Another Perspective

Foreign Policy, Anyone?

The missing issue of Campaign '08.

By 2.7.08

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Foreign policy is not a winning campaign issue, but does that mean those who would be president should eschew it? Did not Aristotle say that the statesman's duty is to teach? If it is true that we are engaged since 2001 in a global war, should we not be talking about it? Abraham Lincoln did not avoid the war when he ran for re-election in 1864 -- in fact, it was practically all he talked about. The economy was booming -- in the North -- and he could have sought to avoid the unpleasant events of the recent four years and campaigned on a feel-good theme. But what is the use of even trying for some weak sarcasm with the kind of campaigns we now endure?

To be fair: at least no one denies we are in a war, though some (Ron Paul) may deny we have reason to be in one and others (Kucinich, but he dropped out) think the war is our fault.

I know it is a cheap shot to say this, but it is a fact that I taught high school at a place called Lackey High School in Charles County, Maryland, last year and out of the 120 juniors whom I saw daily none knew that their school was named for a naval officer of the Mahan generation, for whom the projection of American power around the world was both an obligation and an opportunity, for us as Americans and for the rest of the world as well. Half these kids were "honors" students (a concept neither the school nor the county seemed to view as being incompatible with the kinds of sins -- cheating, plagiarism -- for which Capt. Lackey would have summarily dismissed them), and they could not locate on a map the countries where we are sacrificing blood and treasure in defense of civilization. But then, most of them could not locate England on a map -- or even Antietam, just a few miles away, or Gettysburg.

I think it is the schools' fault, yes, filled as they are with half-literate educrats intent on the measly rewards of their pretend-jobs, but I also think it is the parents' fault, the semi-educated mentally stunted parents of Maryland who could not tell you which Mary their state is named for, and it is certainly our politicians' fault, unwilling and unable to address in a serious way the serious international issues of our times. If even during a presidential campaign we cannot get the kind of solemn and high minded, and I do not mean humorless, discussion of a world very much rife with evil forces bent on our destruction, then how can we blame rural high schoolers for being historical and political illiterates? Apart from the fact that they are semi-literate anyway and in general -- which is a different matter and underscores another enigma, namely why no candidates are calling for the abolition of the Department of Education, whose institutional history coincides exactly with the precipitous decline of American public schools -- why should they take an interest in international politics when no one in the adult world does? The closest thing we get to a discussion of foreign policy on the Republican side is the no-you-can't-yes-you-can embarrassment of two grown men arguing about what qualities they need to be commander-in-chief. On the Democratic side the argument is who was mistaken earlier on the central issue confronting the democracies.

Barack Obama evidently thinks he can ride Democratic Party blame-America-firstism to the nomination, so he is emphasizing his early opposition to the intervention in Iraq. Fair enough, if that is his line, but not once does he bother to explain just what Iraq is, just what our conundrums there are, just what we should do, in that hard land, if war is not the answer.

This unwillingness to try even to define for his fellow Americans a sense of the kind of world we live in did not prevent Sen. Obama from injecting himself into Kenyan politics about six months ago, by openly coming out in support of the "Orange" candidate Raila Odinga. No one stateside paid attention -- Obama was physically in Kenya when he made his gesture, a political intrusion in another country's politics that I believe is unprecedented in the annals of senatorial foreign-junketing -- but it meant a lot over there. Odinga, the scion of an extreme-left Kenyan political dynasty which like much of the rest of the global anti-American left "understands" Islamist grievances, claimed Obama as a cousin and waved the endorsement.

Today Kenya is sliding toward civil war, as Odinga's Luo tribe (to which Obama, by way of his father, belongs) declares itself robbed of the presidency and sends thugs on the warpath against sitting president Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribesmen, who retaliate in kind.

Does it matter? Does it matter if, in nearby Zimbabwe, a megalomaniacal relic of the anti-colonial movement destroys one of Africa's most viable countries? Does it matter if Somalia, also nearby, is torn by clan war and Islamist infiltration? Or if, a little further away, the Darfur disaster, spilling over into Chad, turns that dry country into one wet with blood?

It does. This is not, however, the place to explain why. It is the place to complain that there are no candidates for president this year who seem to be even aware that the mischief running across Africa will touch us all, and painfully. Not only we hear not a squeak on Africa, but not a single presidential candidate sees fit to mention in speech nor debate that Hugo Chavez, caudillo of nearby Venezuela, made a speech last Christmas that would have been published in Der Sturmer.

But then I wonder if any of the candidates, any more than the miseducated children of Maryland's Charles County, recognize that newspaper's name.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.