Sunday, September 28, 2008

"The difference between a tactic and a strategy..."

James Fallows notes that while McCain claimed in Friday's debate that "Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy," it's Obama who's run the more strategically savvy campaign. Fallows might have added that Obama also take a more strategic approach to fashioning policy.

Hard as it is to fathom in our celebrity-death-match political arena, Obama has got as far as he has because alone of all the candidates in both parties, he has consistently explained how his proposed domestic and foreign policies advance clearly-articulated goals -- in other words, how they advance a strategy.
Domestically, Obama's core goal is to reverse the last thirty years' rise in income inequality and risk transfer. The key tools: shift the tax burden, put a workable plan for universal healthcare in place, and jump start an alternative energy industry. Politically, the strategy is to cast this agenda as a return to core American values of shared prosperity and fairness -- to move the political center back to the left after a thirty years' rightward lurch.

In contrast, McCain's all-tactics-no-strategy orientation is extreme on the domestic front. What could be more absurd than to obsess about cutting out earmarks as a panacea for our economic ills? That's like coping with a ballooning jumbo mortgage by giving up your HBO subscription.

In foreign affairs, Obama's simplest and most-reiterated strategic point is that Iraq is not "the central front in the war on terror" -- Afghanistan/Pakistan is. More broadly, it's to a) return to realist diplomatic engagement and b) work on multiple fronts to boost the U.S. soft power arsenal.

That last is hard to deliver on. But Obama understands the magnitude and dimensions of the challenge. In March, he gave a remarkable speech, far too little noticed, that laid out, as he did in the debate Friday, the full range of strategic costs of our entanglement in Iraq -- but also articulated, as he didn't do on Friday, the interconnectedness of foreign and domestic policy:

In addition to freeing up resources to take the fight to al Qaeda, ending the war in Iraq will allow us to more effectively confront other threats in the world - threats that cannot be conquered with an occupying army or dispatched with a single decision in the middle of the night. What lies in the heart of a child in Pakistan matters as much as the airplanes we sell her government. What's in the head of a scientist from Russia can be as lethal as a plutonium reactor in Yongbyon. What's whispered in refugee camps in Chad can be as dangerous as a dictator's bluster. These are the neglected landscapes of the 21st century, where technology and extremism empower individuals just as they give governments the ability to repress them; where the ancient divides of region and religion wash into the swift currents of globalization.

Without American leadership, these threats will fester. With strong American leadership, we can shape them into opportunities to protect our common security and advance our common humanity – for it has always been the genius of American leadership to find opportunity embedded in adversity; to focus on a source of fear, and confront it with hope.

Here are just five ways in which a shift in strategy away from Iraq will help us address the critical challenges of the 21st century.

First, in addressing global terror and violent extremism, we need the kind of comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy I called for last August. We need to strengthen security partnerships to take out terrorist networks, while investing in education and opportunity. We need to give our national security agencies the tools they need, while restoring the adherence to rule of law that helps us win the battle for hearts and minds. This means closing Guantanamo, restoring habeas corpus, and respecting civil liberties. And we need to support the forces of moderation in the Islamic world, so that alliances of convenience mature into friendships of conviction.

Second, the threat of nuclear proliferation must serve as a call to action. I have worked across the aisle with Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel in the Senate to secure dangerous weapons and loose nuclear materials. And as President, I will secure all loose nuclear materials around the world in my first term, seek deep cuts in global nuclear arsenals, strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and once more seek a world without nuclear weapons.

Third, the danger of weak and failed states risks spreading poverty and refugees; genocide and disease. Now is the time to meet the goal of cutting extreme poverty in half, in part by doubling our foreign assistance while demanding more from those who receive it. And now is the time to build the capacity of regional partners in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and the reconstruction of ravaged societies.

Fourth, the catastrophic consequences of the global climate crisis are matched by the promise of collective action. Now is the time for America to lead, because if we take action, others will act as well. Through our own cap and trade system and investments in new sources of energy, we can end our dependence on foreign oil and gas, and free ourselves from the tyranny of oil-rich states from Saudi Arabia to Russia to Venezuela. We can create millions of new jobs here in America. And we can secure our planet for our children and grandchildren.

And fifth, America's sluggish economy risks ceding our economic prominence to a rising China. Competition has always been a catalyst for American innovation, and now should be no different. We must invest in the education of our children, renew our leadership in science, and advance trade that is not just free, but fair for our workers. We must ensure that America is the economic engine in the 21st century just as we were in the 20th.

And what about McCain? What's his foreign policy strategy? Obama caught it on Friday:

We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world becauuse we have viewed everything through this single lens....

The "single lens" in this context was Iraq. But the mindset that made McCain a cheerleader for the Iraq expedition is also a "single lens". For McCain, every conflict and stress point has the same cast of characters: Hitler (Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il, Saddam, Milosevic), Chamberlain (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, even, in a muted allusion re North Korea, George W.), and Churchill (McCain). McCain is almost as Manichean as W. -- maybe, by this point, more so.

Which brings us back full cycle to campaign strategy. McCain belittles and insults Obama as he belittled and insulted Romney (who deserved it), and Bill Clinton, and doubtless the various rivals he's defeated in his own political career. The narrative is hero vs. venal mortals, Country First vs. Me First. The irony, of course, is that Mr. Country First is at the center of every narrative.

1 comment:

  1. What a well written and well thought out post. Thank you.