WE DO HOPE SO – AT 8:15 A.M. ET: It's hard to be optimistic about Barack Obama. He has let us down in so many ways, and his foreign policy has been a public embarrassment. But now Robert Kagan, in the Washington Post, sees hope on the foreign front. We don't necessarily agree with this analysis, but it's worth examining. Tell us what you think:
Almost two years into the Obama presidency, there is a discernible shift in the administration's foreign policy.
Prove it, baby, prove it.
This is speculation, of course. But evidence of a shift abounds.
-- Allies are back. Compare Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations to the one she gave there last summer. Her 2009 speech sounded like an international relations professor's fantasy: She talked about using "smart power" to solve "collective action problems" in a "multi-partner world." While emphasizing relations with Russia, China, Brazil and other "emerging powers," she brushed past the old democratic allies in one lifeless paragraph. This year, the IR lingo is gone; Russia and China were singled out as much for being "authoritarian states" as for their cooperation. And Clinton devoted 10 paragraphs to extolling better relations with "our closest allies, the nations that share our most fundamental values and interests" in Europe, North America and Asia.
-- Democracy is back. A year ago, who would have believed that Obama would devote almost a third of his speech at the United Nations to democracy or use language such as "liberty" and "tyranny"? Apparently, the Bush stink is off the word "democracy." Clinton, too, has elevated democracy to a primary objective. In Krakow in July, she criticized authoritarian states that were "slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit," singling out China, Russia and Egypt.
-- America is back. A year ago, the talk was of the post-American world. Obama seemed to be the post-American president, resigned to doing the best he could with the bad hand he'd been dealt. Today, officials exude more optimism. Clinton talks of "a new American moment" and, in words that might have been called arrogant a few years ago, believes "the world is counting on us" for "global leadership."
Under the circumstances, old democratic allies in Asia and Europe look like a better foundation on which to build U.S. policy. Democracy looks like a better answer to many of the world's problems than authoritarianism. And American leadership looks like a better option than a consortium with authoritarian great powers. Get ready for Phase Two.
COMMENT: Now, this is quite a broad analysis, and we'll have to wait for some real proof, some actions, rather than words.
Will Obama, facing increasing conservative power in the next Congress, be able to free himself from the left wing of the Democratic Party? Does he want to? As he looks to 2012, will he see his political salvation in a move to the center? Many leaders, once they win election and take office, are confronted with dire intelligence reports and the realities of a hard world. Has Obama been affected?
One indicator this week may be Obama's relatively mild reaction to Israel's refusal to extend the moratorium on building on the occupied West Bank. Last year we would have expected bluster and table pounding. This time we got some thoughtful, ongoing diplomacy.
And...most intriguing, please notice the name of Hillary Clinton in Kagan's analysis. What exactly is her role? Is she trying to forge an independent policy in preparation for her own run for the presidency?
Politics is never dull.
Kagan's analysis is fascinating, and there'll be a lot of reaction across the internet.
October 1, 2010