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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 11:41 | SYDNEY
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Obama's dignity agenda

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COMMENTS

28 January 2009 15:20

I would highlight two passages from President Obama's interview with al Arabiya. First:

And, look, I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.

And speaking about al Qaeda:

There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them. In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction.

The focus in both quotes is very much on the improvement of material conditions rather than political reform. Which brings me to The American Prospect's March 2008 story on The Obama Doctrine, which argued that an Obama Administration would focus less on democracy promotion and more on 'dignity promotion', as explained by Obama's then-foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power:

"Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking]," she says...U.S. policy, she continues, should be "about meeting people where they're at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That's the swamp that needs draining. If we're to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we're not [providing]."

This is why, Obama's advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."

Obama sees this as more than a global charity program; it is the anvil against which he can bring down the hammer on al-Qaeda. "He took many of the [counterinsurgency] principles -- the paradoxes, like how sometimes you're less secure the more force is used -- and looked at it from a more strategic perspective," Sewall says. "His policies deal with root causes but do not misconstrue root causes as a simple fix. He recognizes that you need to pursue a parallel anti-terrorism [course] in its traditional form along with this transformed approach to foreign policy."

I'm not saying this is a convincing argument or that dignity promotion is the right policy, just that Obama seems to be pursuing a course that is quite consistent with his pre-presidential foreign policy thinking. But hey, it's all talk at present.

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