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January 29, 2009

Some Good Rhetorical Advice for Obama
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at the New York Times, Mike McFaul (who will serve in President Obama's NSC) has some good advice for the new President about how he should discuss democracy promotion.

Some of Mr. Obama’s aides are suggesting that he “talk less and do more,” in the words of Michael McFaul, who advises Mr. Obama on both Russia and democracy issues and is likely to be headed to the White House staff. But “rather than speeches or even grand goals,” Mr. McFaul said, “the next administration should seek to achieve small, concrete outcomes that advance political freedoms in very tangible ways and do so, without talking about doing so.”

Exactly. There were many bad elements to President Bush's "Freedom Agenda," but few were worse than the grandiose and overstated rhetoric that he used when talking about democratization. You can't one day deliver a speech in Cairo criticizing the Egyptian government’s lack of adherence to the rule of law and its intimidation of pro-democracy advocates and then later do nothing when an opposition presidential candidate is thrown in prison. Yet, this is precisely what the Bush Administration did.  

There is simply no better way to undermine US credibility and weaken the country's moral standing then fail to back up your words with actions:  even when it may be occasionally appropriate to weigh American interests over American values.  People around the world listen when US presidents speak and they can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

There are a lot of things about our democratization agenda that need to be changed. But let's start with the rhetoric. President Obama needs to speak about democracy in more manageable terms. He needs to offer a realistic and less dogmatic policy framework for discussing democracy promotion that takes into account both US interests and values. The audience is both domestic and international: Americans need to understand too  that the process of democratization is indeed the work of generations – and one that is filled with missteps and obstacles along the way. Now that's change we can believe in.


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Less grand rhetoric, huh? Perhaps you have in mind rhetoric like this:

The United States cannot be content with preserving the current order in the international system. Rather, the United States must become once again a revisionist power – a country that seeks to change the international system as a means of enhancing its own national security. Moreover, this mission must be offensive in nature. The United States cannot afford to wait and react to the next attack. Rather, we must seek to isolate and destroy our enemies by eliminating their regimes and safe havens. The ultimate purpose of American power is the creation of an international community of democratic states that encompasses every region of the planet.

-Michael McFaul
Policy Review, April/May 2002

I'll decline the advice from Michael McFaul, thanks. Here's what we now have with the Obama administration:

Michael McFaul
Bob Gates
Dennis Ross
Hillary Clinton
Gaza Massacre Silence
Richard Holbrooke
Susan Rice

I know this is the stuff that floats your boat here at Democracy Arsenal. But on foreign policy, this administration has now totally and officially lost me. There is not a single ray of sunshine on the horizon.

I am not an unreasonable man. In the domestic sphere, I am able to swallow all the neoliberal Rubinites, because at least we got a few lefties in the cabinet like Hilda Solis and Jared Bernstein. But on foreign policy the left has been stiffed, dissed, locked out, humiliated. Millions of people who voted for Obama, and who were particularly responsible for helping him secure the Democratic nomination, got nothing, not even a token appointment. We are zero; a black band on the political spectrum. We don't count; we don't matter. George Mitchell seemed mildly promising, not from the left but at least a reasonable man. But he is clearly going to be smothered by a broad agenda that is a continuation of Bush, modified only by the least attractive features of Clintonism.

Obama will accomplish nothing in the Middle East but further war and death. He's headed for another Vietnam in Afghanistan. His Israeli/Palestinian policy will be another bullshit "peace process" designed to help buy time and deflect criticism so that Israel can just win its 100 year war outright. His "engagement" policy is a crock. The policy is to be seen as talking and engaging while tightening the screws across the region, building up the military and recharging the imperial mojo. It's a scam, made up of PR stunts like chatting on the Saudi royal family's private TV network, and selling that to Americans as a bold opening.

I'm through. I'm now shopping now for some third party to join. Although frankly, I don't like the available offerings. Perhaps it's time to consider forming a new one. I'm composing a manifesto and platform. Maybe it will at least make me feel better.

Dan Kervick, I hope you are right (-:

I'm through. I'm now shopping now for some third party to join. Although frankly, I don't like the available offerings. Perhaps it's time to consider forming a new one. I'm composing a manifesto and platform. Maybe it will at least make me feel better.

I'm through. I'm now shopping now for some third party to join. Although frankly, I don't like the available offerings. Perhaps it's time to consider forming a new one. I'm composing a manifesto and platform. Maybe it will at least make me feel better.

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Barack Obama's weapon of choice is public diplomacy, speaking plainly and persuasively, directly to the people...

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