Obama Receives Favorable Review From Washington Post on Foreign Policy Views

Barack Obama’s address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs received favorable reviews from the Washignton Post in an editorial today:

As an opening statement of Mr. Obama’s philosophy, there is much that we found significant — and encouraging — in the Chicago speech. Acknowledging that “many Americans may find it tempting to turn inward” after the failures in Iraq and elsewhere, the senator quoted Franklin Roosevelt in saying the United States nevertheless must continue to “lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.” Mr. Obama called for a sizable increase in the size of the Army and for the reinforcement of NATO forces in Afghanistan. He said that “no president should ever hesitate to use force — unilaterally if necessary — to protect ourselves and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened.”

Mr. Obama would not retreat from the Middle East: “Our interests are best served when people and governments from Jerusalem and Amman to Damascus and Tehran understand that America will stand with our friends, work hard to build a peaceful Middle East, and refuse to cede the future of the region to those who seek perpetual conflict and instability.” Yet it’s not clear how this principle can be reconciled with his plan for Iraq: Mr. Obama supports a “responsible” withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by next March. Could this be done without abandoning Iraqi friends and without ceding Iraq’s future to al-Qaeda and other extremists? If so, we’d like to know how.

Many of Mr. Obama’s proposals are similar to those advanced by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. He would step up efforts to secure nuclear materials and work for multilateral steps against global warming. He would support continued negotiations with North Korea and Iran while seeking to induce other nations to “ratchet up the economic pressure” on Tehran. “We must never take the military option off the table,” he added. He would launch a global education program. He would double U.S. foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012. Though he didn’t offer many details, he did say that “we must couple our aid with an insistent call for reform.” He said he agreed with President Bush that “America’s larger purpose in the world is to promote the spread of freedom.”

Much of the Bush administration’s usual depiction of the world after Sept. 11, 2001, is nevertheless missing from Mr. Obama’s speech. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he does not use the phrase “war on terrorism.” More remarkably, he doesn’t mention Islam, much less Islamic extremism — which Mr. Bush has described as a critical ideological threat to freedom inside and outside the Muslim world. Mr. Obama’s advisers point out that much of the speech is directly or indirectly devoted to strategies to combat terrorists, counter their recruitment, and rescue failed or failing states. Still, Mr. Obama ought to explain more directly how he views jihadism. Is it an ideological challenge comparable to communism and fascism, as Mr. Bush contends, or merely an esoteric dogma held by bands of criminals, like the anarchism of the early 20th century? Is terrorism the central threat of the early 21st century, or, as some Democratic strategists argue, merely one of a panoply of challenges that include global warming, pandemics and the rise of China?

There’s more comment on Obama’s foreign policy views in my Impressions of the First Democratic Debate.

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