09/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Democrats' Broad View of Security Unreflected In Campaign Rhetoric

DENVER -- The foreign policy forums around the convention yesterday bore only scant resemblance to the foreign policy remarks from the podium last night.

At events sponsored by NDN, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the International Leaders forum, scholars, elected officials, and activists hit over and over the themes of "interdependence," "cooperation," and "investment." They talked about China, Africa, and the huge economic shifts that are going to take place. Currently, the U.S. has two-thirds of the world's wealth; by 2015, it will have only one-third, projected one economist.

But if one were only to listen to Biden, whose status as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lends him the international cred many are saying the Obama campaign needs, you would think the U.S. interests abroad were confined only to Iraq. Biden's biggest foreign policy issue--a theme Obama has also hammered--seems to be whether we should have troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This must be maddening to Representative Adam Smith of Washington, for instance, who pointed out that one of the smartest ways the U.S. could shore up its security would be to combat world poverty. "If locals are happy about what's being provided, they're less likely to join an insurgency," he said.

The theme of development as a means to security was reiterated so many times, I lost track of who said it where -- although Madeleine Albright, who tottered from event to event in an unlikely pair of black patent stiletto sling backs, was one of the champions of the idea. "The gap between rich and poor people in the world is growing," she said at the Forum on Global Poverty. "The marginalization of huge numbers of people is what creates instability."

Beyond deploying the U.S. Army, the non-prime-time-TV-speaking Democrats suggested investing in health, education, and economic opportunities (including access to our markets) in other countries, especially developing countries in Asia and Africa. (Surprisingly, I heard little about Latin America.) People in Africa are among those that still hold the U.S. in high esteem, one panelist observed, but too often we try to impose our methods. "These people know how to fish," he said. "What they need is a pond to fish in."

Be that as it may, the Democratic leadership doesn't seem to be getting the message -- or at least not spreading the message to the public. Foreign policy can be talked about in terms of diplomacy, development, and defense, one moderator observed. Most Americans would prefer to have more invested in diplomacy and development, she said.

Last night at Biden's speech, I heard almost exclusively defense.