Reeling from a series of polls revealing a rapid slide in his popularity, Barack Obama struck back the way he knows best -- a stunning speech on the urgent need for a new course in US foreign policy.
Over the past month, major polling organizations have published the results of their surveys of the presidential contest. One month ago, Obama held what appeared to be a commanding lead over John McCain. However, since his victory over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Obama made a number of statements that appeared to alter his progressive profile with a decisive shift to the center of the American political spectrum. Obama's perceived shift to the center occurred immediately after his victory over Clinton in the final primary in Montana when he made several statements that clashed with his perceived image as a progressive 'change' candidate.
Fissures began to erupt in the progressive base after Obama made a controversial speech to AIPAC where he lavished praise on the US-Israel alliance so beloved by San Antonio's peculiar Pastor John Hagee. But Obama went much further and criticized Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, who has become a figure of derision throughout the Middle East where he is denounced as an American lackey. Then Obama called for a ban on building new Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, and he proposed the economic development of the West Bank as well as an "undivided" Jerusalem. Obama's speech caused jubilation in AIPAC, but it triggered an uproar on both sides of the security wall dividing Israel and the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas promptly stated that Obama's speech should be, "totally rejected." In the face of outrage in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Obama hastily clarified his position on the future of Jerusalem by stating that he was proposing a city sans barbed wire and artificial barriers restricting the movement of its citizens.
Later in June, Obama made more controversial statements supporting capital punishment in certain cases and court decisions that struck down local laws restricting gun ownership. Both of these newly defined positions caused frustration within Obama's strongest nucleus of support -- the progressive base. Growing disappointment in Obama's shift to the center spawned a wave of criticism in the netroots community. The blogosphere became the epicenter of a flood of criticism of Obama because of his shifting political profile. But worse was to come.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) complicated Obama's morphing image even further. While making statements decrying government powers to invade the private lives of citizens, Obama interpreted the FISA vote as a potentially fatal liability for his autumn campaign against McCain. Fearing a Republican reaction to a "Nay" vote on FISA, Obama voted for the bill, but he hedged his bet by issuing the nuance that he opposed its provisions for the immunity of telecom executives. Sadly, Obama's explanation fell flat reminding his supporters of John Kerry's hapless explanation of his position on the Iraq war and the eighty seven billion dollar appropriation that he had voted for it before voting against it. But the damage was done.
Obama's proposal for a limitation on immunity from prosecution was immediately characterized as a feeble gesture -- a mere sop to his progressive base. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer followed suit presenting a united Democratic front in support of FISA now ballyhooed as yet another vital anti-terrorist measure that would empower the president to order wiretaps on a breathtakingly broad scale. To her credit, Hillary Clinton voted against FISA turning the tables on Obama for the first time in the campaign.
Calculating the political odds on FISA Obama cast his lot with a cautious eye on his November showdown with McCain. Realizing the political nature of his FISA vote, the progressive blogosphere revolted and fought back against their candidate's perceived betrayal of his own principles. Thousands of irate Obama supporters invaded his campaign website opening up an onsite blog criticizing their candidate for his reversal on FISA. The rebellious blog grew exponentially overnight to become the largest group on his huge website with over 24,000 members.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere, a lengthening list of commentators offered salient advice to Obama that a political shift to the center would cause confusion amongst his supporters, damage his credibility, tarnish his image and place his character in jeopardy of a massive Republican onslaught against him as an exotic candidate who simply could not be trusted to perform on his gilt-edged promises.
Amidst the spiraling developments of June, Obama announced an international tour to showcase his vision for a new era of US foreign policy to be characterized by surges of diplomacy and redeployments of US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Then the gremlins struck. A cover of The New Yorker shocked America. Cartoonist Barry Blitt portrayed Michelle and Barack Obama regaled in costumes depicting all the fears of the information-deprived populations of America: Obama in an Islamic robe and turban fist-bumping Michelle armed with a Kalashnikov in the Oval Office where the American flag was burning in the fireplace and the First Couple were gazed upon by a portrait of Osama bin Laden hanging reverentially over the mantel. The comic firestorm dominated the news channels for an entire day reigniting fears of Obama as racially and religiously conflicted.
With the release of polls indicating a dramatic tightening of the race for the White House -- the Newsweek survey showed the gap closing from 15 points last month to a dead heat today -- Obama ascended the podium and delivered his speech, "A New Strategy for a New World." In his speech, Obama clearly defined the stark differences between himself and John McCain on the war in Iraq in particular and foreign policy in general. McCain is pro-war and pro-surge, while Obama is anti-war and anti-surge. While Obama's comments on Iraq were predictable, his speech went much further. Launching into a litany of missed opportunities, Obama recapitulated the costs to the US taxpayer of the war in Iraq.
Reminding his massive television audience that the Iraq War had cost the US taxpayers dearly, Obama cited seven priorities that had languished while Iraq burned. Obama stated that instead of fighting the needless war in Iraq, America could have
• Fought Al-Queda and captured Osama Bin Laden;
• Secured loose nuclear materials around the world;
• Invested hundreds of billions of dollars in alternative sources of energy to end US dependence on foreign oil;
• Launched a diplomatic surge to strengthen existing alliances and nurture new ones;
• Inaugurated a drive to expand public service in America via the military, the Peace Corps, teaching and law enforcement;
• Secured the American homeland by implementing useful security measures at ports, rails and power plants;
• Rebuilt America's crumbling infrastructure of roads and bridges while installing new broadband and electricity systems and making college more affordable.
To date, few details of Obama's global tour have been released. Next week Barack Obama will embark on his global tour of the Middle East and Europe. Obama's mission: to define ever more clearly to the American people what exactly he means by a new era for US foreign policy.
While Obama's itinerary is still cloaked in mystery, it is now known that he will visit the Middle East touching down in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel; the West Bank and Jordan before flying to Berlin, Paris and London. While Obama's itinerary reveals little about the content of his new vision for US engagement with the world, the announcement of a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does clarify his formal commitment to seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the Gordian knot ensnaring US foreign policy in its massive quagmire in the Middle East.
While many Americans believe that current US foreign policy is a broken system that has morphed into an imperial hubris where diplomatic pronouncements are issued by decree backed by threats of military aggression, Obama's campaign is predicated on delivering a totally new foreign policy in pursuit of a new global image of America as one member of a community of nations, perhaps, a first among equals -- but not a dictatorial superpower enforcing its whims with shock and awe.