Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dodd on Foreign Policy

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 648

I attended Chris Dodd's foreign policy speech at the Des Moines Club last night. As with last month's foreign policy town hall with Joe Biden, this was sponsored by the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy, and was once again an excellent event. Small but engaged crowd, wine and cheese, views from the 34th floor, a speaker who is running for President - what's not to like? So any poligeeks out there looking for the ideal first date with that cute analyst from legislative affairs you've had your eye on, these events are your dream come true. But you knew that.

I must say that this event had quite a bit more amperage than the one with Biden last month - probably 10 news outlets were there last night, in addition to Congressman Leonard Boswell (D - IA03), State Senator Matt McCoy (D - 31st District) and Robert Pratt (U.S. District Judge, Southern District of Iowa). And - wonder of wonders - it started pretty much on time.

Dodd took to the podium and spoke a bit about what he characterized as Iowa's long-standing tradition of involvement in foreign affairs, citing, among other things, Henry Wallace's car trip to Mexico as FDR's emissary just before Wallace was sworn in as Vice-President (which story Dodd attributed to "American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace," by John C. Culver and John Hyde), as well as the 2,000 retired Peace Corps volunteers now living in Iowa. Dodd himself served in the Peace Corp for two years in the 1960's, working in the Dominican Republic, because, he said, "an American President asked me to," and cited this as an example of the willingness of the American people to respond to leadership that encourages, rather than dismisses,engagement with the rest of the world.

Speaking of the Peace Corps and other civilian programs to engage Americans with the rest of the world, Dodd delivered some of his best lines of the night, saying that he believed that "You can't hate America if you know America," and "American power comes not from the example of our force, but from the force of our example." Home runs, both.

Addressing the Big Question for all presidential candidates, Dodd said he is running because he wants an America that is more secure and more prosperous than it is today. He said that 2008 is an historically important election, one in which the country is less secure and less prosperous than it should be, and confronted with challenges on Iran, Iraq, the global AIDS crises that, he said "is devastating entire continents," economic disparity and ecological dangers.

Turning to Iraq, Dodd launched into a criticism of John McCain and his support of military escalation. Dodd noted that the Baghdad market McCain toured on his recent visit to Iraq (a tour, Dodd noted, made possible only by a contingent of 100 Army soldiers, 2 Blackhawk helicopters and 3 Apache gunships) was on the very next day the scene of a sectarian kidnap/ambush that resulted in the deaths of 21 Shia civilians. Dodd said that this incident illustrated that there is no military solution to the violence in Iraq and that it also "makes clear the point many of us have made for some time. We don't need a surge of troops in Iraq - we need a surge of diplomacy." Dodd followed this up with by calling on all the candidates in the race to support the Feingold-Reid bill, which sets a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by March 31 of next year.

Then, in a clear shot at Barack Obama, Dodd said, "Let me be clear - hope alone will not wipe away the damage to America's moral authority these last six years. Hope alone will not restore America's leadership. Like never before, we need a president who is ready to lead from day one. There will not be a single day, a single moment for on the job training - not one."

As an aside: like John Edwards last week, this broadside from Dodd is another clue that the Democratic field, from top to bottom, perceives Obama as vulnerable on experience and specifics, and is going after him on those points. From what I've seen so far, Obama has been slow to respond to this trend, and this could hurt him unless he addresses it soon.

Dodd went on to say that he would immediately redeploy American forces out of urban areas in Iraq, shifting them to the boarders, or to bases in Kuwait or Qatar, and to assignments in an increasingly unstable Afghanistan. The new mission in Iraq would be to train Iraqi forces, go after terrorist bases, and police Iraqi boarders to intercept arms and insurgents.

Dodd then added that America has challenges not only with its enemies, but also with some of its friends, notably Saudi Arabia and Russia, who, according to Dodd, "continue to suppress freedom and democracy and permit conditions that allow our enemies to thrive." He criticised Saudi Arabia for simply shipping dissenters to other countries, thereby passively exporting terror to the rest of the world, rather than confronting it at its source within the Kingdom itself. Speaking of Russia, Dodd said, "What America needs is a president who will look into Vladimir Putin's eyes not to get a sense of his soul, but to tell him America wants to work together with Russia, not against her, but cannot in the face of his blatant disregard for a free press and suppression of political dissent."

Dodd connected problematic allies with dependence on foreign oil, saying "it is time we help countries end their alliances of necessity with dictators simply because they are desperate for oil and aid." Dodd added that he would undertake technology initiatives to create renewable energy, and would then share that technology with our friends. This, Dodd, concluded, would make "the oil bribes offered by Iran's Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Chavez irrelevant," and would "open new doors in [America's] relationship with nations from Latin America to Africa to Asia."

I talked with Senator Dodd for a few minutes following the post-speech press availability. During the conversation, I noted that pretty much all the candidates agree that there's no military solution Iraq, and everyone agrees that the entire war has been spectacularly mismanaged; addressing all of these things will be high on the next president's agenda. But beyond agreement on what's gone wrong in the past, I said, there's the reality that Iraq is not the last military action America will be required to suit up for. I asked the Senator what would be the "Dodd Doctrine" on when and how to deploy American military force if he were to become president. Dodd responded that he would seek much closer engagement with our allies and would not entire a sustained military engagement without a congressional resolution of support. I asked if that meant a declaration of war; Dodd, said no, not a declaration of war, but a congressional resolution of support. A disappointingly generic answer, I thought.

In his speech and the ensuing audience Q&A, Chris Dodd said some important things last night. But equally important, I think, are the things he did not say: nothing about increasing foreign aid, only passing mention of increasing America's role in addressing global climate change, nothing about North Korea, and little about the rise of China as a military and economic power in the 21st Century.

Notwithstanding, my overall impression on the night was positive. Chris Dodd looked presidential, spoke with passion and conviction about American leadership, and demonstrated a deep understanding of the complexities and interconnectedness of the challenges awaiting the next president. No sales closed last night, but I think his stock went up a few points.

Here are links to some of the mainstream media coverage of last night's speech:
Des Moines Register
New York Newsday
Hartford Courant

NOTE: According to an announcement following Dodd's address, Iowa Public Radio taped last night's speech, and will broadcast it Sunday, April 22 at 8:00 P.M.


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