|Photo by Michael Czerwonka/EPA/Corbis|
For many Democratic insiders, the seemingly endless primary season has become a sore subject; they believe the length of the contest will hurt the party’s chances in November. We’ll have to wait and see if that happens, but it’s worth noting that as the campaign has gone on, it has produced more than just acrimony. It’s produced a meaningful new approach to foreign policy as well—the first substantial alternative to George W. Bush’s policies that has entered the political mainstream since 9/11, and one whose airing should be welcomed not just by Democrats but by all voters.
Barack Obama has always been an independent thinker. He of course opposed the war in Iraq, and he’s built a team of national-security advisers who disproportionately took the same, then-unpopular antiwar view. But as a presidential candidate articulating what he might do in office, his real break with convention may have begun with a gaffe.
For the better part of a generation, top Democratic politicians have followed, with astonishing uniformity, the same set of unwritten rules in their approach to foreign affairs: match GOP “toughness”; tack to the right on major foreign-policy principles; and, above all, avoid taking positions that could be criticized as weak. So at the YouTube debate on July 23, 2007, when Obama was asked whether he would be willing to meet “without precondition … with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea,” the right answer, conventionally speaking, was a qualified “no.” But Obama answered in the affirmative. Initially, even sympathetic observers like The Nation’s David Corn called this statement a “flub” at best. Hillary Clinton, the quintessence of Democratic establishment thinking, had answered that she would use “high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way,” before holding direct meetings with heads of state.