Why I Think Obama is the Best Candidate on Foreign Policy

Barack Obama is better equipped to handle the United States' foreign policy on the world stage than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain. As an international human rights lawyer who has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand better than most the security situation facing Americans and the world. Recently, I survived a large-scale attack by the Taliban on a hotel in Kabul, so my sense of urgency about national security and the safety of Americans abroad is based on a very real understanding of the dangers we face. I plan to return to Kabul shortly, and I know I will feel safer and more confident of success in Afghanistan if Barack Obama is in the White House.

In my time abroad, people have expressed to me that they doubt the United States' commitment to its own ideals and even the very existence of true democracy in the U.S. The misguided policies, arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration have alienated our friends and inflamed our enemies. Americans working abroad can no longer rely on the good reputation of their country, and instead we are often called upon to explain or justify its actions. We need a leader who can revive American diplomacy, and with it, the reputation of the U.S. in the world.

I believe that Barack Obama is the candidate who can restore credibility to the United States in the international community. He, more than any other candidate, can prove that the U.S. is capable of making a serious change in its policies and leadership overseas in the wake of the disastrous blunders of the Bush administration. Unlike the presence of another Clinton in the White House, an Obama presidency will lead to a sense among needed allies that there is a new political order in the U.S. An Obama presidency will convince our allies that the American people recognize that new approaches are required to deal with the post 9/11 world, and that unilateralism and political arrogance breed hatred of this country and its citizens.

The claim that Barack Obama is inexperienced in foreign policy is a red herring. Having served for two years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has more on-the-job foreign policy experience than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Ronald Regan did when they took office. And his experience came during the post 9/11 era. The experience Hillary Clinton touts from her White House years is from an outdated period in history, and her vote on the Iraq war demonstrates that her judgment in the current environment is not sound. She was wrong about what may prove to be one of the most key foreign policy decisions of our time, and for years, has been unable or unwilling to recognize her error and move forward. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Obama was right about the war, but has tried, as he said last night, to work with others to drive George Bush's bus out of the proverbial ditch and turn the focus back to Afghanistan. He had this clarity even when he was a state senator. By Hillary Clinton's own account, George Bush fooled her, but, given the same information, Obama came to a different conclusion and spoke out against the Iraq war at the time and has continued to focus on fighting those in Afghanistan who were responsible for the September 11th attacks.

Barack Obama has the ability to deal both with American's allies and its enemies. Right now, in Afghanistan and around the world, the U.S. needs the support of its friends. Not only does Obama have the skills necessary to reach out to those we have alienated, he has expressed a willingness to do so. His comments about Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, in particular demonstrate that he is focused on cultivating relationships with moderate factions within the country without surrendering to any one group or relying on one person. He avoids the alienating strong-arm "you're with us or against us" rhetoric of the Bush administration. Instead, when discussing international security, he immediately looks to international coalitions and partnerships, including NATO, and recognizes the importance of engaging with the international community to achieve American interests. He understands what the war in Iraq has meant for the U.S. on the world stage, and the damaging effect it has had on the centrally important U.S. campaign to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Obama clearly is aware that the U.S. needs to make smart choices about its policies in the Islamic world in order to ensure our national security and to work with our allies to do so.

Given his early opposition to the Iraq war and focus on the battle against extremism in Afghanistan, his values, good judgment and intelligence are clear. And throughout this primary season, he has demonstrated that he has the ability to convince others and make his visions a reality. Hillary Clinton does not understand that his poetic rhetoric is used in the service of getting people to work together toward real accomplishment. Witness the success of his campaign in organizing victory after victory (while her campaign has been losing more supporters the longer it continues) against one of the most formidable political machines in Democratic Party history.

I believe that Obama's conduct of his campaign reveals the way in which he would conduct foreign (and domestic) policy. He knows how to defuse arguments and focus on shared values while relentlessly pursing his ultimate goal. He knows when to make his point and when to stand above the fray. He is able to disagree in a principled way, and accept and incorporate an argument made by someone else if it is proven to be well-reasoned. The respectful way he treats his political opponents is a model of how he will treat the rest of the world. This is exactly the sort of political skill and diplomacy that America needs to employ when conducting international relations. The world will welcome a more open United States, dedicated to advancing its own interests without riding roughshod over other countries.

Finally, as someone who works to establish respect for human rights and democracy in a post-conflict environment, I think that Obama will be an example for the world of the fruits of a true democratic process -- something in which many people in struggling parts of the world no longer believe. Whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, most people's experience with politics is that it is run by dictators, family dynasties or clans. So, in a world where the fate of Pakistan, a nuclear power which created the Taliban, is being fought over by a military dictator and the family of a powerful slain former leader, it frightens me to hear Hillary Clinton say things like "It did take a Clinton to clean after the first Bush and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush." To much of the world, a Hillary Clinton presidency will be no surprise, but will look like their own national clan-driven politics. An Obama presidency, on the other hand, will be proof to the world that the democratic process can allow leaders who have vision and talent to come to the helm, despite a lack of family connections and in the face of potential racial or ethnic discrimination. It will show the world that the U.S. is truly a great democracy where the people control the government.

I believe that an Obama presidency will bring about a new respect for the U.S. around the world. President Obama will renew a sense of partnership with our allies, admit our mistakes in Iraq, and focus on rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He will bring to American diplomacy a fresh, intelligent perspective on the causes and effects of extremism and a more effective approach to combating terrorism. If Obama is elected, I will be safer, more likely to be shown respect as an American and more likely to succeed in democracy-building in Afghanistan. In my mind, that makes Barack Obama the strongest candidate for president in the realm of international affairs.