It probably comes as no suprise that of the two U.S. presidential candidates I’d be inclined to vote for the younger one. Not because of his age, though I wouldn’t be honest if I said it doesn’t play a part, but rather because his beliefs and worldview make more sense. Of two unknowns, he is the more familiar one, at least to Scandinavians breast-fed on liberal social values and taught to respect human rights and international cooperation.
Even so, I feel uncomfortable with how Obama frames his most pressing foreign policy challenges. The exchange of fire this week about how to tackle the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan left me wondering whether the two candidates are actually all that different. Sure, McCain’s Bushian bluster — “there will be nowhere the terrorists can run, and nowhere they can hide” — is unbearable, and his insistence on “victory” in Iraq makes him sound brainlessly doctrinaire. Yet, when it comes to identifying the enemy, Obama fares almost as poorly. I don’t in any way want to trivialise the loss of more than 3,000 lives; but for a U.S. presidential hopeful to still be hung up about 9/11 seven years later doesn’t bode well for efforts to untangle the knots of Afghanistan. Although there were welcome flashes of new thinking in Obama’s speech, his over-emphasis on al-Qaeda reminded me not of Truman, Acheson, Kennan and Marshall but of his opponent. Neither candidate has thus far shown any understanding of the social, cultural and geopolitical realities of the battlefields of Afghanistan and its neighbours. Neither seems to acknowledge that their foe — and ours — is not terrorism but what causes it: poverty, crime, inequality, oppression, mismanagement, greed, corruption, and hunger.
Both should get Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos. It’s a terrific read and a devastating indictment of U.S. policies in the region.