Monday, August 20, 2007

"JFK replay: 'Naive' Obama right on foreign policy"

Theodore Sorensen (Des Moines Register (IA):
As America's standing and credibility in the world - and thus the security of our citizens - continue to plunge with each passing month of the Bush administration, foreign-policy judgment increasingly becomes the overriding criterion for the selection of our next president.
Those Democratic contenders who, as U.S. senators, voted to authorize the most disastrous blunder in U.S. foreign-policy history - the mindless, needless invasion and endless occupation of Iraq - are trying now to regain ground not by stopping the continuing tragic loss of American blood, billions and moral authority in Iraq, but by questioning the foreign-policy credentials of the one serious candidate who opposed the war even before its launch - Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Obama's bold call for American action to seize Osama bin Laden in Pakistan - if our undemocratic, unpopular and unreliable ally the Musharraf regime will not - has been loudly castigated by Obama's Democratic and Republican opponents, using the same old Cold War rhetoric from the same old Washington experts who have dominated the capital's foreign-policy thinking throughout the 20 years that the Bush and Clinton families have controlled the White House.

Obama's critics have used such code words as "well-intended but naive" (Joe Biden), "ill-timed and ill-considered" (Mitt Romney), a subject "that should not be discussed" (Hillary Clinton), and "prompted by political consideration" (George W. Bush).

Obama is not the first young senator running for president to discomfort the Washington foreign-policy establishment by speaking frankly on a subject displeasing to an American ally. Fifty years ago this summer, a 40-year-old first-term senator, John F. Kennedy, called on the Senate floor for the U.S. government to pressure its French ally into halting its war against Algerian independence.

The response from all quarters - both French and American, both Republican and Democratic - was swift and overwhelmingly negative. Kennedy's critics used words such as "juvenile" (former Truman Secretary of State Dean Acheson), "brashly political and damaging" (Vice President Richard Nixon), an "oversimplification" (President Dwight D. Eisenhower), and "immature" (a senior congressional ally of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson). A New York Times columnist called Kennedy a "well-intentioned but amateur statesman."

In time, the French realized that Kennedy's advice was not the "unthinkable error" they had initially termed it, and they departed Algeria. Kennedy's keen understanding of nationalist aspirations in the post-colonial era, as demonstrated in his Algerian initiative, was the reason he refused to send combat troop divisions to Vietnam and instead sent food, Peace Corps volunteers and diplomats to less developed nations around the world.

That record - not the traditional nay-sayers in Washington who copy Bush's "politics of fear" - represents the proudest past of the Democratic Party. Obama - though he, too, is called amateur and naive - represents its future.

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