Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy Approach: Who Calls the Shots?

This seems apropos given the sweep Barack Obama enjoyed in yesterday's Potomac Primaries:

Since Senator Obama himself does not have a well-known foreign policy profile, what would be his position on key issues? And which advisors would have the most influence?

Noah Pollack from Commentary suggests that "There has been an awakening in recent days to the presence of a disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel." Pollack goes on to suggest that if advisors like Samantha Powers and others have the ear of a president Obama,will they advise him to "repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy? And here’s an even better question: Does Barack Obama have a single adviser who would tell him to do anything else?"

Then I received a summary and analysis from James W. Riley, who served as an Annenberg apprentice editor at the magazine last year, who recently attended a seminar at the USC Hillel Foundation that featured Eric Lynn, who is Obama's Middle East policy advisor. This is what he took away from that meeting:

"Without equivocation, Lynn made clear the United States must always remain a friend of Israel—an old ally and lone democracy in the region. But even more importantly, the United States must ensure Israel maintains its military superiority in order to preserve its right to self-defense. Accordingly, Obama has “advocated for increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these…priorities are met,” at least that’s what a press release paid for by Obama for America said. Additionally, Obama has called for continued cooperation between the United States and Israel on research and development of their missile defense systems.
During the July 2006 Lebanon war, and in the face of criticism, Obama backed Israel’s use of force against Lebanon in reaction to missile attacks by Hezballah. “If U.S. soldiers were kidnapped” Obama reportedly said, “we’d be doing much worse,” according to Lynn. Apparently, Obama isn’t uncomfortable with the idea of using force to make peace. ...

"Furthermore, Obama has no desire to drag Israel to the negotiating table. “If Israel wants peace, they will do it their own way,” said Lynn. Obama has called for the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist."

Riley then went on to Lynn's discussion of Iran. "Lynn also touched on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In Obama’s view, Iran poses a direct threat to Israel. He cited Iranian support of Hamas and Hezbollah as a clear sign of this threat. As opposed to the Bush Administration’s approach, Obama values “talking to the enemy.” By engaging in low to mid-level diplomatic relations with Tehran, Washington could influence hard-liners with carrots and sticks. But much like the current administration, Obama would not take the military option off the table. In addition, Obama believes it necessary for U.S. pension funds to divest of stocks in foreign companies doing business in Iran."

After listening to Lynn, Riley concluded: "Lynn felt inclined to remind us that electing Obama would put a new face on America, while reinforcing to the world that the United States is a big “salad bowl” and “melting pot.” Ultimately, Obama’s approach isn’t even a face-lift, but considering the dangers emanating from the region, his is at least the approach of a realist."

And this is the change candidate?

Seems like it's the same old foreign policy with a new and more articulate salesman. Obama's still wedded to ideas of American exceptionalism that cause so much friction with others. The wisdom of realism has always been a recognition that other states were legitimately engaged in a similar pursuit of their interests. Until the US quits thinking its motives are somehow different to everyone else, there will be no change.
Nik: not surprising this dichotomy. Obama has created a huge tent for foreign policy and all sorts of advisers have been signed up with no sense of any ideological or policy coherence.
Well, consider the audience, too. If someone is speaking to Hillel, you wouldn't expect to hear how Israel is an evil place.

Lynn works for the campaign, is that correct? But Powers is just an "advisor", if I recall. Does that mean that Lynn would have had to clear his remarks with the Obama campaign, but Powers remains a free agent?
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