Thursday 20 March 2008

On being a Eustonian Obama supporter

Norm has come out as an Obama supporter - 'in a quiet sort of way.' But among the blogs that I read regularly and tend to agree with - those that can be characterised very broadly as liberal, anti-totalitarian and centrist (or 'decently' to the left or right of centre) - opinion is divided about the Democratic Senator from Illinois. 

Andrew Sullivan, of course, has long been a cheerleader for Barack. Roland at 'But, I am a Liberal!' tends to favour McCain, Snarksmith is ambivalent, and The Contentious Centrist is among those who are wary of Obama, particularly with regard to his positions on the Middle East.

Regular visitors to this blog will be aware that I'm rooting for Obama. But I've often asked myself how somebody with my Eustonian beliefs can be so enthusiastic about a candidate who has adopted foreign policy positions that I've opposed when voiced by others: specifically, advocating dialogue with the Iranian regime and immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

It's partly that these positions of Obama's appear to have been arrived at after thoughtful reflection on what's best for America and the world, rather than being the usual sloganising of the anti-war movement. And far from being naive, they seem balanced by a tough-minded awareness of the threat we're up against: hence his repeated criticism of the Iraq war as a distraction from fighting the real enemy - al Qaeda, in Afghanistan.

I do wish, however, that he would begin to move beyond his stump-speech condemnation of a war that should 'never have been approved and never have been waged', important though it has been in contrasting his powers of judgement with those of Clinton and McCain. We are where we are, and anyone hoping to take over the reins of office in November will need to have a more nuanced plan for Iraq than simply getting out as soon as possible. McCain's support for continuing with a troop surge that appears to be having some success may be viewed as the more responsible position come the autumn. If I were Barack's advisors, I'd be planning some set-piece speeches about his detailed foreign policy plans fairly soon - just as I'd be recommending that he demonstrates an understanding of the current economic crisis and what needs to be done to remedy it (an area in which McCain seems less surefooted). 

Perhaps one reason why Eustonians like me warm to Barack, despite disagreement on some of the details, is that we tend to be strongly pro-American and Obama seems to embody much of what's best in America and in its progressive tradition. What's more, he offers the possibility of restoring America's image in the world, after a period in which the inept Bush-Cheney regime has dragged that image through the mud. Electing Barack Obama as president would send a powerful signal to a world that has fallen out of love with the US, and do much to dampen the sneering anti-Americanism that is such a poison in Europe and elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

I’ll leave my personal criticisms aside for the moment and try to focus on the “Eustonian” angle.

From my understanding, the core of the politics of the Euston Manifesto on an international level is rigorous anti-totalitarianism, including a willingness to use force. That certainly does not mean all signatories were (or are) supporters of the Iraq War. However, Obama’s internationalism seems to me much more akin to Jimmy Carter than Henry Jackson. He might be talking tough about Afghanistan and Al Queda right now but he has an extremely dovish record and is proud for being identified as “the most liberal” senator. I don’t need to tell you that in the U.S., that means the most left leaning senator. A large measure of his support among white voters comes from the anti-interventionist wing of the Democratic Party. Obama’s international advisors are also troublesome.

In short I see Obama’s politics as being if not against the Euston Manifesto, at least ambivalent. I am interested in your reply.

Roland Dodds said...

Obama will occasionally go into moral interventionist mode (as do his advisors, like Samantha Powers, who wrote “A Problem from Hell”). I unfortunately see their interventionist policy a continuation of the Clinton program. A lot of lip service is given to acting in a moral and just way worldwide, and so intervention in Darfur and Rawanda are trumpeted, but these same folks are the ones who argue (like Powers does in her books) that the cost must be minimal or the same force will be drawn out of harms way, even if it hurts the people we were initially trying to save.

America’s response to Somalia is the perfect representation of Clinton/Powers/Obama interventionist policy. A tragedy is at hand, troops are sent in to help, some troops are killed, and we pull out. It’s the kind of moralizing that allows one to be disgusted by Darfur (or anywhere for that matter) on the campaign trail, but with the very understanding that we will never be asked to do anything serious about it.

Martin said...

Thanks for the comment. I can only repeat what I said in the original post. I'm aware of the contradictions involved in supporting Obama but disagreeing with him on some of the details. As I said before, I suppose it's that I trust his judgement and intentions. It's difficult for non-Americans to judge, of course, but Obama's rhetoric seems a world away from the naive old leftism of Carter et al. Doesnt he reach out to moderate Republicans and independents in a way that the Carters, Deans, et al never could? As I also said before, I'm not uncritical of Obama, especially on foreign policy, and long for him to demonstrate a much more nuanced position on Iraq and Iran, for example.
I'm hoping this will happen if and when he debates McCain.

I won't be blogging much for a little while - but would be glad to carry on this debate.

All best wishes

Martin said...

Hi Roland
The reply above was to the New Centrist's comment. I'll have to think about your comment - and maybe read Samantha Powers - and reply to you when I get back from my brief holiday.
Best wishes

Roland Dodds said...

Hey Martin, I do think there are reasons to support Obama, and you definitely aren’t the only Eustonian supporting him (Gene from Harry’s Place comes to mind), and he may very well transform himself into a staunch internationalist. I have my doubts, but he needs to set the record straight on where he stands, but I don’t foresee him doing that this election.

Obama’s major problem is that he hasn’t been responsible for enough legislation, and has not been involved in the foreign policy debate on the national level for very long. That’s why when Powers or Wright makes a gaff, we pay attention to it because we have to use the information we have to judge what his thoughts really are. McCain has been around for a good long while, and knowing where he stands on most issues is pretty easy to do.

Anonymous said...

"It's difficult for non-Americans to judge, of course, but Obama's rhetoric seems a world away from the naive old leftism of Carter et al. Doesnt he reach out to moderate Republicans and independents in a way that the Carters, Deans, et al never could?"

Rhetorically, yes. Obama talks a lot about being a moderate and his potential to bridge the gaps between liberals and conservatives. However, when it comes to actual policies and votes, he has the most liberal record of any Democrat in Congress. That's why I made the comparison to Carter. If Obama were really a centrist or moderate his votes would diverge at least a bit from the liberal line.

McCain, by contrast, has voted for (immigration reform) and against (tax) policies that conservatives hold very dear. That's why so many of the conservative talk-radio personalities can't stand him, they consider him a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

BTW when Dean was governor of Vermont he had a reputation as a centrist, pushing for balanced budgets, lowering taxes and receiving endorsements from the National Rifle Association several times.

For the record, my preference was Clinton in the Democratic field and McCain or Giuliani among the Republicans. As a NYer I was really hoping for a contest between Rudy and Hilary. That would have been brutal. She beat him badly in the contest for senator but I am not sos sure how things would have turned out in a presidential contest. If it comes down to Obama vs. McCain, I'll definitely be voting for McCain.

It would be interesting if there was a survey/poll of Euston Manifesto signatories to quantify the support for the various candidates. Just glancing around the Internet it seems that Obama has more (Euston) supporters in the U.K. (yourself, Norm, Gene at HP, etc.) than in North America where many of us are much more critical of him. The main Eustonite voice in the U.S. who supports Obama is TNR's Martin Peretz. I'm not aware of any others off the top of my head.

Have a nice vacation!