To the degree that I have embraced the power of Obama’s words as a way to move the country toward a new way of thinking about politics, I risk giving the impression that I too have uncritically fallen into the mainstream media’s simple dichotomy that insists that Clinton is substance without much style and Obama is style without much substance. Leaving the racist undertones of this way of formulating the differences to one side, it is perhaps important to address the distinctions between the two candidates directly.
I propose to do this by looking here at the question of foreign affairs to show the substance of Obama’s position and the substantive differences between Obama and Clinton.
Turning to the question of foreign policy, we ought not rely exclusively on the track records of the two candidates nor should we focus only on Clinton’s poor judgment in supporting the war in Iraq or Obama’s good judgment in opposing it from the start. These are important points, but the best way to determine how a president will conduct foreign affairs is to look at her or his foreign policy advisors.
One of Hillary Clinton’s main foreign policy advisors is Lee Feinstein, the Clinton Campaign’s National Security Director. He co-wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in 2004 with Anne-Marie Slaughter that was critical of the Bush administration’s strategy of unilateral preemption even as it argued for a “collective duty to protect” the lives and liberty of citizens of “nations run by rulers without internal checks on their power….” It sounds as if the extent of their critique of the Bush Administration is the unilateral nature of their approach. The “collective duty to protect” seems to be a re-affirmation of the strategy of preemption but “exercised collectively, through a global or regional organization.” Indeed, they suggest “the biggest problem with the Bush preemption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.”
Obama’s foreign policy team includes Joseph Cirincione, Lawrence Korb and the human rights scholar Samantha Power. Cirincione has argued for a policy in which diplomacy plays a central role in the attempt to “contain and engage” nations like Iran. He argues:
“Rather than pursue the faint hope that the organization of coercive measures will force Iran’s capitulation, our contain-and-engage strategy couples the pressures created by sanctions, diplomatic isolation and investment freezes with practical compromises and realizable security assurances to encourage Iran onto a verifiable, non-nuclear weapons path.”
I want to thank Marcus Dracos for pointing me to information about the various advisors of the candidates, and for his thoughtful analysis of the differences between Clinton and Obama. Much of what is written here grew out of conversations with Marcus.
To view Samantha Powers talk about why she works for and supports Obama, see below: