Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Obama on Foreign Policy

He said:
I would like somebody [as a running mate] who knows about a bunch of stuff that I’m not as expert on, I think a lot of people assume that might be some sort of military thing to make me look more Commander-in-Chief-like. Ironically, this is an area–foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.

It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags ‘I’ve met leaders from eighty countries’–I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then–you go.

You do that in eighty countries–you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important–what I know is the people. . . .

I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college–I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . .
Zuzu thinks this is both ridiculous and a sexist dogwhistle:
1) He lived in Indonesia from the ages of 6 to 10, 40 years ago. I lived in New Jersey from birth to age 13. Can I be governor when Corzine leaves office? 2) As I discussed in comments to this post, dismissing the diplomacy that Clinton did as “having tea” or being “just a wife” or doing no more than watching “children do native dance” is sexist, because it diminishes the role of women in diplomacy and it ignores the fact that a lot of diplomacy is, in fact, simple schmoozing.

I don't think it makes as much sense to read these comments in the context of the Obama campaign's sexist dogwhistles—of which it certainly has a history—as it does to read these comments in the context of their mistrust-of-Washington dogwhistles, on which Auguste wrote a great post yesterday. For one, unlike "having tea" or "being a wife," Obama's description of diplomacy isn't really a gendered one. In fact, he says he's been on those trips, in that role, himself. Sure, he downplays Clinton's experience in foreign policy, but there has to be a way to do that without being the same as those who say "Clinton is unfit to be Commander-in Chief because she's a woman." Instead, I think Obama argues that the kind of experience we have conventionally valued in foreign policy isn't the kind we should value in this election. He argues that interacting exclusively with the global elite won't help solve the problems of the global poor. He argues that he can step outside of our clearly broken system of interacting with the world by virtue of his lack of conventional experience. Those are all fairly compelling arguments in light of a Bush administration that was both profoundly experienced and profoundly misguided. Diplomacy may be simply schmoozing, but doing foreign policy means more than seeing the world through the lens of the policy-making elite. Obama means, I think, to point out that his set of foreign experience helps him look outside that lens better than McCain or Clinton could.

No comments: