Let’s allow ourselves to hope, or imagine, for a moment that Barack Obama’s second inaugural address opens the door to a new American foreign policy.
Certainly, his speech was not a foreign policy address, skimming lightly over the top of where he intends to lead the country. But in two crucial paragraphs, there was no saber rattling, and his praises of our troops and their courage, and of America’s battle against “fascism and communism,” seemed, to me at least, perfunctory. Instead, he spoke of peace, and he stressed that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” That, at the very least, is a slap in the face to George W. Bush and the neoconservatives, whose “Global War on Terror” was precisely “perpetual.”
And in a line that could be read as a signal to current adversaries, including Iran, Obama suggested that in the past, former enemies became “the surest of friends.” Here’s the text of that paragraph:
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
But it is the following paragraph that could be a harbinger of a sane, non-Pentagon-centered foreign policy, namely, one build on uplifting the economic security and peaceful well-being of people around the globe. He stressed that America will “try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully,” but he then added: “We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice—not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”
Is it possible to imagine an American foreign policy build on “human dignity and justice” across the globe? Here’s Obama’s full text:
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice—not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
That, to me, ought to be the absolute core of a new US foreign policy. Not finding small and medium-size enemies, whether impoverished nations such as Iran or mini-threats such as the Algeria-Mali Islamists, and by attacking them creating big ones; not by riling up gigantic rivals such as China by “pivoting” toward Asia and the Pacific with our air force and navy. Instead, by organizing the world’s attention on urgent needs, such as clean drinking water, vaccination, healthcare clinics, sustainable economic growth, and other achievable goals that, according to countless analysts, could be bought and paid for worldwide at just a fraction of what we now spend on what we euphemistically call “defense.”