On August 1, 2007, Senator Barack Obama provided an intelligent, reasoned, and thought-provoking vision of how American foreign policy should advance in the 21st Century. Speaking to an audience at the Wilson Center in Washington DC (and introduced by Lee Hamilton of the 9-11 Commission), Obama contextualized his foreign policy approach within his own `9-11 experience'. The speech is impressive and wide-ranging in its scope and its message reflects Obama's ability to interweave complex issues with a message of change that is surpassed only by the substantial policy adjustments that accompany it. A full text of the speech can be found on Senator Obama's campaign website (http://www.barackobama.com/2007/08/01/re
In light of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appearance before Senate Foreign Relation Committee this afternoon - I found Obama's 2007 policy message on Iraq, terrorism, and diplomacy, offered roughly 8 months ago, rather prophetic.
After commenting on his own experience during the tragic events of 9-11, Senator Obama skillfully addresses the need to reevaluate current policies and devise new strategies to meet the challenges of terrorism in the 21st Century and to build new alliances to help defend America and its citizens abroad.
The Senator begins his comments in this section with an eloquent statement of the relationship between fear, religion, and ethnicity and the need to turn the page on blind intolerance and uninformed saber-rattling. He writes:
Just because the President misrepresents our enemies does not mean we do not have them. The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate. To defeat this enemy, we must understand who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for.
Senator Obama's denouncement of ethnic stereotyping and his defense of Islam is not only absolutely correct, but it represents an approach to terrorism and foreign policy that has rarely been evoked by policy makers in Washington. Feeding fear and challenging patriotism have been the weapons of the current administration - as well as presidential candidates.
The Senator continues:
The President would have us believe that every bomb in Baghdad is part of al Qaeda's war against us, not an Iraqi civil war. He elevates al Qaeda in Iraq -- which didn't exist before our invasion -- and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan. He lumps together groups with very different goals: al Qaeda and Iran, Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. He confuses our mission.
And worse -- he is fighting the war the terrorists want us to fight. Bin Ladin and his allies know they cannot defeat us on the field of battle or in a genuine battle of ideas. But they can provoke the reaction we've seen in Iraq: a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies, ties down our military, busts our budgets, increases the pool of terrorist recruits, alienates America, gives democracy a bad name, and prompts the American people to question our engagement in the world.
By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.
It is time to turn the page. When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world's most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.
The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What struck me today is how these statements from 2007 reflect the tenor of the current debate. The recognition of civil conflict, the problem of `lumping' groups together indiscriminately to cause confusion (a la McCain of late), and most importantly the recognition that we must change the way the world perceives America if we expect to accomplish our goals and help others reach theirs.
Beyond that, we also see very clearly articulated, Senator Obama's belief that the US has taken its eye off of real threats in the Afghan-Pakistan region. As I processed the various blurbs and clips from the proceedings today, Senator Joe Biden's (D-DE) confrontation with Ambassador Crocker was especially telling:
SEN. BIDEN: Mr. Ambassador, is Al Qaeda a greater threat to US interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region?
AMB. CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, Al Qaeda is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is, in my view-
SEN. BIDEN: Where is most of it? If you could take it out? You had a choice: Lord almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there and said Mr. Ambassador you can eliminate every Al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every Al Qaeda personnel in Iraq, which would you pick?
AMB. CROCKER: Well given the progress that has been made against Al Qaeda in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabilities, the fact that it is solidly on the defensive, and not in a position of-
SEN. BIDEN: Which would you pick, Mr. Ambassador?
AMB. CROCKER: I would therefore pick Al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.
SEN BIDEN: That would be a smart choice.
(As one colleague of mine put it...a smack-down!)
Senator Obama has consistently called for a re-focus of US counter-terrorism policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, during his 2002 statement against the war in Iraq, Senator Obama stated his opposition to Iraq because it was unwise and rash, but he made a point to contrast this with his support for the US-led efforts in Afghanistan.
As the US digs its heels down in Iraq and we continue to post counters tracking blood and treasure, I hope that Ambassador Crocker's response to Senator Biden, as well as Senator Obama's policy-leading statements on the significance of Afghanistan, will move our country forward.
More importantly, it is my hope that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (and not its Subcommittee on Europe, which rarely meets and would NOT be the appropriate place, despite recent, uninformed claims), which Senator Biden chairs, will begin debating policy and advocate turning the US's attention to Afghan-Pakistan border region and surrounding hinterlands.