Reengaging With Chimeras: John Edwards Outlines Foreign Policy Priorities

Having made fighting poverty a central theme of his presidential campaign, John Edwards is constantly fending off accusations of being inexperienced in other issues, particularly, in foreign policy. 

His first worthy to remember contribution in this area had been the Senate vote authorizing the war in Iraq, something he later apologized for.  After admitting the “mistake”, Edwards has become a tireless critic of the President Bush’s prosecution of the “war on terror.”

In March 2006, Edwards co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations task force on Russia.  The task force had issued a report, solemnly titled “Russia’s Wrong Direction”, which suggested replacing "strategic partnership" between United States and Russia with “selective cooperation” in crucial areas, such as nuclear nonproliferation, energy security, and Iran.  There was no reason to believe that Edwards had contributed to the project in any meaningful way.  Rather, his comments accompanying the release of the report suggested that the co-chairmanship was a classic example of political sinecure.

Last May, Edwards used the the CFR podium again to outline his foreign policy priorities.  A polished version of the same has been published – under the title “Reengaging with the World” — in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs.

There is a number of general claims on which one would easily agree with Edwards, especially in his criticism of the Bush administration:

The ‘war on terror’ has failed.  Instead of making the United States safer, it has spawned even more terrorism … and left us with fewer allies.

Edwards definitely has a point in saying that in the future, major challenges will come from non-state actors, including terrorist groups, and "… weak and failing states." 

And it’s obviously difficult to object to the following:

We need to refocus our national security policy on the mission of protecting Americans from twenty-first-century threats rather than pursuing discredited ideological agendas.  What we need is not more slogans but a comprehensive strategy to respond to terrorism and prevent it from taking root.

It’s not general statements, however, but, rather, specific proposals that sow seeds of doubt about Edwards’ ability to understand the world’s problems and their solutions.

For example, Edwards advocates more active NATO involvement in Sudan and stops quite short of suggesting a direct military intervention.  Fine.  But why does Edwards believe that failing in Afghanistan NATO will be more successful in Sudan?  Why the outcome of such involvement will be different from the disaster the NATO-driven "coalition of the willing" has experienced in Iraq? 

No answers to these questions.

Another idea promoted by Edwards is to establish a "Marshall Corps", a 10,000-strong hybrid between the Peace Corps and the military reserve, whose function would be providing humanitarian/reconstruction/stabilization missions abroad.  Interesting.  But where in the U.S. is Edwards going to find 10,000 people with language and cultural skills capable to fulfill such a difficult task?  In the State Department?  Pentagon?  CIA?

No answer to this question.

Speaking of Russia, Edwards — an expert on Russia as he considers himself now! –mentors that the United States’ "most important goal is to draw Russia into the Western political mainstream through continued engagement and, when necessary, diplomatic and economic pressure."  Very impressive.  But what type of the "Western political mainstream" does Edwards want Russia to belong to precisely?   What kind of "diplomatic and economic pressure" will Edwards the president be able to apply to increasingly confident Russia?  (And when will it be "necessary" to do so?).

No answers to these questions.

As for a hammer for whom everything is a nail, for a Democratic candidate Edwards, everything is a matter of spending  more money. 

For a reasonably short article, Edwards presents an impressive list of projects he’d spend more money on, including  doubling the budget for Army recruitment and increased spending on health care for active duty servicemen and Army veterans.

Sure enough, Edwards would also buttress the American aid to poor countries, focusing — what an attention to detail! — on clean-water programs, preventive care, and vaccination.  More specifically, he’d allocate about $3 billion annually — through the U.S. Agency for International Development — to the educational programs targeted at "poor children in countries with a history of violent extremism."  Moreover, he is promising to "pursue reform of the school system in developing countries, working to eliminate school fees … investing in teacher education, classroom expansion, and teaching material."

Given the U.S. spending of about $9 billion per month on the war in Iraq alone, Edwards’ future foreign aid expenses may look like peanuts.  But why on earth the American president should get involved in determining the school fees and the class size in poor countries?

But if in his specific proposals Edwards presents himself as a classic tax-and-spend Democrat, in his "foreign-affair" philosophy he sounds — quite surprisingly — as a typical Republican-style neocon.  Listen to this:

"We must do everything in our power to reclaim the United States’ historic role as a beacon for the world and become, once again, a shining example for other nations to follow."

A "beacon for the world"?  "A shining example for other nations"?  Is Edwards a hidden Reaganophil dreaming of a "shining city on the Hill"?

With his promises to "restore America’s reputation for moral leadership", Edwards is completely out of touch with reality and with real challenges facing America.  He doesn’t get even close to "Reengaging With the (Real) World."  On the contrary: very much like his archenemy George W. Bush, Edwards is reengaging with chimeras. 



About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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