Saturday, September 27, 2008

Presidential Debate Drops Ball on National Direction

Whither America? What are the principles that should guide U.S. national strategy?

Should our foreign policy be based on the use of force or should every effort be made to cooperate, compromise, understand, sympathize--leaving our overwhelming military power as a dangerous but available last resort? That is the basic question; Obama hinted at a more reasonable perspective than McCain's me-too neo-con hubris but essentially both candidates dropped the ball last night.

Last night's Presidential Debate recognized that a linkage between foreign policy and economics exists; that was good. Unfortunately, despite the remarks of both about the distinction between tactics and strategy, neither really understands what that means: neither offered a clear strategic vision for this country. On the contrary, the two instead bickered about details, leaving fundamental questions of national strategy unaddressed.

Whether or not to have a troop surge is a tactical issue. Whether to focus our military initiative on Iraq or Pakistan or Somalia or Iran or Afghanistan is a tactical issue. The strategic question is whether or not military force is the appropriate way to resolve the complex socio-political challenges the U.S. faces in interacting with global cultures that it's foreign policy behavior has so deeply offended. Honest, decent citizens may disagree on this issue; but simply to ignore it is astoundingly stupid and dangerous.

The differences on detail between the two candidates are important; given a choice between black (Bush), dark gray (McCain), and light gray (Obama), of course, I can make a choice. But a choice between black and white--or at least a discussion of the principles governing such a distinction--would be so much more welcome.

However, neither candidate seems capable of rising to the challenge this country faces. Each lacks vision; each seems to buy into the dangerous, arrogant, self-defeating neo-con policy that all who are not with us are against us. I hope I am wrong. I hope Obama is just trying to convince Joe Sixpack that he is a tough guy, and that he will indeed rise to the occasion and grow to become a wise leader if elected. But I fear that this country will sorely miss the kind of open-minded leadership that a Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader would have offered. At this point it seems doubtful that either major candidate will have the vision and moral integrity to wash the neo-con poison that has so alienated the world and so empowered al Qua'ida out of American politics.

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