Dems 2008: The Obama Doctrine of “dignity promotion” [Karl]
At The American Prospect, Spencer Ackerman would like to tell you about the Obama Doctrine in foreign policy.Ã‚Â At least, he would like to relay the spin from Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers:
They envision a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering “democracy promotion” agenda in favor of “dignity promotion,” to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root. An inextricable part of that doctrine is a relentless and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda. Is this hawkish? Is this dovish? It’s both and neither — an overhaul not just of our foreign policy but of how we think about foreign policy.
Ackerman does not have much of a clue about what that means, however.Ã‚Â Accordingly, he must add the caveat that “When considering any presidential hopeful’s foreign-policy promises, it’s important to remember that what candidates say is, at best, an imperfect guide to their actions in office.”Ã‚Â So most of his article is his chit-chat with and profiles of members of Team Obama,Ã‚Â most of whom will be familiar to regular PW visitors.Ã‚Â
Retired Air Force GeneralÃ‚Â Scott Gration makes an appearance, though Ackerman neglects to mention that Gration’s big idea is eliminating nuclear weapons globally — a position that would be considered monumentally reckless but forÃ‚Â itsÃ‚Â near-impossible utopianism.Ã‚Â Obama has said only that “he would seek a world without nukes but would never disarm unilaterally.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â Mars has no nukes, so Obama can cross that one off the to-do list.
Ben Rhodes, the adviser who writes Obama’s foreign-policy speeches, gets to tout Obama’s position that if he had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan but no cooperation from the Pakistani government, he would take out the jihadists.Ã‚Â Though I have no great objection to that position — depending on its execution –Ã‚Â neither Rhodes nor Ackerman explains whose dignity is promoted by it, either.
Ackerman frames Obama’s “dignity promotion” doctrine as a response to critques of the Bush administration’s policy of promoting democracy:
What’s typically neglected in these arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. “Look at why the baddies win these elections,” [booted ex-adviser Samantha] Power says. “It’s because [populations are] living in climates of fear.” U.S. policy, she continues, should be “about meeting people where they’re at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That’s the swamp that needs draining. If we’re to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we’re not [providing].”
This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise — because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. “It’s about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe,” Gration says. “Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I’m concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years.”
Samantha Power, booted from Team Obama after calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” (and just coincidentally after suggesting that Obama might not be able to get US troops out of Iraq asÃ‚Â fast as he says), is apparently unaware that much of what she is advocating is Bush adminsitration policy.Ã‚Â For example, as reported by the Associated Press last month during Bush’s trip to Africa:
The president launched a plan in 2005 to dramatically reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, the worst affected region in the world. More than 80 percent of malaria cases happen here; the disease kills at least 1 million infants and children under five every year. Congress so far has put $425 million toward BushÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s $1.2 billion, five-year program, which has helped more than 25 million people.
The U.S. drive to spend money on the health of Africans, including a much larger effort on HIV/AIDS, is appreciated here. In a recent Pew Research Center report, African countries held more favorable views of the United States. than any others in the world. And Bush, the face of the U.S. superpower, is showered with praise wherever he goes. It seems a world away from the sentiment at home, where his public approval is at 30 percent.
Moreover, much of the US effort in Iraq has been and continues to be protecting civilians from militiamen, something the US has gotten better at doing and is teaching local forces to do.Ã‚Â “Baddies” winning elections in a climate of fear is a far more apt description of the sham ballots cast under Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq.
Of course, it could be that Team Obama is merely reflecting a Clooney-esque selective concern for places like the Darfur region of the Sudan.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Samantha Power tells Ackerman that the concept of dignity “explains why it’s not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It’s not a human way to live. It’s graceless — an affront to your sense of dignity.”Ã‚Â The cheap shot would be to note that the refugees probably would not find a higher-class refugee camp much of a solution to their problems, but perhaps Power is alluding to Obama adviser Susan Rice’s zeal for military intervention in Darfur, even if it must be unilateral.Ã‚Â Yet again, there is no flesh on that bone, no explanation of how said military intervention (likely followed by a promised AQ interention) advances dignity or freedom more that the US effort in Iraq.
Similarly, Gration’s suggestion that killing one terrorist creates five more is simply not borne out by the facts.Ã‚Â As longtime PW readers know from the “Are Terrorists Doritos?” series, the increases in terror attacks and casualties of the past few years have occurred almost entirely in IraqÃ‚Â (that trend continued in the 2007 report from State Department report on global terrorism).Ã‚Â The vast majority of those attacks were attributable to internal sectarian violence, stoked to some degree by AQI.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â The decrease in sectarian violence in Iraq, due in no small part to Bush administration policy (including the new counter-insurgency manual which Obama adviser Sarah Sewall had a hand in writing),Ã‚Â will deflateÃ‚Â global statistics andÃ‚Â prove Gration wrong.Ã‚Â Indeed, even the increases of the past few years did not suggest the sort of escalation Gration claims.
Moreover, there is no suggestion in Ackerman’s article that Team Obama has considered, let alone rejected, the studiesÃ‚Â suggesting that suicide bombers are neither poor nor uneducatedÃ‚Â and that it is the more educated terrorists who are more successful in carrying out attacks.Ã‚Â As Alan KreugerÃ‚Â has written for the New York Times (and elsewhere), it is usually corrupt and oppressive regimes that deny political and economic freedom to their people that provide a pool from which the educated may become terrorists.Ã‚Â Public opinion data from the region generally shows thatÃ‚Â Anti-American attitudes in the Muslim world are not due largely the view that the US has had a double-standard in promoting democracy, including supporting authoritarian regimes in the Arab and Muslim world while not promoting democracy there as it did elsewhere after the fall of the Soviet Union.Ã‚Â In the Mideast, lack of opportunity stems more from political oppression and corruption than from poverty.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â In nations where poverty is part of the problem, there is nothing in Ackerman’s piece explaining howÃ‚Â Obama’s general opposition toÃ‚Â trade agreementsÃ‚Â on the table will help developing nations in Central and South America, let alone Africa and South Asia.Ã‚Â In sum, dropping the emphasis on promoting freedom likely would have the exact opposite effect from that the Obama campaign intends.
Ackerman claims that the Obama Doctrine is neither hawkish nor dovish and both — an unsurprising description, given its general incoherence.Ã‚Â Naive andÃ‚Â uninformed would work, too.