David Remnick’s The Bridge delivers fresh insights about Barack Obama’s personal and political odyssey -- particularly when it comes to understanding the degree to which Obama is a product of New England’s commitment to social and global reform.
Shortly after taking office, Obama traveled to Prague to lay out a vision of a world "free of nuclear weapons." Now the Pentagon has prepared a top-secret memo for the White House, and the president has to decide whether to maintain or shrink the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Now he must decide whether he will uphold the principles he once preached.
The Obama administration’s foreign policy has tried to reconcile the president’s lofty vision with his innate realism and political caution. And given the domestic and global situations Obama has faced, pragmatism has dominated. Judged by the standard of protecting U.S. interests, things have worked out quite well; judged by the standard of midwifing a new global order, they remain a work in progress.
In 64 BC, the great Roman lawyer and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for consul. His younger brother, Quintus, thought Marcus had a chance -- as long as he ran a good campaign. So Quintus wrote a detailed strategy memo laying out just what Marcus needed to do to win. It’s the best guide to electioneering you’ll ever read, presented here with a commentary by the legendary political consultant James Carville.
The morass in Iraq has made it immeasurably harder to confront and work through the many other problems in the region -- and it has made many of those problems considerably more dangerous. Changing the dynamic in Iraq will allow us to focus our attention and influence on resolving the festering conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- a task that the Bush administration neglected for years.
For more than three decades, Israelis, Palestinians, Arab leaders, and the rest of the world have looked to America to lead the effort to build the road to a lasting peace. In recent years, they have all too often looked in vain. Our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That commitment is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region -- a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah. Now more than ever, we must strive to secure a lasting settlement of the conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security. To do so, we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability. Sustained American leadership for peace and security will require patient effort and the personal commitment of the president of the United States. That is a commitment I will make.
Throughout the Middle East, we must harness American power to reinvigorate American diplomacy. Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power -- political, economic, and military -- could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria. Our policy of issuing threats and relying on intermediaries to curb Iran's nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and regional aggression is failing. Although we must not rule out using military force, we should not hesitate to talk directly to Iran. Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners. The world must work to stop Iran's uranium-enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. At the same time, we must show Iran -- and especially the Iranian people -- what could be gained from fundamental change: economic engagement, security assurances, and diplomatic relations. Diplomacy combined with pressure could also reorient Syria away from its radical agenda to a more moderate stance -- which could, in turn, help stabilize Iraq, isolate Iran, free Lebanon from Damascus' grip, and better secure Israel.
REVITALIZING THE MILITARY
To renew American leadership in the world, we must immediately begin working to revitalize our military. A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, according to our military leaders, are facing a crisis. The Pentagon cannot certify a single army unit within the United States as fully ready to respond in the event of a new crisis or emergency beyond Iraq; 88 percent of the National Guard is not ready to deploy overseas.
We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future. We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests. But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.
We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines. Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed. That means providing our servicemen and servicewomen with first-rate equipment, armor, incentives, and training -- including in foreign languages and other critical skills. Each major defense program should be reevaluated in light of current needs, gaps in the field, and likely future threat scenarios. Our military will have to rebuild some capabilities and transform others. At the same time, we need to commit sufficient funding to enable the National Guard to regain a state of readiness.
Enhancing our military will not be enough. As commander in chief, I would also use our armed forces wisely. When we send our men and women into harm's way, I will clearly define the mission, seek out the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and ensure that our troops have the resources and the support they need. I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened.
We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability -- to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities. But when we do use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others -- as President George H. W. Bush did when we led the effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. The consequences of forgetting that lesson in the context of the current conflict in Iraq have been grave.
HALTING THE SPREAD OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS