Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A short note on the Inaugural Address 

In case you, like me, were not able to see it in real time, here is Barack Obama's inauguration speech.

I thought it was, in general, a fine speech, although students of rhetoric will not regard it either as the best inaugural in history or the best speech Barack Obama has given. No matter. In general, I hope that he can accomplish his stated aspirations, including the part about difficult choices. We need some of that; my only regret is that Republicans have been so unwilling to make them, at least when it comes to domestic policy.

With regard to foreign policy, this passage was particularly interesting:

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

This is the explicit renunciation of George W. Bush's neo-Wilsonianism, for "peace and dignity" unqualified by "freedom and democracy," of which Obama had nothing to say, are wholly compatible with authoritarian rule. "Dignity" in particular strikes me as an olive branch to governments representing "face" cultures which have labored under criticism of the Bush administration, including China, Russia, the North Koreans, the Arab autocracies, and even the Iranians. This is, of course, wholly consistent with the core mission of the United Nations and the transnational progressives, which is the preservation of member governments (at least if they are not Western market states), rather than the betterment of the people who live under those governments. I wonder, though, how the few democrats in the Arab and Muslim worlds will react when they read those words carefully.

MORE: Well, that did not take long. One country, at least, has already rejected "peace and dignity," preferring "death to Obama." You do not really have to click the link to know which one.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 20, 07:05:00 PM:

That, and several other instances, implied that (a) the USA had not lead, (b) had not helped the little guy (um, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, etc.) ... my take away was that he is a good speaker. Better than Bush and McCain combined, but mostly he's just a salesguy. The proof is in what he gets done.

Extending the olive branch to people who have a stated objective of "we want you all to die" seems ill advised, naive, and dangerous to American interests. Of couse, I'm clearly not as enlightened as the One.  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Tue Jan 20, 07:23:00 PM:

This is certainly not the time for Carteresque geopolitical atmospherics. The consequences unfortunately will be obvious rather quickly. My hope is that his pragmatism prevails.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 20, 07:42:00 PM:

He didn't give much away, and I'm grateful he said nothing about Gaza.

But he did mention using "sun, wind, soil" to get independent of foreign energy suppliers.. in the same breath as committing to helping places like Africa, but who are most likely to be hurt by an ethanol boom. It'll be interesting to see how that pans out.

Overall I thought there were disconnections with what he's said in the last couple of months.. and the hands that Russia, Iran and Pakistan will likely deal him on Afghanistan and possibly Iraq.


By Blogger Georg Felis, at Tue Jan 20, 07:43:00 PM:

To me it seemed to be a long, long list of projects where my tax dollars will be spent. I foresee a great expansion in the scope, power and dependency-bias of the Federal Government in the next few years.

I've heard High School graduation speeches better than this one.

Now I should say something nice about it too. It was good that he acknowledged the sacrifices of our armed forces in the revolutionary, civil, world, and Korean wars. Perhaps in time he will acknowledge the modern-day sacrifices our military has made for our freedom.

"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have." Gerald R. Ford
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. " Ronald W. Reagan
“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works “ Barak H. Obama  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Tue Jan 20, 07:45:00 PM:

Replacing neo-Wilsonianism with realpolitik is he?

I guess that line about not abandoning our principles in exchange for security goes down the drain.

That was fast.

What is realism in foreign policy but placing human rights and democracy promotion secondary to our security and national interest?

I want to see how he'll reconcile this, to me, contradiction.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Tue Jan 20, 07:46:00 PM:

I guess we'll just "buy the world a coke" and sit back on our haunces and wait for the love to pour in.

Western Civilization....it was nice while it lasted!!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 20, 08:40:00 PM:

@ Basically everyone:

"Western Civilization....it was nice while it lasted!! "

And here I was, drinking the Kool-Aid and thinking that liberals were the insufferable whiners.  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Tue Jan 20, 09:05:00 PM:

Oh Tigerhawk--you should have reprinted the whole speech. The sand shifting under your feet...the America is young country but time to put aside childish things...

Not his best speech? Come on. It was the birth of a new paradigm. You can keep the tap of "bitter swill" as the President said, flowing, or you can cut this wingnut crap and join, help, build (note he said that's how govts and groups from Pakistan to Hamas were going to be judged by their people. That's how America'll judge you all). Of course, you can continue to spin your wheels, narrower and narrower, on the net. Or you can roll up your sleeves like O man said.
I think some of you will step up and stop the rightwing growling and insular harshfest. Miracles do happen. After all, look at your new President and First lady, dancing their first dance to Beyonce singing Etta James' "At Last." Who'd've thunk it... ;-)

All those folks from what Sarah Palin called the not Real America showed you who is indeed real. All races, ages, creeds out on that Mall WEEPING as they sang the Star Spangled Banner. Aren't you happy--we supposedly stupid, naive, destructive unpatriots--weeping. Waving 2 million flags. Doesn't that make you proud? There--some common ground.

Now that my Advil and frostbite ointment has kicked in, we gotta get to the Midatlantic Ball before all the shrimp cocktail and watered-down rail drinks are gone.

God Bless America.  

By Blogger SR, at Tue Jan 20, 09:19:00 PM:

2 million people took the day off. What a great start on "working" together to better America.

Sarahs people just actually went to work today.
Have fun at the ball.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue Jan 20, 09:25:00 PM:

Roughly $160 million spent on the inauguration and they flub the oath. Government in action.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Tue Jan 20, 09:44:00 PM:

I'm not sure how strong a substitution of "freedom and democracy" by "peace and dignity" Obama laid out. He did say "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." And he also said, "Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous."  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jan 20, 09:47:00 PM:

John, the omission of either freedom or democracy was quite conscious, I'd bet my bottom dollar on it. The emphasis on democracy irritates virtually everybody powerful in the Arab world, and they will not miss the omission.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jan 20, 10:01:00 PM:

Of course, John, you know a lot more about the Arab world than I do, come to think of it. What's your thought?  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Tue Jan 20, 10:04:00 PM:

the omission of either freedom or democracy was quite conscious

Yes, especially if you contrast it with his earlier statement about the "false choice of our ideals or our security". This was a clear swipe at Bush's detention policies (among other items, I'm sure). Why omit these ideals when discussing our relations abroad?

Apparently, this "false choice" only applies at home and not with our policies overseas.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 20, 10:08:00 PM:

Today, the birth of new paradigm!

Seems I heard a lot of that sort of talk in the '90's before the dot com bubble burst.

We will be the same country tomorrow as we were yesterday, last week and next week, with many of the same virtues and weaknesses we have struggled with for over 220 years. We are only mortal, flawed human beings; all of us.

I wish President Obama well, and am willing to be patient in seeing his policies enacted and the results; but having some understanding of the history of the 20th century and the cycles of state intervention in economics and the following changes as such observed, I am not terribly optimistic this will end as well as many wish.
I believe he will do many of the "orthodox" things that Democrats and Republicans have both done in economic slowdowns and recessions, with the predictable luke warm responses.
"Stimulus package!" ( now with Viagara?)

"Targeted Tax Cuts" (calling Al Gore! Remember this one from 2000?)

"Reforming Market Regulations" (should read all of Sarbanes-Oxley out loud at least once, first)

"Job Creation" (Earmarks! Come and get your red-hot earmarks! Now with juicy pork!)

Yeah, a brand new paradigm. I've lived through a few of those. I hope we all have more that a few pairs of dimes left after all the change.


By Blogger Editor, at Tue Jan 20, 10:13:00 PM:

Hopefully W will get credit for his own successes-- if Obama's modeling after him

Also, would you be interested in a reciprocal link to my blog www.jumpinginpools.blogspot.com?

By Blogger Andrewdb, at Tue Jan 20, 10:42:00 PM:

I rise to defend "just a salesguy." In business we call that the guys who generates the revenue, without which no one has any job. In politics we call it the "bully pulpit."

I have liked a lot (not all) of the policies of the last 8 years, but I weep at the missed opportunities to "sell" those policies to the American people. It turns out that the bully pulpit is a BIG part of the job. Eight year ago I thought "performance" was important, now I think leadership, including that "sales" stuff may be even more important for a President.

I wish 44 good luck, as he and we will need it.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Tue Jan 20, 11:13:00 PM:

What are my thoughts? I'll grant that criticizing "silencing dissent" is a far cry from criticizing the lack of democracy.

And it is striking that if my word search did not fail me you won't find the word "democracy" anywhere in the speech.

But he did say "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks" -- implying fascism and communism (totalitarianism in general, I presume) need to be faced down, and the US is a leader in that pursuit. See also, the line "the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world...." (Although I disagree with his implication that Bush gave "them up for expedience's sake." He didn't give them up -- Bush simply didn't believe the Constitution is a suicide pact.)

Also interesting is that he did not refer to the US and other members of the free world over against the unfree world. He referred *instead* to "to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty" as if that plenty didn't have to do with our institutions.

I don't know I have any special knowledge of the Arab world and its reaction to being labeled undemocratic. I do believe that democracy as we perceive it is not the only way to have the voice of the people heard, and there is something to be said for the Arab majlis -- certainly if the alternative is to tell a country (like the UAE) to ditch theirs and replace it cold turkey with a Western style democracy.

Perhaps Obama is being more honest and pragmatic than Bush. He'd like to see an organic transformation towards democracy as opposed to calling for democracy as a general principle while conveniently ignoring its absence in our allies (e.g., Pakistan, UAE).  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jan 20, 11:26:00 PM:

That was essentially my take, John, and I'm not even sure I disagree with it (although I have always liked the democratization strategy more than most realists).  

By Blogger Brian, at Wed Jan 21, 01:46:00 AM:

From the Washington Post interview with Obama:

Q. Do you believe democracy promotion should be a primary U.S. goal? If so, how would you achieve it? How would you balance democracy and human rights priorities against other strategic needs in the case of countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and Russia?

A. We benefit from the expansion of democracy: Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies and the nations with which we share our deepest values.

Our greatest tool in advancing democracy is our own example. That's why I will end torture, end extraordinary rendition and indefinite detentions; restore habeas corpus; and close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

I will significantly increase funding for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other nongovernmental organizations to support civic activists in repressive societies. And I will start a new Rapid Response Fund for young democracies and post-conflict societies that will provide foreign aid, debt relief, technical assistance and investment packages that show the people of newly hopeful countries that democracy and peace deliver, and the United States stands by them.

I recognize that our security interests will sometimes necessitate that we work with regimes with which we have fundamental disagreements; yet, those interests need not and must not prevent us from lending our consistent support to those who are committed to democracy and respect for human rights.

(End quote.)


I wouldn't read too much into his word choice for a particular speech, especially given the quotes cited by others (fighting communism, rights of man etc.)  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Jan 21, 03:27:00 AM:

"I wouldn't read too much into his word choice for a particular speech"

Wasn't it John Mitchell (Nixon's AG caught in the Watergate scandal) who said "Watch what we do, not what we say"?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Jan 21, 06:58:00 AM:

Sorry, I'm sticking to my guns on this one. Granted, Brian, no American president is going to talk down democracy when it is put to him in a question. Richard Nixon would not have. But I am also quite certain that every word in that speech was vetted up an down, including for its international message. Obama was saying that we are not going to promote democracy as a feature of our national security policy, as Bush has done. Bush incorporated it consciously into a strategy (that he has to back away from to some degree because of the poor object lesson in Iraq), and Obama is saying, no, that "peace and dignity" are the irreducible metrics.

Now, I am not sure that I even disagree with that. I long agreed with those who thought that the democratization of the Arab and Muslim world was a necessary feature of defusing radicalism, but my confidence in that point of view has also been significantly weakened.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Wed Jan 21, 09:13:00 AM:

Now, I am not sure that I even disagree with that

Me either (Obama has also repeatedly praised Bush I for his "realist" policies; in fact, Scowcroft is an adviser to the new President).

As Walter Lippmann famously noted commitments cannot exceed resources (the "Lippmann Gap").

Our ability to promote, establish, push democracy/human rights is limited by our resources. Both hard and soft power.

But, again, a President who claims that we must not exchange our principles for security needs to explain how this applies abroad to our relationships with brutal regimes.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 21, 10:24:00 AM:

Since the messengers of realpolitic so firmly have Obama's ear, I'd say it's a foregone conclusion you won't hear very much about "Democracy" in our relations with the Arab countries, whether that democracy is to be given voice through imposed institutions, like a legislature in Iraq, or of the homegrown, majlis, variety that John talks about.

As long as you are commenting John, I'd like to ask your take on this assessment from an Op-Ed in the J-Post, where the political prospects for the middle east are viewed more optimistically as a result of Bush's presidency.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 21, 12:44:00 PM:

You guys are all smarter than I am about this stuff, but maybe Obama is just getting too cute too early on, ala WJC, in parsing his words like a lawyer.

No matter how you slice it, moving toward 'dignity' means a move toward democratic government, especially when you look at the places we are engaged in war. Should Obama choose to 'light the world' in Africa, for example, what would you call the sustainable system (of government) that enables people to live dignified lives?  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Wed Jan 21, 01:43:00 PM:


Blogger Myrtus sometimes comments at this blog. Her biography: "I am of Moroccan origin, was born in Morocco, was raised Muslim, lived in Amsterdam most of my life and moved to Chicago on July 4th 1994."

Now read her Jan. 19th post: "American style freedom of speech is a sham."



I don't agree with it. But I run into this kind of thinking almost every day during my travels in Asia and Africa.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 21, 02:25:00 PM:

What kind of thinking are you referring to? She spends the first five paragraphs decrying the "sham" of freedom of expression, even arguing that the right really doesn't exist at all, and then turns on a dime in the last paragraph to complain that Americans over-indulge in "hate speech". Do we have no freedom of speech, or too much freedom of speech?

I don't know what she's trying to say, but whatever it is I probably won't agree with her!  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Wed Jan 21, 02:47:00 PM:

Anon@2:26 pm: What kind of thinking...?"

Myrtus: "I prefer safety and maintaining the peace above all."



That Jan. 11th post ("German police takes down Israeli flag") has an interesting exchange between TigerHawk and Myrtus in the comments section.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 21, 04:12:00 PM:

As I said in the other thread, my impression of the Obama inaugural was that it was a pedestrian speech. One thing I liked was the precondition he threw out for talks with bad countries "we will extend our hand if you will unclench your fist". sadly, today, he threw that rhetoric under the bus when his White House blog announced he wants direct Iran meetings "without precondition". Who knows what Obama really means.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Wed Jan 21, 04:43:00 PM:

Jon Stewart sees very strong parallels between Bush statements and Obama's speech:

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?