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Barack Obama: Restoring Exemplarism in US Foreign Policy

Two weeks ago, our reader Prof. Stephen Clark wrote a guest blog post about Rudy Giuliani's views on international politics and globalizing NATO: Rudolph Giuliani: World's Mayor?

Now we have a guest blog post about another presidential candidate's views on international politics. David Vickrey, editor of the Dialog International, volunteers for Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign and explains how President Obama would change America's foreign policy and what this would mean for transatlantic relations:

Candidate Obama has delivered several major foreign policy speeches that have naturally focused on the Iraq War, but some clues as to how he would cooperate with Europe can be found in his essay that appeared in Foreign Affairs

As president, Barack Obama would restore exemplarism as America's guiding foreign policy principle - the uniquely American, pragmatic idealism that has been seen in Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, Harry S Truman's Marshall Plan, John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps, and Bill Clinton's Kosovo intervention.

As a first step, America must end the practices that have destroyed its legitimacy on the world stage:

People around the world have heard a great deal of late about freedom on the march. Tragically, many have come to associate this with war, torture, and forcibly imposed regime change. To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.

As president, Barack Obama would seek to restore and further strengthen the global alliances which have been trampled on by the Bush administration. NATO is certainly a key part of this initiative:

Our alliances require constant cooperation and revision if they are to remain effective and relevant. NATO has made tremendous strides over the last 15 years, transforming itself from a Cold War security structure into a partnership for peace. But today, NATO's challenge in Afghanistan has exposed, as Senator Lugar has put it, "the growing discrepancy between NATO's expanding missions and its lagging capabilities." To close this gap, I will rally our NATO allies to contribute more troops to collective security operations and to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization capabilities.

But beyond NATO, Obama views cooperation with Europe as key in defeating  the "epochal, man-made threat to the planet: climate change." European support is also crucial in achieving the goal of ending the production of nuclear weapons and halting the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Finally, the Obama administration would join with the EU in investing in programs to end poverty in the Third World:

We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.

Here, the US would lead, doubling foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012.  Exemplarism means "leading by example".  Only by returning to this historic principle of US foreign policy can America once again realize its promise. I believe that a President Obama is best suited to bring about the necessary changes, so that the American president is once again welcomed as a symbol of hope and promise on the world stage.

David Vickrey earned a Ph.D. in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and studied also in Freiburg and Cologne in Germany. He is the editor of Dialog International, a blog about German-American relations, politics and culture, and lives in Maine.


Criticial comments are appreciated.

The Atlantic Review does not endorse any presidential candidate. We just have guest bloggers describe the foreign policy of presidential candidates, with a focus on transatlantic relations. All readers are invited to weigh in.

Please, let me know if you would like to write about another presidential candidate's views on transatlantic relations.

Related post in the Atlantic Review: Rudolph Giuliani: World's Mayor?


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Jim Bass on :

Barack Obama is a naif with a silver tongue who appeals to the emotions of Democrats. He believes that Iran wants a stable Iraq, and thinks the totalitarians in Tehran can be negotiated into helping. He's a sap. If in office, he'll be a dangerous sap. The writer compares Obama to JFK. Trust me, JFK would be booed out of the present Democrat party. JFK pledged to "pay any price, bear any burden" to end a world that was "half slave, half free." That's the way Bush talks and acts. Obama said, "We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu." Okay, what do you do about Zimbabwe? That was a flourishing, wealthy nation until Mugabe tore it apart. The misery there, as in Iraq, is caused by a psychotic regime. Sometimes evil must be dealt with by force.

David on :

"appeals to the emotions of Democrats." True. He appeals to the emotions of decency and hope rather than fear and bigotry. We've seen the results of the latter...

James Bass on :

"True. He appeals to the emotions of decency and hope rather than fear and bigotry. We've seen the results of the latter..." Indeed. Bill Clinton was afraid he might lose some political capital and thus stood by as 800,000 Rwandans were hacked to death -- 8,000 a day for 100 consecutive days. Clinton also gets the Democrats wet when he speaks. But for all his talk, he did zilch for AIDS sufferers in Africa. Bush walked the walk. Ask Bono. The long civil war in Sudan? The Bush administration negotiated an end to it. Some 1.9 million died in that war, far more than ever died in the Irish "troubles" which Clinton helped end. Yet because of bigotry (black victims), that accomplishment doesn't get much notice. As for Afghanistan, women can work, run for office and don't get stoned at soccer halftime. 26 million liberated. A good result. Iraq? Outcome uncertain, but a murderous tyrant met his end. For those of us immune to the faux idealism of the Obamas and the Clintons, resisting evil is idealism in action.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Obama writes "I will rally our NATO allies to contribute more troops to collective security operations" How do you want to "rally" us? I can't even think of a German word for "to rally." "We should pursue an integrated strategy that reinforces our troops in Afghanistan and works to remove the limitations placed by some NATO allies on their forces." Good luck with that. Bush has not been successful in that matter. The fact that Bush sometimes wears a cowboy hat is not the reason why we have not lifted the caveats. "Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban" More and more German politicians want to negotiate with some Taliban. The realize that there is no such thing as "the taliban." They are not unified. There are different groups who are called "the taliban." It is primarily the stupid media and stupid politicans who call everyone "Taliban", who opposes the West's policy in Afghanistan. So, Senator Obama, you want to isolate the Taliban, i.e. your position is much closer to President Bush's stance than to a growing group of German politicians. Tom Koenigs the UN's special representative in Afghanistan called for talks with the Taliban. See interview in FAZ today. And my colleague at Atlantic Community, Niklas Keller, argues in a similar fashion: [url=][u]Negotiations Are the Best Chance to "Divide And Conquer" the Taliban[/u][/url]

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

I have got the impression that Barack Obama and many other Democrats underestimate European opposition to US policies. They seem to assume that European countries do not support the US because of a dislike of President Bush. Yes, President Bush is not popular over here, but that does not mean that we love Democrats and do whatever a Democrat in the White House wants. Similarly, Anne Applebaum argued that Europeans don't want to support the US anymore because the US "mismanaged" the Iraq war. She wrote "If you're really worried about Iran, do you want to put your faith in the United States, the country that bungled Iraq?" [url],-Because-No-One-Wants-to-be-on-the-Losing-Team.html[/url] I think US policy mistakes or failures are not the only reason why Europeans do not want to follow US leadership anymore. Europe has its own ambitions. That's normal, but I got the impression that many Democrats have not realized that yet. They think it is all Bush's fault that Europe is not supportive, and when Bush is gone, Europeans will suddenly send tens of thousands of troops to Southern Afghanistan etc. Bill Clinton is very popular in Europe NOW, but he was not, when he was president.

David on :

"I can't even think of a German word for "to rally."" mahnen?

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"mahnen" has a negative connotation and its meaning is similar to "admonish someone." "To rally," however, has a rather positive connotation, I believe. I have looked it up at Leo: Their users suggest to translate "to rally" with "mobilisieren" and "aufrütteln." I wonder how Obama wants to do that. It will be tough or impossible. After all, Germany does not just ignore to requests from President Bush ("evil war-mongering cowboy") to send combat troops to Southern Afghanistan, but we ignore the same requests from the Canadians ("peace-loving, civilian power with healthcare and no empirial or geostrategic interests").

Sue on :

Obama's lack of sophistication in foreign policy was evident in the YouTube Democratic debate, where he said that he would meet with any leader, even Chavez or Ahmaninejad, without conditions. Hillary Clinton jumped right on him and (correctly) argued that as POTUS, she would never allow herself to be used as a propaganda tool for dictators. I also highly doubt that US voters are going to thrill to the idea of doubling foreign aid to $50B when the predominant mood is becoming isolationist. No one really believes that we can end third world poverty. That's just as quixotic as trying to bring democracy to Iraq. Why do we have to be an example? Why can't we just mind our own business for a change?

Pat Patterson on :

After reading the Senator's piece, and the uncredited invocation of Michael Signer's article espousing "Exemplarism" I'm left with the impression, shared by many on the left (see comments in linked article) that this claim of a restoration or renewal or America's leadership is more of the same but this time by the really cool people. That wars, deficits and global unpopularity are called examples of exemplarism when performed by Democrats and called exceptionalism when performed by Republicans. [url][/url] You might have to register and then login to see the entire article and comments. On the one hand the Senator lauds Pres. Truman for interceding in the Greek Civil War but criticizes present US policy for doing the same thing in Iraq or simply ignoring Kennedy's role in supporting the continued and increasing US involvement in the supposed civil war in Vietnam. In all the 40 to 50 years of Apache, Commanche and Cherokee raids from Mexico into the US, not once did the US officially violate Mexico's sovereignty, but Senator Obama somehow sees that the road to a restoration of America's reputation as being built on threatening an ally, Pakistan. How exactly will even a limited raid into the Northwest Province accomplish anything other than label Pres. Mussharaf a Quisling or a malinchinisto. Plus, as Sue points out above, there is going to be a huge problem in paying for all these proposals. The $50 billion for a yearly increase in foreign aid will mean a decrease somewhere else. And the Senator's promise of at least the equivalent of 6 new divisions means another jump in spending of $10 to $13 billion a year and combined with the new foreign aid budget adding another 3% of the total budget. Increasing the deficit by another 25% from a Democratic controlled congress that has promised to balancing the budget as commanded by St. Rubin. Let the fireworks begin! "It was not that long ago..." that students and farmers in Venezuela rioted and tried to kill the Vice President of the US and that the Communist-infiltrated government of Sukarno in Indonesia accused the Peace Corps of plannng his overthrow and threw them out of the country. Mushy nostalgia for Kennedy only provides brief thrills for those who should know better and will probably end up getting some class valedictorian from Nebraska killed for some "good" cause in another godfrsaken part of the globe.

Sue on :


Andrew Yu-Jen Wang on :

Speaking of Barack Obama: Barack Obama is a racial-minority individual, and in his heart and mind he inevitably does not endorse hate crimes committed by George W. Bush. George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog). George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes. And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention. Many people know what Bush did. And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world. Bush was absolute evil. Bush is now like a fugitive from justice. Bush is a psychological prisoner. Bush has a lot to worry about. Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time. In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy. Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996 Messiah College, Grantham, PA Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993 “GEORGE W. BUSH IS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN U.S. HISTORY” BLOG OF ANDREW YU-JEN WANG ______________________ I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it is a linguistically excellent statement, and it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memories so they never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off the top of my head—I think the quotation came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

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