Archive for June, 2008

Clinton Withdraws from Presidential Race

June 9, 2008

On Saturday, Hillary Clinton announced that she was dropping out of the presidential race, effectively making Barack Obama the Democratic nominee for president.  Now that Obama will be the candidate going up against John McCain in the general election, it is important for voters to know where Obama stands on foreign policy issues.  The following is Obama’s foreign policy platform according to the candidate’s response to questions asked by the Washington Post:

Do you support setting a deadline for either a withdrawal or a partial pullback of troops from Iraq? If so, what would be the date of that deadline?

I opposed this war from the beginning, when it was unpopular to do so, in part because I believed it was a diversion from the real threat of al Qaeda and that giving this President the authority would lead to the open-ended occupation we find ourselves in today. Now our soldiers find themselves in the crossfire of a civil war and our military is stretched thin. I support beginning the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq immediately, and under the plan I introduced in January 2007, we would have begun withdrawing forces engaged in combat operations on May 1, 2007. A withdrawal of our troops is the best leverage we have to press the Iraqi political leaders to make the political compromises necessary to end their civil war.

What distinguishes your plan for Iraq from those of the other candidates?

What distinguishes my plan from nearly all the other candidates is that I was among the few with the good judgment to have opposed the war from the beginning. Now that we must correct the mistake of authorizing and waging this war, there are only bad options and worse options. Under my plan, we would begin withdrawing troops immediately. I would maintain a follow on force in and around Iraq to protect ongoing U.S. interests there, including counter-terrorism operations, training and force protection. Since success in stopping this civil war requires a political solution among Iraq’s leaders, I have proposed a diplomatic surge in Iraq and in the neighboring countries. My plan to end the war also seeks to use policy measures now to ensure that our troops are not confronted with destabilizing ethnic strife that undercuts regional stability later. To that end, I have proposed that we condition any future assistance to Iraq on human rights performance, that we aggressively seek to assist Iraq’s internally displaced now, that we increase funding for refugees in neighboring countries, and that we declare the international community’s intention to hold the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide accountable for their crimes.

What would be your top three national security priorities if you were elected?

My first priority would be to end the war in Iraq. It has cost America dearly in terms of blood and treasure, been a diversion from the fight against al Qaeda, stretched our military, and undermined the view of the United States the world wide. Ending the war in Iraq will permit us to develop a comprehensive strategy against terrorism, which will be another chief national security priority of my administration. I will ensure that we are taking sufficient action against the terrorists on the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; that we develop the capabilities and partnerships we need to counter the terrorist threat in other parts of the world; that we engage the world to dry up support for terrorism and extremism; that we restore for the rule of law and our values; and that we secure a resilient homeland. My administration will also make it a priority to marshal a global effort to meet a threat that rises above all others in urgency — securing, destroying, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. As president, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years — the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a bomb. We should fully implement the law I passed with Senator Dick Lugar that would help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. While we work to secure existing stockpiles of nuclear material, we should also negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material. As starting points, the world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and work to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. We must also dissuade other countries from joining the nuclear club. Countries should not be able to build a weapons program under the auspices of developing peaceful nuclear power. That’s why we should create an international fuel bank to back up commercial fuel supplies so there’s an assured supply and no more excuses for nations like Iran to build their own enrichment plants. And if we want the world to deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia must lead by example. President Bush once said, ‘The United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status — another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation.’ Six years later, President Bush has not acted on this promise. I will. We cannot and should not accept the threat of accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch. We can maintain a strong nuclear deterrent to protect our security without rushing to produce a new generation of warheads.


Obama’s stance on Iraq makes sense for the most part.  He should get credit for having the wisdom to oppose the war from the beginning even when it was unpopular to do so.  Withdrawing US troops is the right way to go, although leaving behind large contingents for support missions could be problematic in that it leaves open the possibility that US soldiers will be drawn back into combat roles similar to the ones they are engaged in now.  It is unclear if pulling out will give the US political leverage over the Iraqis, but it is true that the Iraqis must resolve their outstanding political issues themselves, and American troops cannot help them do that; therefore, American soldiers should be withdrawn to minimize further casualties. 


As Obama points out, the American military is stretched thin because of Iraq, and an exit from that country would enable the Army and the Marines to rejuvenate and redeploy to Afghanistan, a more important theater of war.  Moreover, it would give the US a strategic reserve force which it is currently lacking, and thereby enable to the US to intervene in other conflicts that affect America’s national security interests.


The US should certainly make a diplomatic effort to persuade other countries to help with the situation in Iraq, although it may not work because of internal conditions there.  If the US was not able to push the Iraqis to reach a political accord when it had a large troop presence there and was pouring a lot of financial resources into the country, it is unlikely that other powers will be able to do so.  However, helping refugees is something the international community can easily do and is a commendable humanitarian goal.


Obama’s plan for countering terrorist threats make sense, although in many respects it is not much different than those espoused by other candidates.  However, his emphasis on restoring the rule of law and our values, which implies that he will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and ban the use of interrogation methods like water boarding, while continuing to pursue terrorists is notable in that it diverges from the policies pursued by the Bush administration.


Securing nuclear weapons in Russia was a major issue in the 2004 presidential election, but it seems to have faded from the public debate recently.  The odds of a terrorist group developing its own nuclear weapons are low for engineering and material reasons.  It is much more plausible that they could buy or steal them from elements in the former Soviet Union.  Fully implementing the Nunn-Lugar Act as Obama suggests is the most important anti-nuclear effort the US can pursue in the near future.


Preventing other countries from developing nuclear weapons would be a much more difficult task if those nations are intent on building them.  American officials believe that Iran and North Korea have active nuclear weapons programs.  The military option has too many downsides when it comes both countries, so diplomacy is the only reasonable way to deal with them.  The US can offer economic and diplomatic incentives such as financial assistance and normalized relations, but it cannot force those states to abandon their programs without invading them, which would not be worth the costs in the long run.  In terms of leading by example, the US and Russia could reduce their respective nuclear arsenals to 1,000 warheads without jeopardizing their national security; and building new atomic weapons like “bunker-busters” would hinder non-proliferation efforts because it would make the US look hypocritical.


Overall, Obama’s foreign policy platform is sound.  The larger themes are things we should pursue immediately, although some of the corollary policies are problematic and could be difficult to achieve.  If elected, some of the challenges he would face on the international front cannot be foreseen, and it is impossible to know if he would be able to handle them effectively once he is in office.  But based on the issues at hand and Obama’s position on them, he appears to be a wise strategist.