Politics & Policy

Obama the European

Cry (for) the beloved country.

Hillary Clinton has shed the most famous tears since Alexander the Great wept that there were no more worlds to conquer. Observers have since noted that she was exhausted; that she was down in the polls; that she may have been on the prowl for an opportunity to soften her image; and/or that she may have been revealing a bit of her true self. I’m less interested in whether the tears were genuine (actually there was no visible moisture, just a catch in the voice that is easier to fake) than in the proximate cause of that tender moment. Sen. Clinton said, “I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.”

That was a pretty patriotic note coming from a Democrat. There was gratitude and determination to give something back. From the party that is so often focused on America’s racism, inequality and international lawlessness, it was downright jingoistic. Perhaps it was that professed love of country, as much as the image-shifting effect of the delivery, that made such an impression on New Hampshire voters?

Clinton cannot lay claim to the leftmost edge of the Democratic party’s base on foreign policy. Her vote to approve the Iraq War settled that. Many of the liberal foreign policy gurus of the Democratic party (Anthony Lake, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Sorensen) have signed on with Barack Obama, and as I write, Sen. John Kerry has endorsed him as well. But if Clinton extends that extemporaneous patriotic burble into a theme of her campaign, she might find a way to checkmate her rival.

When Obama campaigns, he often sounds as if he’s running for president of the world. He has offered that, “The security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” He’s a great fan of international agreements, international institutions and “dialogue.” He has said that if he wins the presidency, he looks forward to “going to the United Nations and saying ‘America’s back!’”

As a domestic matter, he treads very lightly on the whole “first African-American president” line because he doesn’t need to mention it. It’s an aura around his head. But in international relations, he does play the identity politics card.

“I think,” he mused to New York Times reporter James Traub, “that if I am the face of American foreign policy and American power . . . if you can tell people ‘We have a president in the White House who still has a grandmother living in a hut on the shores of Lake Victoria and has a sister who’s half-Indonesian, married to a Chinese-Canadian,’ then they’re going to think that he may have a better sense of what’s going on in our lives and in our country. And they’d be right.”

What does it mean to say that the security of Americans is “inextricably linked” to the security of everyone on the planet? In practice, what guidance does this insight offer in dealing with, for example, our interest in a secure and non-extremist Pakistan as against the interests of al-Qaeda in promoting an Islamic Republic of Pakistan? How does a president of the United States take into account the security needs of Russians, Iranians, and Chinese? Should he? Mrs. Clinton should be taking notes.

Clinton and Obama have already clashed on the question of talking with Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Kim Jong-Il. Obama feels strongly that President Bush’s failure to meet these leaders face to face was a “disgrace.”

What would they talk about if they did meet? Perhaps they’d discuss Obama’s plan to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons. He has said, “Here’s what I’ll say as president: ‘America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.’

It is undeniable that Obama is a dignified, intelligent man of great self-possession. His appeal is understandable. But his foreign-policy posture is utterly flaccid, squishy and European.

Clinton hasn’t exactly been Curtis LeMay herself. And surely she voted for the war only to inoculate herself against what happened to John Kerry in 2004. Still, she cannot change that now. Might as well make a virtue of necessity and exploit the opening to Obama’s right — the opening labeled patriotism.



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