Op/Ed: Obama's Foreign Affairs
By Raynard Jackson
(WASHINGTON - May 8, 2009) - President Barack Obama’s recent foreign trips have generated quite a bit of reaction within our country. Having studied foreign affairs in graduate school and having done work in other countries, I have a somewhat different take than most Republicans, especially the conservative ones.
First, I am extremely concerned by the rhetoric coming from a lot of the usual pundits and talk show hosts. It seems as though Republicans can’t accept the fact that we lost the election! It’s over! Obama won! McCain was a horrible candidate!
It’s almost as though blowhards like Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, or Rich Lowery want Obama and the U.S. to fail. We can disagree on policy, but that is not what has been happening.
Obama’s criticism from Republicans have bordered on the ridiculous. “He’s the one, he’s the messiah, or he is president of the world.” These comments are well beneath the intelligence of anyone with the least bit of smarts.
Obama has been in office just over 3 months and Republicans have constantly chided him on a range of issues without giving the customary honeymoon period. The state of our foreign policy is and was in such shambles when he took over, that I am in total agreement with his “charm” offensive.
Anyone who has worked in foreign policy will tell you that most of foreign policy is driven by personality more than substance. Substance is important, but the personality interaction determines the framework by which the substantive policy issues will be discussed.
The Bush administration’s foreign policy was heavy-handed and very unilateral (“you’re either for us or against us”). In my private conversations with world leaders, this was clearly indicated.
Obama’s election created a real possibility of partnership with our allies and re-engagement with our enemies. Serious foreign policy professionals will always chose constructive engagement versus isolationism every time.
What does it say about our previous foreign policy that Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) tried to make nice with Obama at the recent gathering in Trinidad or that Raoul Castro made the extraordinary statement that “everything was open for discussion?” Fifty years of isolationism didn’t produce this. It was the willingness to open a line of communication to an enemy that brought this about.
Republicans claim to be the party of human rights and color-blindness, but yet they won’t speak out on the racist policy that allows Cubans (mostly white Cubans) to stay in the country base on the idiotic “wet foot-dry foot policy .” Simply put, the policy states that if a Cuban gets one foot on U.S. soil, then they are granted the chance to remain in the country and later would qualify for expedited legal permanent resident status and U.S. citizenship. Contrast that with people from Haiti who are summarily returned immediately to their country with no hope of getting an opportunity for citizenship.
What does it say about our global image that world leaders all clamor to be seen next to our President. We should all be proud of that image.
Now, the question is can President Obama translate this personal charm into substantive policy. Obama needs to give a major foreign policy address to clearly layout his vision for U.S. engagement---his guiding principles. How does Africa fit into our nation’s plans? What are the changes he wants to pursue with our European allies? Why should American care about North Korea or Iran?
Republicans need to layout a clear vision for their world-view and then debate it in the marketplace of ideas. But, the continued use of extraneous verbiage, superfluous hyperbole, and just downright silliness, is no foreign policy. How can Republican principles create a safer world, more international cooperation, and the alleviation of all the pathologies that are affecting developing countries?
This type of dialogue is what Republicans should focus on. A clear articulation of their vision for America’s foreign policy will force the Obama administration to speak more clearly to the American people, thereby revealing their weakness in foreign policy. But, this continued childish banter should become a foreign affair.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-based political consulting/government affairs firm. You can listen to his radio show every Saturday evening from 7 to 9 pm. Go to www.ustalknetwork.com to register and then click on host, and then click on his photo to join his group.