Community organizing as foreign policy?
posted at 12:23 am on November 3, 2009 by Karl
The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson invokes a metaphor as apt as it is pathetic:
President Obama is applying the same tools to international diplomacy that he once used as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, constructing appeals to shared interests and attempting to bring the government’s conduct in line with its ideals.
Obama’s approach to the world as a community of nations, more alike than different in outlook and interest, has elevated America’s standing abroad and won him the Nobel Peace Prize. But on the farthest-reaching U.S. foreign policy challenges, he is struggling to translate his own popularity into American influence, even with allies that have celebrated his break from the Bush administration’s emphasis on military strength, unilateral action and personal chemistry.
Much of the article is then devoted to cataloging the growing list of failures of Obama’s foreign policy. The president dithers over troop levels in Afghanistan, which is fresh off an election debacle that undermines the legitimacy of the government. Our NATO allies have balked at his requests for more troops. His dithering over Iran’s nuclear ambitions annoys everyone from France to the US Congress (so much so that Obama may have to go the unilateral cowboy route himself). His stimulus-based proposal for addressing the global financial crisis was rejected by France and Germany. He double-crossed the Polish and Czech governments on missile defense to appease Russia, with nothing to show for it. He has been soft on Chinese human rights abuses but — as with Russia — has gained no cooperation on Iran. Indeed, Obama’s flip-flop on the genocide in Darfur may also have been designed to gain favor with Russia and China (who have oil interests in the Sudan), again to no avail. He has made no more progress on the not-so-cold-war between Israel and Palestinian Authority than his predecessor, despite trying to lean on our democratic ally. China, India and Canada are resisting Obama’s global warmist agenda. Etc.
Wilson was good enough to remind his readers that “[a]s a community organizer, Obama worked to identify the common interests of neighborhoods suffering through the economic aftermath of plant closings and of the politicians elected to represent them.” Wilson failed to remind his readers that Obama was an abject failure in that project:
The long-term goal was to retrain workers in order to restore manufacturing jobs in the area; Kellman took Obama by the rusted-out, closed-down Wisconsin Steel plant for a firsthand look. But the whole thing was a bit of a pipe dream, as the leaders soon discovered. “The idea was to interview these people and look at education, transferable skills, so that we could refer them to other industries,” Loretta Augustine-Herron told me as we drove by the site of the old factory, now completely torn down. “Well, they had no transferable skills. I remember interviewing one man who ran a steel-straightening machine. It straightened steel bars or something. I said, well, what did you do? And he told me he pushed a button, and the rods came in, and he pushed a button and it straightened them, and he pushed a button and it sent them somewhere else. That’s all he did. And he made big bucks doing it.”
That, of course, was one of the reasons the steel mill closed. And it became clear that neither Obama nor Kellman nor anyone else was going to change the direction of the steel industry and its unions in the United States. Somewhere along the line, everyone realized that those jobs wouldn’t be coming back.
From there, Obama went on to organizing Altgeld Gardens, where he took too much credit for too little accomplishment.
Had Wilson reminded people of that history, his portrait of Obama’s ineffectual foreign policy would have made more sense to his readership. As an organizer, he undertook projects with unrealistic goals, with little understanding of the people he was opposing or the people he was trying to help. He was so ineffectual that he got out of the community organizing racket and into electoral politics. He apparently learned nothing from his past failures, and is dooming us to repeat them.