Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obama Reads Fallows

Coverage of Obama's foreign policy speech has largely focused on a single passing hypothetical in which he suggests the possibility of military action in Pakistan. Which is unfortunate, because I think it's an excellent speech, reframing the issue of terrorism in exactly right way, and it deserves to be judged on its merits as a whole rather than by the one minor point.

(And about that point, the Pakistan thing, I'm certainly wary; I can envision a case in which that might become necessary, but Matt Yglesias is correct in observing that the devil is in the details.)

One passage in particular stood out for me:

Bin Ladin and his allies know they cannot defeat us on the field of battle or in a genuine battle of ideas. But they can provoke the reaction we’ve seen in Iraq: a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies, ties down our military, busts our budgets, increases the pool of terrorist recruits, alienates America, gives democracy a bad name, and prompts the American people to question our engagement in the world. [emphasis added]
Which, of course, recalls the James Fallows piece from last September:
“It is not the people al-Qaeda might kill that is the threat,” [David Kilcullen] concluded. "Our reaction is what can cause the damage. It’s al-Qaeda plus our response that creates the existential danger.” [emphasis added]
What this tells me is that Obama gets it. The whole speech is about decoupling the issues of Iraq and al Qaeda, and moving toward a smarter, saner, approach to dealing with the latter. (As Ben Smith observes, there are none of "the buzzwords of those who see a global conflict between the West and a specifically Muslim insurgency.") Experience has value, but so does an ability to understand what the real issues are. If Obama is borrowing from James Fallows, it suggests to me that he has that grasp, and would pursue a generally sensible foreign policy.