FP at the DNC: what did you think of Obama's speech?
Democrats are typically known for running scared from foreign policy, especially in a hotly contested election. In 2012, however, it was Mitt Romney who held back on global affairs in his convention speech, while Barack Obama had a bit more to say.
In the midst of a heated debate about cutting the deficit and reducing the bloated Pentagon budget, President Obama hit on a message we have been hammering for years:
And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.
Bringing balance to the federal budget, so that wasteful military programs aren’t eating up money that could be spent to improve our lives and help our most vulnerable, needs to be a top priority. You made that priority clear in voting overwhelmingly to pressure the candidates to address this very issue at the conventions. Thank you to the thousands of you who took action.
While the Obama administration has stopped requesting money for some wasteful weapon systems (to the chagrin of many in Congress who keep throwing money at them), the budget plans he has put forth thus far would also increase military spending every year. It’s a far cry from Romney’s ludicrous plan to hit more than $800 billion in military spending by the end of the next decade, but it is still merely slowing the rate of growth of the bloated military budget rather than seriously reining it in.
With a deal to avert automatic spending cuts pending, we need to act to get President Obama, the Democratic Party, and Republican budget hawks to walk the walk.
President Obama also reiterated his plan to end the war in Afghanistan:
We’ve blunted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014, our longest war will be over…My opponent said it was “tragic” to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. I have, and I will.
The problem, of course, is that he hasn’t. This point is (deliberately) confusing, and not just to some voters—the media seems a bit unclear on this as well. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, President Obama has not delivered a clear plan to end the war.
At the end of this month, the 33,000 surge troops will come home from Afghanistan, leaving 68,000 troops on the ground. That means Obama’s first term will end with double the number of troops in the country as when he was inaugurated. He has yet to offer details on the withdrawals between now and 2014, other than saying they will continue at a “steady pace.” There are contradictory signals coming from the military, however, and House Republicans codified language supporting a plan to plateau at 68,000 troops for the next 2 years in their version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The other major issue is that the administration clearly intends to have troops on the ground after 2014. Can you say a war is over when there are 10,000-20,000 troops leaving their families behind to serve in Afghanistan? Again, we don’t have details on troop levels or timeline, but the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership agreement leaves the door open to troops on the ground until 2024. The next step will be to negotiate a detailed Status of Forces Agreement, which will dictate conditions for a US military presence and troop numbers. While the SOFA ultimately led to complete withdrawal from Iraq, it will take serious pressure to get the same result from an Afghanistan SOFA.
President Obama’s aggressive promotion of a plan to end the war in Afghanistan is a testament to the mobilization of activists around the country who have helped shift the political climate on Afghanistan drastically over the last few years, and allies in Congress who have kept the drumbeat going (as Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) pointed out at the convention). Now we have to show that we are still paying attention to this issue and keep pushing for all of our troops to come home.
Democratic timidity around foreign policy issues has been one impediment to making progress on the pro-peace agenda, so seeing the party embrace leadership in this realm can be a positive step forward. That’s especially true when part of that strong leadership is embodied in rhetoric about ending wars and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
It’s unfortunate, however, that it also means embracing much of the war on terror rhetoric and the devastating policies that go along with it. Foreign Policy magazine tracked Osama bin Laden references at the DNC, and found 21 (20 more than at the RNC). The most notable was probably Sen. John Kerry’s “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off than he was four years ago,” to my mind a nauseating line that could have been delivered in a bad action movie, evoking some of the beer-chugging celebrations that greeted bin Laden’s demise.
President Obama said in his speech, “I promised to refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11. We have.” This supposed laser focus on terrorists, however, has swept up a lot of innocents in its wake. As Micah Zenko notes when commenting on criteria the administration supposedly uses for drone strikes, “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.”
We need to continue to push for an embrace of foreign policy leadership that leaves behind the tragic and misguided war on terror. As Spencer Ackerman notes on the Danger Room blog, the speech lacked a vision for future engagement in global affairs. How exciting would it be to hear the president articulate a foreign policy vision based on cooperation, diplomacy, and shrinking our military budget to actually be relevant to the threats we face?
The next president will make crucial decisions on everything from nuclear weapons to Afghanistan to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. The conventions gave us a small glimpse into their thinking. Next we have a series of debates that will force the candidates to go more in-depth. No matter what, we know we will always be called to mobilize and keep pushing for a better and smarter foreign policy.
What did you think of President Obama’s statements on foreign policy in last night’s speech? Let us know in the comments.