National Security

How Do We Define the Obama Doctrine?

This morning on the NDN Blog and the Huffington Post, Simon laid out an argument, to which he urged me to respond, concluding that, due to the rapidly changing nature of the global landscape, the “rise of the rest,” and the ability of America’s very unique new president to speak directly to the world’s peoples, Barack Obama will not be able to be a realist, and will instead have to base his foreign policy on the politics of global aspiration.

Simon’s argument is powerful, and the points he makes about the changing global landscape are on the mark. Obama does indeed have a unique ability to communicate to the world’s peoples, both from a personal and technological standpoint, that is unparalleled. But if Obama is not a realist, what is he?

I would argue that he is certainly not a foreign policy liberal and certainly not a neo-liberal (indisputably the ideological predecessor to neo-conservatism). We will not see an emphasis on democracy promotion as a panacea, and I doubt very much that Obama advisers will be heard calling America “the indispensible nation.”

Rather, much like his domestic policy, Obama’s foreign policy defies labels.

In his almost six months in office, Obama has crafted a middle road, one that has America’s interests at heart, but defines American interests more broadly. It rejects the easily caricatured cynical realism of Kissinger and the narrow realism of Scowcroft/Baker. As Simon argues, he embraces the so called “rise of the rest,” which is not necessarily contrary to American interests – more markets for our goods, greater stability, and fewer failed states all work in our favor.

While Obama often speaks about ideals, we have not seen him subordinate them to interests. In this, Obama has already been the consummate realist – avoiding Carter-esque handwringing about human rights in China, rebuffing Israel – our democratic ally – on settlements, and, most recently, offering very cautious comments on Iran that have sought to avoid pro-democracy pontificating, while still noting that self-determination is a universal value.

The moment that Obama faces and the challenges that come with it, from terrorism, to global poverty, to the rise of new powers, demand this middle road that Obama is walking. America will use diplomacy, alleviate poverty, disease, and strife, and build international institutions all because these serve the American interests that Obama will redefine. He can talk about values, but it will come with the historical knowledge that some of our most disastrous foreign policy moments have come out of liberalism, and that blindly insisting on liberal ideals will, in many cases, backfire.

I’d imagine that, over the next few years, we will find that Obama’s foreign policy will be something that looks like a realism of a more liberal variety, just as Obama’s brand of pragmatism is progressive. And just as a term like pragmatic progressive barely serves as a good descriptor of the Obama domestic policy, nor will whatever term emerges like “liberal realist” be a good descriptor of Obama’s foreign policy. Suffice it to say that the great challenge for this man, in this moment, is to bring America closer to the rest of the world, and the world closer to America, than either has been in a long time – in a manner that serves America’s interests. And he might just be able to do it.

Pragmatic Liberalism in Iran

Simon wrote this morning:

[President Obama] has already been cast in a different role by history -- one of inspiring champion of all those throughout the world who need someone to speak for them… Our president, as chief global advocate of free and open societies, cannot sit on the sidelines as people attempt to throw off the shackles of old and anti-democratic regimes. This moment is too important, this particular leader too powerful, for America not to ambitiously re-assert itself as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples.

I think Simon is right that this will be the central challenge of the Obama Doctrine—to lead the world by example and not by fear. To stand for our values without shoving them down the throats of our partners overseas. To hold America up as a paragon of liberty and justice while, of course, keeping the country safe and secure.

It has been extraordinary to watch the fallout from the hijacking of the Iranian government by President Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Supreme Council. The massive protests we have read about on Twitter, watched on YouTube, and seen in so many incredible photographs continue to gain steam, and there’s no telling where they could lead.

And here we have a situation where our interests and our ideals converge. Moussavi and his followers clearly carry the twin banners of freedom and self-rule in the face of what is, in effect, a military coup. The reformists would, it seems, be more likely to cut a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and would certainly be easier to work with on the global stage.

But what can we do? What can President Obama say?

The last time our country got involved in Iranian politics, we helped overthrow a democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadeq, and enabled a decade of autocratic rule by the Shah. That misadventure led directly to the 1979 Revolution, and our image hasn’t much improved among the Iranian people since then. Any bold statement by the American president in support of Moussavi would be turned against us as fodder for Ahmadinejad’s populist, anti-American rhetoric. Any evidence of covert American involvement in Iran would shatter the legitimacy of the reformist movement.

President Obama’s challenge is to support this movement in Iran without undermining it, and in this objective, he has been right to hang back and quietly offer an ongoing commitment to negotiations with Iran. As I wrote above, his task is not to enforce democracy, but to enable it when he can, and lead by example when he cannot. Guided by this pragmatic Liberalism, he will have the chance to "ambitiously re-assert America as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples."

NDN Backgrounder: International Economic Policy for the 21st Century

News came yesterday that the bill containing coverage for the line of credit being extending to the IMF is being slowed because some sadly misinformed members of Congress are concerned that the money is, "a bailout that could line the pockets of terrorist regimes around the world." (John Boehner, courtesy of The Hill.) This scare tactic with no basis in reality would be funny, if the IMF money weren't going to be used in large part to maintain stability in fragile countries in the midst of a global economic crisis. Of course, it's that instability in fragile countries that could actually lead to terrorism.

In the spirit of educating on international economics, please find today's economic backgrounder:

  • Douglas Alexander Delivers Major Speech on Conflict, Fragility, and Development, 4/27/2009 - Alexander, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development, argued that governments aiding failed and fragile states must do more than work to support economic growth and provide basic services such as clean water, health and education; they must now "support political institutions and processes -- parliaments, political parties, civil society and the media."
  • The Politics of the Bottom Up Go Global by Simon Rosenberg, 4/3/2009 - Rosenberg, reflecting on President Obama's town hall in Strasbourg, writes that Obama has begun the transformation from President of the United States to the paramount leader of the world's peoples.
  • Shapiro Speaks on G-20, Need for Global Economic Action, 4/1/2009 - At an NDN event on "The G-20 and Beyond: Challenges Facing the Global Economy," Shapiro delivered wide-ranging comments on the global Great Recession, its causes, and the global leadership necessary to combat it. The event also featured U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, Foreign Policy magazine Editor-in-Chief Dr. Moisés Naím. 
  • U.S. Rep Adam Smith at The G-20 Summit and Beyond, 4/1/2009 - Ahead of the G-20 Summit, Smith, a Congressional leader on trade, terrorism, and international development, speaks on international trade and the need for a globally coordinated development strategy.
  • The Fallout of the Great Recession for Trade by Dr. Robert Shapiro, 2/11/2009 - Shapiro argues that the world is currently experiencing the economic symptoms of protectionism without actual protectionist measures being put in place, which could have dangerous consequences for the global economy.
  • Recovery Without E-verify and Buy American by Simon Rosenberg, 2/10/2009 - Rosenberg advocates for the removal of "Buy American" and E-verify provisions from the stimulus, provisions that will not stimulate the economy and will do more harm than good. 
  • The Global Economic Crisis and Future Ambassadorial Appointments by Simon Rosenberg, 11/26/2008 - With the mammoth task of rebuilding international financial architecture and recovering from a global recession awaiting the new President, Rosenberg points out the the ambassadors to the G20 nations will be key members of the economic team.
  • Harnessing the Mobile Revolution by Tom Kalil, 10/9/2008 - Tom Kalil, now the Associate Director for Policy of the White House Office of Science and Technology, authored this paper for the New Policy Institute. The paper argued that mobile communications technology can be a powerful tool for addressing some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

Bush Favorite Petraeus says US Violated Geneva Conventions

Writing on the Huffington Post, Jon Soltz reports that Bush Administration favorite, and rumored possible future GOP Presidential candidate, General David Petraeus has declared that what the US did in Iraq violated the Geneva Conventions. 

Unless this spins in some other direction I'm not sure where the apologists go now. 

The conservatives have very little left to argue now.  Which is why I think the right's obsession with Twitter makes a lot of sense.  For a movement with so little to say a medium which maxes out at 128 characters seems like a very good fit.

President Obama's Weekly Address Focuses on H1N1 Flu

In is weekly YouTube address, President Barack Obama explains what the federal government is doing to combat the spread of H1N1 and why they are doing it.


Obama also notes the very Web 2.0 steps the White House is taking to keep the American people informed about the spreak of H1N1. These very practical applications of social networking and twitter have been a great way to demonstrate the applicability of these new political tools to governing. Good information is key to both combatting the spread of disease and avoiding panic about it.

UK Secretary of State Alexander Delivers Major Address on Development Policy to NDN

Yesterday, NDN hosted a special forum in New York City at which Douglas Alexander, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development, argued that governments aiding failed and fragile states must do more than work to support economic growth and provide basic services such as clean water, health and education; they must now "support political institutions and processes -- parliaments, political parties, civil society and the media."

In his address to the NDN forum, Alexander underlined the U.S. and British experience in Afghanistan, where U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited yesterday. NDN President Simon Rosenberg introduced Alexander at the New York City event.

Using Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries as examples of why a fresh approach to development work is needed, Alexander outlined a four-point plan aimed at building peace and functioning states in nations plagued by civil war and conflict:

  • Support for secure political settlements that will build the legitimacy of the state -- practical and lasting agreements on power-sharing.
  • Help to build effective juvenile justice systems and to reform the policy and army to offer people genuine safety and ways to resolve disputes.
  • Assistance to ensure states can survive on their own by helping governments to raise tax revenues and to encourage civil society.
  • Increased support for states to deliver basic services like health, education and water to meet the expectations of their citizens.

In his speech, Alexander said:

"I need hardly suggest to an audience such as this that politics matters in all societies. But in fragile states, politics can make the difference between violence and the path to prosperity...

"...Yet in the past, aid agencies have too often been afraid to engage in building political institutions for fear of being accused of interfering in a developing country's politics. But our experience teaches us that we cannot address the challenges we face in fragile environments, in particular, through technocratic solutions alone."

To read the full text of Secretary Alexander's speech, please click here. A video of the event will be available in the coming days right here on the NDN Blog.

Reminder: UK Secretary of State for International Development Live Web Cast Today, 12 p.m. ET

Remember to watch today's live Web cast of UK Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, as he gives a major address on the relationship between conflict, fragility and development. Click here for more information about the event. The Web cast will begin at 12:15 p.m. ET.

UK Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander to Deliver Major Address to NDN

NDN is pleased to announce we will host a major address by Douglas Alexander, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Development on Monday, April 27, in New York. The event will be Webcast live.

Alexander will deliver a major speech on the relationship between conflict, fragility and development. He will argue that we must learn from our experience in Afghanistan, and apply those lessons to our approach to development in other conflict-affected states. If development efforts are to be successful, the link between development, politics and security must be better understood, and building peaceful states must be at the heart of this work.

Douglas Alexander is one of Britain's youngest and most dynamic Cabinet ministers, and as Secretary of State, he is the head of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID). He played a prominent role at the recent G-20 Summit in London, announcing British aid to help businesses in developing countries survive the global recession. A recent speech by Alexander on Afghanistan can be read here.

You will be able to watch this event live via Webcast at, and we hope you will be able to tune in and watch what promises to be an important and engaging address.  The Webcast will begin at 12:15 p.m. EDT.

Looking at Cuba: Using New Tools in Our Foreign Policy

There is much to celebrate in the President's new Cuba policy this morning.  NDN was among the first organizations in the nation to argue that the right first step towards a new day with our Cuban neighbors would be to relax the Bush era travel and remittance policy, which had done so much to tear Cuban and their American relatives apart in recent years.   So we are pleased with this announcement, and believe deeply that these first steps will initiate a process over the next five to ten years - or perhaps longer - which helps Cuba modernize, and transition to a more open and democratic society. 

But the announcement also contained provisions about telecommunications which deserve a little more consideration this morning.  Note this exchange between Dan Restrepo and a reporter at yesterday's announcement: 

Q If you guys could just explain a little bit more about the part of today's announcement that deals with telecommunications firms being allowed to - I mean, what

MR. RESTREPO: Certainly. We want to increase the flow of information among Cubans, and between Cubans and the outside world. And one of the ways we can do that under U.S. -- existing United States law, back to the Cuban Democracy Act, is to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to seek to provide services on the island. The licensing process has never -- never really went forward. We're allowing that process -- the President is directing that that licensing process go forward, and directing that the regulations system be put into place to allow U.S. persons to pay for cell coverage that already exists on the island -- again, so Cubans can talk to Cubans, and Cubans can talk to the outside world without having to go through the filter that is the Cuban government.

Q So just cell phones is what this is talking about?

MR. RESTREPO: This is cell phones, satellite television, satellite radio. This is forms of -- modern forms of telecommunication to increase the flow of information to the Cuban people so that if anyone is standing in the way of the Cuban people getting information it is the Cuban government, and it is not some outside technical problem that can be pointed to.

Taking away those excuses and putting -- and trying to create the conditions where greater information flows among the Cuban people, and to and from the Cuban people.

Q To follow up on that, if I may. So if this happens as it's intended to happen, is the idea that a U.S. company would be providing sort of U.S. television programming on -- beaming it in -- onto the island, is that the idea?

MR. RESTREPO: The idea is to increase the flow of information, be it what we see here in the United States -- the global marketplace of television and radio, to make that a possibility for the Cuban people and to ensure that the United States government is not standing in the way of that; to make clear that more -- we stand on the side of having more information rather than less information reach the Cuban people, and for them to be able to communicate among themselves.

This is an early articulation of what could become an important part of any future Obama Doctrine - the idea that connectivity and access to modern media and technology tools have become indespensible elements of free and open societies in the 21st century.   This idea has also been a central part of NDN's arguments these past few years, whether it has been in the reporting and papers we've produced in our affiliate, the New Politics Institute, or in our more traditional policy work.  From a paper I co-authored in 2007 with Alec Ross, A Laptop in Every Backpack

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world's people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world's commerce, finance, communications,media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world's 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world's people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do.

Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.

We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world's people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.

And we took an ever deeper look at how mobile devices are becoming core to development work across the world in this recent paper by Tom Kalil, Harnessing the Mobile Revolution.

This new high-tech foreign policy is a logical extension of the deep understanding of the power of these tools the President took away from his own wildly successful Presidential campaign, and is one more example of how the politics of the bottom up is going increasingly global.  Very exciting indeed. 

Congratulations to the President and his whole team for taking these smart and important first steps towards a new day for our relations with our Cuban neighbors. 

Racism for Ratings?

Cable news seems to be multiplying blatantly racist shows, as opposed to shutting them down.  By accident I happened to catch some of the new "Ed" show, 6pm time slot on MSNBC and was less than happy to see the man who almost had to resign for recommending the U.S. bomb Mecca - Tom Tancredo - on with him to discuss immigration reform of all things.  I mean, even Fox news no longer has Tancredo on.  Mind you, one thing is to have a healthy debate and someone on the show who opposes reform, but Tom Tancredo does not know healthy debate. He is no opponent of immigration, he is a proponent of hate and mass destruction.  Lest we forget his campaign ad equating immigrants and Hispanics with "Islamic terrorists."  On the bright side, bring him on - keep bringing on the Tancredos out there - there will be no better tool to pass CIR.  As Simon has said before, anti-immigrant positions don't deliver politically.  Hence Tancredo was at 1% favorability among  Republicans during his vie for his Party's nomination.   His anti-immigrant stance and hatred towards other cultures is not popular.  He did so poorly in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination and in his own district, that he didn't even attempt to run for re-election in 2008.  A post on Kos pretty much expresses the same reaction to seeing Tancredo on the air, re-posted below.  So we are left with the question? Is Ed going to be MSNBC's Lou Dobbs?  Don't networks want to report actual news stories, or riveting educational pieces as opposed to serving as a space for bigoted individuals to air their frustrations? 

Ed Schultz: Why Tancredo?
by ademption

Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 06:43:22 PM PDT
This diary is about the new Ed Schultz show on MSNBC called "The Ed Show" which airs at 6 pm EST in place of the 1600 Penn Ave hosted by David Schuster. I have watched the Ed Show since its inception and for the most part I've enjoyed it. The Ed Show's main focus is topics related to the middle class. For instance, one day he discussed the rising costs of healthcare and had Senator Wyden of Oregon to discuss his healthcare plan. Another day, he discussed the EFCA and had a union guy as a guest. On Wednesday, he talked with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on how to fix the education system. Until today, I liked Ed's topics and guests.

Unfortunately, today's show I think Big Ed may have jumped the shark with his invite of Tom Tancredo to appear on his show.

ademption's diary :: ::
Now I understand that immigration is a very divisive issue, even among Democrats. I also gather from today's show that Big Ed does not support comprehensive immigration reform like Obama. That's fine. We as progressives can't always agree on everything. I can understand Ed Schultz wanting to discuss the topic of immigration and even invite a guest that shares his viewpoint on the topic. But I cannot accept his choice of guest to discuss the issue tonight.

Tom Tancredo was the absolute wrong choice to discuss immigration. I can't understand why a professed progressive like Ed Schultz would give a divisive figure like Tancredo a platform for his show. Does Big Ed recall his insane remarks about bombing Mecca? His likening Miami, Florida to be a third world country? Tom Tancredo is so radioactive that even he and Karl Rove had a falling out. That is how much of a cretin that Tancredo is. I am absolutely flabbergasted that Tancredo was even invited on a so called progressive show. I don't even think that Fox News has Tancredo on the air anymore. Maybe I'm wrong, but I haven't even heard about Tancredo since the Republican primaries in 2007. I thought that he had fallen off the face of the earth until I watched the Ed show today.

I know that the Ed Show has gotten really decent ratings in his first week on MSNBC. But I don't think that having Tom Tancredo on his show helps. I am so offended by Ed Schultz having Tancredo appear as a guest that I am seriously considering not watching the show ever again. And again, I like the show. But having Tancredo appear really touched a nerve. I'm not only writing my concerns on Dailykos, but I'm going to let MSNBC know as well.

For those who watched Big Ed during his regular timeslot at 6 pm or his guest stint on Countdown at 8 pm EST, do you think it was appropriate for Ed Schultz to invite Tom Tancredo to appear on his show?

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