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July 15, 2008

An Amen, And A Quibble
Posted by David Shorr

I've said it before and before, but now that a presumptive nominee is saying the exact same thing, I'll say it again. The United States' out-of-sync-ness with the rest of the world is a foreign policy theme with powerful resonance. Obama's speech was tremendous (about which more below), but for these purposes, his Fareed Zakaria interview was even better:

ZAKARIA: You are going to Europe and the Middle East. You know that in places like France you have 85 percent approval ratings. Isn't that going to make some Americans very suspicious? If all of Europe likes you, if France likes you, there must be something wrong.

OBAMA: Well, I tell you what. You know, it's interesting. As I travel around the country, here in the United States, I think people understand that there has been a price to the diminished regard with which the world holds the United States over the last several years.

It's something that bothers people. It's something that's brought up. You know, when I'm doing a town hall meeting in some rural community, invariably, somebody will raise their hand and they'll say, "When are we going to restore the respect that the world had for America?"

And, you know, the American people's instincts are good. It's not just a matter of wanting to be liked. It's the fact that, as a consequence of that diminished standing, we have less leverage on a whole host of critical issues that have to be dealt with. So, I think the American people are ready for a president who is not alienating the world. And if that president is liked a little bit, well, that's just a bonus.

There you have it: the loss of America's international standing, sympathy, and confidence and how it makes it harder to gain cooperation and help with serious threats and challenges. Now go talk to voters. [More on the speech below the fold.]

The speech included soaring expressions of the same idea. In making the case for increased foreign aid, Obama said we need to "...send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, 'You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.'"


This must be the moment when we answer the call of history. For eight years, we have paid the price for a foreign policy that lectures without listening; that divides us from one another – and from the world – instead of calling us to a common purpose; that focuses on our tactics in fighting a war without end in Iraq instead of forging a new strategy to face down the true threats that we face. We cannot afford four more years of a strategy that is out of balance and out of step with this defining moment.

There was other great stuff in the speech. "We have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin" is a new favorite line. Have we ever heard the idea that it can't be surrender to hand things over to a sovereign gobvernment before? Don't think I have.

Now for the quibble. This argument is often couched in terms of rebuilding alliances and working better with allies. As any DA reader would know, allies are a small subset of other nations in the world. They're especially important, and God knows that our alliances are in a bad state and in need of repair. For me, though, the larger problem of international cooperation and relations with the rest of the world is, well, larger. So if it was up to me, I wouldn't be using this shorthand as much. But the point of course is that it is shorthand, and maybe this is one of those moments when a wonk has to get over himself and leave it to the professional communicators.


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