Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Ready to Lead on Day One?"

Susan Rice (Huffington Post):
Senator Clinton today (12/26) launched her campaign's closing argument based on the theme "Big Challenges, Real Solutions: Time to Pick a President." Her message is that only she has the experience and the readiness to lead on Day One. Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson could justifiably take issue with this message.
But, it is not directed not at them. Her target, rather, is Barack Obama whom Bill Clinton deemed a "roll of the dice," his own far lesser foreign policy experience as a presidential candidate notwithstanding.

Is Senator Clinton really better suited than Senator Obama to lead on Day One?

Clinton argues her years as First Lady give her unprecedented insight into foreign policy and governing. But what would she do as president on Day One and thereafter?

So far, Senator Clinton has said she would convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draft a plan to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq within 60 days and send her husband and a suitably senior Republican (TBD after George H.W. Bush and Colin Powell demurred) on a listening tour of the world.

Beyond these statements, we know relatively little about whether, on foreign policy, Senator Clinton in fact has "real solutions" to our "big challenges."

Senator Clinton is right about this: President Bush will leave behind an unprecedented mess. An ill-conceived and disastrous war in Iraq, an emboldened Iran, a reconstituted and more diffuse Al Qaeda 2.0, frayed alliances, damaged international institutions, an over-stressed military, a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, a coddled Pakistani leader on the precipice, accelerating climate change, democracy demagogued, China rising without much attention much less constraint, Russia growing more autocratic and provocative, going on five years of genocide in Darfur, and the moral detritus of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, the abuse of habeas corpus and warrantless wiretaps.

The next American president will have a serious job to do to clean up this mess.

He or she will need exceptional judgment, vision and energy to do so. He or she will need to be unbound by conventional wisdom and unfettered by the need to defend the successes and to obscure the failures of any previous administration.

He or she will also need concrete, credible and bold policy prescriptions for how to tackle these pressing problems and be open with the American people about those policies while still a candidate, so that the voters can elect a president with a clear mandate to govern.

Senator Obama has been comprehensive and exhaustive over the course of the campaign in laying out his foreign policy. Voters don't have to guess what he will do on these issues. They just need to listen and read.

Barack Obama has outlined his vision of American leadership and his approach to national security policy in major speeches delivered in April, October, and December as well as in his article in Foreign Affairs. He understands that, in the 21st Century, America's security and prosperity is inextricably linked to the security and well-being of people in far-flung parts of the world.

Obama, however, has gone beyond broad vision to share with voters detailed plans:

Having opposed the Iraq war from the start, Obama was the first major candidate to set forth a comprehensive plan to redeploy our forces safely and press Iraqis to achieve the necessary political progress. His Iraq War De-escalation Act introduced in January 2007 was embraced by the Senate Democratic leadership in the Senate and remains the basis for their primary legislative vehicle to end the war.

In September 2007, Obama elaborated his Iraq strategy, making clear that he would plan to withdraw combat forces at the responsible pace of one to two brigades a month, with the aim of having all of our combat brigades out within 16 months. Obama has been very specific about the means to achieve political reconciliation as well as the economic and humanitarian steps he would take to avert a worst-case scenario in Iraq and to build the kind of political consensus that's essential to end the conflict. Obama was also very clear that he would leave no permanent bases in Iraq. To the extent that that there will be a need for a small residual presence for a period of time, it would be focused on protecting our embassy and our civilian operations, and on targeting al Qaeda operatives inside Iraq.

On a range of other pressing national security issues, Obama has been specific about how he would govern on Day One:

From counter terrorism, Iran, the Middle East, revitalizing and modernizing America's Armed Forces, supporting America's veterans, reversing climate change and achieving energy security, and reducing the nuclear threat and the risk of proliferation of WMD to tackling poverty, underdevelopment and supporting democracy, combating HIV/AIDS, Obama has been very direct, detailed and comprehensive about his "real solutions" to "big challenges."

Like all the major candidates, Senator Clinton laid out in broad strokes her foreign policy approach inForeign Affairs. This followed a general speech she delivered in June at the Center for a New American Security.

But with the recent exceptions of energy and climate change and HIV/AIDS, she has revealed little during the campaign about how precisely she would tackle pressing national security challenges.

On counter-terrorism, she has said virtually nothing as a presidential candidate.

On Iraq, until the week before Christmas, Senator Clinton declined to specify a timeline for withdrawal of US forces. Then, finally, she embraced Obama's timeline of one to two combat brigades a month. However, she remains ambiguous about permanent bases, signaling in Foreign Affairs there may be a need for some in Kurdistan. She has said on the one hand that she would not act to stop a potential genocide in Iraq but on the other that she would leave behind a presumably larger residual that would have broad responsibilities, including going after other terrorist organizations elsewhere in the region. It is not clear if she means Hezbollah or Hamas, but Senator Clinton leaves the door open to doing more than going after al Qaeda.

On Iran, we know Senator Clinton supported Kyl-Lieberman and condemns Obama's readiness to conduct direct and unconditional diplomacy with Iran, obviously after due preparation, at the Presidential level. Beyond saying she opposes a "rush to war" (the same language she used on Iraq) and favors robust diplomacy, we don't know what precisely Senator Clinton would do about Iran on Day One or thereafter.

Thus, on many of the major foreign policy issues of the day, Senator Clinton is, in effect, asking us to take on faith that she has the right policy approaches because, as she asserts, she has the experience to lead.

She may be right, but that is what Bill Clinton might more aptly call a "roll of the dice."

Equally important as electing a president with the right policies is choosing one who starting on Day One can unify our divided nation so that we can tackle pressing domestic and global challenges. To be strong, we must be unified. Without unity, our nation must confront challenges and threats with one hand tied behind our back. Unity requires more than a governing mandate but also the vision and the wisdom to heal rather than to polarize. Poll after poll shows Senator Obama is the Democrat best positioned to win a substantial victory over the Republican nominee and to do so with significant support from Independents and Republicans, in part because he carries none of the baggage of our bitterly partisan present and past and has made unity, healing and hope the hallmarks of his leadership.

Finally, when a new president takes office in January 2009, he or she will have a brief window of opportunity to change the current dismal state of America's relations with friends and foes alike. The world will give us a fleeting fresh look. Whether we can capitalize on this opportunity to garner the good will and cooperation of peoples and nations in all corners of the world could determine America's fate as a 21st century world leader. It is an opportunity that we must recognize may not come again.

At a critical moment, when America needs to show new policies and a new face to the world, who better than Barack Obama's?

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