and issuing demerits and marching around in military family. As someone who has just finished serving ten years in the military I can attest to that.

The role America’s military plays both abroad and at home is vital. It’s economy, here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, the military is the single largest employer, providing solid paying and secure jobs to many people. Months back Ford announced that they were shutting down their production plant based here, which did result in the loss of jobs, but that was a blip compared to what would happen if the military presence left. And we’re talking employment at all levels of income and education, from engineers to food service professionals.

And it’s not just here either. For instance, whole communities throughout the world base a substantial amount of their income on the few visits they get from battlegroups visiting their ports.

I remember pulling into port in Suda Bay, Greece, and the streets were lined with vendors, children went from table to table with shoe shine kits, restraunts stayed open throughout the night. I remember getting into a chat with one of the locals and asking them about the whole array, and she answering, “You’re visits feed some families for a year.”

And it’s not always about money. The US Military is a huge player in habitat for humanity, and I have known so many of my friends to be eager participants, erecting homes in devastated neighborhoods, building schools, etc. And again, this isn’t limited to our soil. Abroad there were people who spent their entire liberty in virtually every country doing the same, helping the impovrished. As Al Franken alludes to in his book The Truth, many of the good stories coming out of Iraq come from members of the military, acting on their own, without order to help bring comfort to the uprooted, and working to plug the leaks in the broken damn of the nation’s infrastructure.

And then there are the things that the military does for its own members. The job opportunities, the education. As an officer I once worked for used to be fond of saying, “In what other outfit could you see some punk kid with a high school degree running a multi billion dollar nuclear plant?” I myself have never attained more than a high school degree, and yet I’m working a 50k plus a year career with thirty thousand dollars lined up to get a degree if I chose to.

I’m not trying to be an apologist here. The military does have it’s downsides, and it has done ill in this world as well as good. But if you’re going to be anti military, my only wish is that you make sure exactly what all you are against.

As for Obama, I feel confident that he has his head in the right place. More troops, but using them on a broader basis, training them to be more flexible, and not relying upon them as the only answer for everything. Along with his wish to grow the military, he backs that up with foreign aid, political solutions, and a “nimble intelligence” system that I think many of us who are actually looking at the problem of terrorism think we need.

To be sure, the candidate does need more vetting, as they all do, but I like what I’m seeing so far.

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