And his ability to invigorate interest in the political process is undeniable.
However, despite his opposition to the invasion of Iraq--the sole lynchpin of his foreign policy credentials--Senator Obama's record and rhetoric about dealing with the rest of the world are not such that inspire confidence.
From a press release by the Green Party quoted on Third Party Watch:
In a speech last week before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Sen. Obama said, “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything.” The speech confirmed Sen. Obama’s earlier claim that the Iranian government is “a threat to all of us” and “we should take no option, including military action, off the table.”
“Barack Obama’s language implies that, instead of repudiating the neo-con doctrine of ‘preemptive’ invasion, he may be ready to endorse a US attack on Iran for the same reason the Bush White House is making such threats,” said Candace Caveny, Michigan Green Party candidate for Congress (10th District).
“It also shows that Sen. Obama has swallowed the Bush-Cheney line about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, when Iran has said over and over it seeks nuclear power solely for peaceful purposes. President Bush—and Sen. Obama, apparently—are ignoring the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, and have concocted a scenario in which Iran is about to manufacture nuclear bombs and drop them on Israel. The irony is that Israel—not Iran—possesses a nuclear arsenal,” said Ms. Caveny.
Greens noted that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who also spoke before AIPAC last week, seeks US support in preparing for an assault on Iran. Mr. Olmert called not only for sanctions but for “more drastic and robust measures” against Iran.
Contrast this, please, to the statement on Iran by Libertarian Presidential candidate Bob Barr that I quoted yesterday.
And just in case you think this is a parochial response, consider the reaction in the Middle East to Senator Obama's rhetoric, as reported in Al Jazeera:
Arab leaders have reacted with anger and disbelief to an intensely pro-Israeli speech delivered by Barack Obama, the US Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.
Obama told the influential annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Council (Aipac): "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."
His comments appalled Palestinians who see occupied East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera on Thursday: "This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 ... he has given ammunition to extremists across the region".
"What really disppoints me is that someone like Barack Obama, who runs a campaign on the theme of change - when it comes to Aipac and what's needed to be said differently about the Palestinian state, he fails."
"I say to Obama ... please stop being more Israeli than the Israelis themselves, leave the Israelis and Palestinians alone to make decisions required for peace."
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, rejected the statement, saying: "We will not accept an independent Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital.
"I believe that case is clear."
He said: "Jerusalem is part of the six points that are subjects on the negotiations' agenda.
"And the whole world knows that East Jerusalem, Arab Jerusalem and Holy Jerusalem were occupied in 1967."
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, the largest Palestinian resistance group, also condemned the speech, saying on Thursday: "These statements slash any hope of any change in the American foreign policy.
"[They] assure that there is a total agreement between the two parties, the Democratic and the Republican, on support for the Israeli occupation at the expense of the rights of Arabs and Palestinian interests."
Read that last sentence again. Embarrassing as it is to find this pointed out by Hamas, there is no discernible difference between the major military and foreign policy positions of Barack Obama and John McCain once you get past Iraq.
Why are we getting this Dubya-like rhetoric from Barack Obama? In Ohio he courted the labor union vote by bashing NAFTA (while allowing campaign officials to visit Canada and say, "Oh no, we didn't mean it"); now, possibly reacting to the existence of groups like Jews Against Obama, he's pandering for votes again.
And, yes, pandering is what this is. Moreover, it's pandering with American foreign policy on the world stage.
Saying so does not mean I'm trashing Obama. It means that I'm raising substantive issues about Obama's policy positions.
His policy position on Jerusalem as Israel's capital is even more perplexing, as it far more dogmatically pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian that any administration in the past thirty years. Here's the rundown on Reagan through Clinton by the Foundation for Middle East Peace (which is--truth in advertising--pro-Palestinian, but generally respected):
Ronald Reagan noted in 1982 that, "we remain convinced that Jerusalem must remain undivided, but its final status should be decided through negotiations." And in 1984 he stopped a move to relocate the embassy by threatening to veto proposed legislation that would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Such opposition was not meant to favor Arab claims to the city, however. Alexander Haig, Reagan's first secretary of state, declared the establishment of Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem to be "unacceptable."
President George Bush's policies were more publicly critical of Israel's settlement policies in the city than were Reagan's. Yet, Secretary of State James Baker conceded that, "Jews and others can live anywhere, in the western or eastern parts of the city, which will remain undivided."
During the Clinton administration, opposition to Israel's land confiscation and settlement activities in East Jerusalem has waned to the point of indifference. It has even gone so far as to refuse to characterize continuing settlement construction in East Jerusalem as a unilateral action of the kind that all previous administrations have opposed as a matter of principle.
The unfortunate truth is this: Senator Barack Obama is such a novice in terms of foreign policy at the highest level that on this issue he is virtually captive to his advisors--even as much as Dubya has been captive to Dick Cheney.
Please do not read this as an endorsement of Senator McCain, either. I've already repudiated his foreign policy statements on multiple occasions.
The problem is this: Americans still believe that the President's number one job involves our national security and our role on the world state, and in 2008 BOTH the Democratic and Republic parties have failed us in this regard with the menu of candidates from which we are expected to choose.