Preemptive Dialogue

I have recently been struck by, and stuck between, two critiques of Obama’s foreign policy approach.  The first, articulated here in Kristin Rawl’s thoughtful response to my last post on Style with Substance, argues that Power and other Obama advisors will remain far too willing to assert United States military force in areas like Pakistan and Rwanda and Darfur.  She expresses grave concerns about all forms of American preemptive military intervention.  While her emphasis on the complexity of the issues involved and the difficulty of determining a productive way of response are surely correct, I still believe that people like Joseph Cirincione, with his emphasis on engagement, and Power, with her insistence that questions of social justice should drive American foreign policy would be a huge step in the right direction.


From the right, but not so far right that it is ridiculously neoconservative, there is this recent article by Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic. He argues that Obama’s impulse to dialogue fails to appreciate the “darker dimensions of our strategic predicament.”  He points, rightly I think, to the “recalcitrance of the world,” but argues, wrongly I think, that it is a sign of youth (and thus, one assumes, naivete) to think that an essentially optimistic, dialogical stance will be more effective in addressing the recalcitrance of the world than the tough talking posturing and very real violent course of action we have pursued to date.

I would suggest that Obama’s fundamental political approach of preemptive dialogue and compromise informed by a set of ideals and values grounded in a commitment to social justice is much more mature and effective than the immature politics of demonization and destruction.  To take a willingness to dialogue as a sign of weakness is to fall into a masculine logic of violence that has proven to be completely ineffective and counter-productive.  The disposition toward dialogue is a posture of strength and security, bolstered often by a self-assured recognition of military superiority, but guided always by the understanding that the use of force is a sign of failure, even when it may be justified.  

Words and ideas have always had a more substantive capacity to transform cultures and societies than have violence and force.  If we have learned anything from the Bush Administration’s many failures it is that it is in America’s self-interest to engage the world in a proactive, humble, deliberative and dialogical way.  

This is neither the naivete of youth nor the delusion of nostalgia; it is not a rejection of nuance and subtlety, nor a blanket and abstract refusal to use force; rather it is a mature response to the complexities of the world in which we live, however recalcitrant.  

Ironically, the youth of America–as can be felt here and here at Penn State and on college campuses throughout the country–seem to recognize Obama’s hope as grounded and mature.  They hear in it a call for for a level of deliberative action and engagement far beyond the imagination of those who, like Krugman and Wieselteir, defend force and violence in the name of sober realism.

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