Samantha Power Makes Her Case to the Dems

28 07 2008

In a piece that read more like a campaign memo crammed into a book review, Samantha Power made an impassioned plea for Democrats in the New York Review of Books to “seize the advantage the polls show they could have on security issues” by “talking early and often about national security and going on the offensive by strongly presenting the foreign policy plans already devised, whether by members of Congress or by the Obama campaign.”

To Power, the Bush administration’s bungling of foreign policy and its support among Republicans in Congress has contributed to such profound public dissatisfaction with the GOP on security issues that the once unassailable advantage the GOP held over Democrats has virtually been erased, going from double digit leads, including among independents, to single digits.

But the Harvard professor and Pulitzer-prizing winning beauty says this does not mean that Democrats have more or less successfully neutralized that once edge the GOP had over them, and therefore should avoid discussing security issues because Americans have routinely said the war on terror consistently ranks low on their list of priorities. (Also see Pew poll)

To the contrary, Power argues, it presents a once in a generation opportunity to gain a better foothold in the voting public’s imagination about who is better equipped to deal with the worlds increasingly complex security and policy challenges. Power tells us:

Democrats can break with their reputation for squeamishness about national security issues by showing their ease and confidence in dealing with these topics. Instead of changing the subject when national security issues arise, they should look forward to taking part in detailed foreign policy discussions that allow them to show their new strength.

To be sure, Samantha Power does make a compelling argument in her piece. This election does present Democrats a unique opportunity to redefine themselves as the party of responsible and sober thinking on security matters and foreign affairs generally. But it should also be noted that Senator John McCain, despite wishing to be portrayed otherwise, is widely identified as a strong supporter of the more President Bush’s foreign policy, particularly the misadventure in Iraq, and still holds a substantial lead in the polls over Obama on terrorism and who would make a better commander-in-chief. In fact, according to an ABC News poll, only 48 percent of Americans said Obama would make a good C-in-C, whereas a whopping 72 percent said the same of McCain. And even most Democrats polled concede this point.

By the same token, the public seems split on Obama’s versus McCain’s approach to the war in Iraq, 43 percent each according to one Gallup poll. This suggests that the better political strategy here is to focus on how the war in Iraq is emblematic of the larger failures of Bush’s foreign policy, though not necessarily a reason to make national security one of the signature issues of the Obama campaign. Just because it jibes well with the McSame as Bush theme, does not mean Obama should talk about security issues at the expense of kitchen table issues. With 6.5 mortgages projected to fail during the next 3 years and gas at more than $4.00 a gallon, and a spike in unemployment numbers, this election will largely be decided by economic insecurity issues, and deservedly so. Of course, this does not preclude Members of Congress and other surrogates from stumping on security issues for Obama.

Curiously enough, despite Samantha Power’s impassioned appeal for Democrats to take the “offensive” and project “strength” on national security, her recommendations for achieving exactly that are almost entirely made up of soft power concerns. With the two notable exceptions of advocating for a reduction in nuclear weapons and championing long overdue benefits for service men and women, Power rattled off a list that included tackling global warming, promoting cooperation among nations, shutting down Gitmo, investing in the development of rule of international law especially in underdeveloped states. All of which are worthy goals worth promoting, but don’t necessarily project “strength.”

In fact, I was a bit surprised that Power did not emphasize the reduction of the proliferation nuclear arms, or growing the size the army or squelching conflict in failing and collapsing states before they sow the seeds of regional conflagration. All of which are issues she has discussed in detail while evangelizing for Obama before abruptly having to quit the campaign for an inartful comment about Senator Hillary Clinton in the wake of the Ohio and Texas primaries.

Oh how I miss seeing Samantha out there mixing it up with critics.




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