Sunday, February 10, 2008

Calling for a Closer Examination of Obama

Toronto Globe & Mail, February 9, 2008 editorial:

...If the presidency were solely about inspiration, all other candidates in either party might just as well concede now. But if the past eight years have taught us anything, it is that there is a great deal more to leadership than that.

In 2000, Americans made the mistake of tacitly accepting the then-popular "End of History" arugment that the era of global conflict was over and the United States would endure as a benevolent hyperpower. As a result, they paid little attention to their presidential candidates' ability to contend with challenges and crises on the foreign policy and national security fronts. They elected a president with little knowledge or interest in such matters; unsurprisingly, he has proven out of his depth in the post-9/11 era, which has seen the United States' standing in the world severely diminished.

Now that they understand that there is no shelter from the global storm, voters in 2008 need someone with the combination of sophistication, decisiveness and restraint necessary to get America's foreign policy back on track. Mr. Obama may be that man, but he has seemed wobbly. Beyond the credit he has received for his early opposition to the Iraq war, his views on foreign policy have come under surprisingly little scrutiny. While it is evident that he doesn't stray far from Hillary Clinton and most other Democrats on the domestic front, he remains more of a wild card on matters of great concern not just to the United States but to our own country and the rest of the world.

Last August, seeking to disprove notions that he is too soft on foreign policy, Mr. Obama recklessly overreached, telling an audience that as president he would be willing to attack al Quaeda targets inside Pakistan with or without consent from that country's government. He betrayed a shockingly simplistic attitude toward one of the world's most volatile regions, and raised alarming questions about his willingness to infringe upon other countries' sovereignty. Mr. Obama still owes Democrats an explanation of how he arrived at a policy too hawkish even for Georege W. Bush.

If his views on interventionism require close scrutiny, so does his inclination toward protectionism. While Democratic candidates inevitably veer in that direction while campaigning for labour votes, Mr. Obama exceeded anything even Ms. Clinton has proposed when he called in December for an outright ban on importing Chinese toys. In grossly overreacting to legitimate health and safety concerns, he sent a disturbing signal as to how he might exploit similar issues if he made it to the presidency. How would he respond, for instance, to a BSE outbreak among Canadian cattle? To what other lengths might go to protect flagging US manufacturing industries? A president must understand proportionality.

Mr. Obama's gaffes might be easier to overlook if he had a more extensive foreign policy record. But while he has gained valuable experience sitting on the Senate foreign relations committee, his chairmanship of the subcommittee has been criticized for a lack of policy meetings and his failure to travel across the Atlantic even once since assuming the post more than a year ago. That shortcoming is unlikely to prove fatal in a country whose current president was naything but a world traveller before he moved into the White House, but it represents a missed opportunity to deepen his international credentials.

Given the power of the presidency, and the continuing importance and military power of the United States internationally, these are not small concerns. In selecting their next commander-in-chief, Americans must make sure he or she has the level of maturity and experience the job requires. For Democrats in those states that have yet to hold their primaries - not to mention the media that have been captivated by his narrative - that responsibility should take the form of a closer examination of Mr. Obama.


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