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Newsweek: The Principle of the Thing: How America's commitment to democratic values is waning in the age of Obama

Author: James P. Rubin
December 5, 2009


James P. Rubin believes that President Obama has sacrificed too many democratic principles to a foreign policy guided by realism.

Although President Obama's address to the nation served its main purpose-articulating the national-security rationale for the use of force in Afghanistan-there was one unfortunate disconnect. Obama did not link his powerful rhetoric about America as a unique global power that believes "right makes might" to his argument for the surge in troops. The moral imperative for defeating the Taliban and its heinous ideology went unmentioned.

America has both an indispensable role in protecting the world from Al Qaeda and a noble purpose that should be stated aloud: to defeat the Islamist extremists whose barbarism has done such damage to innocent Afghans and Pakistanis alike. Preventing the return to power of a Taliban regime that terrorized its own people and allowed Osama bin Laden to orchestrate the 9/11 attacks on America is a mission of which our troops and our country can be proud.

Obama's omission of the moral dimension reflects a larger trend. Over the past year, as the main contours of the new administration's foreign policy have been established, the principles of democratic values have been too often set aside. Big changes were surely needed to recover from the damage wrought by the Bush administration. And those crucial changes in substance and style-on global warming, Guantánamo and treatment of prisoners, respect for international law, cancellation of unnecessary missile defenses in Eastern Europe-have won back lost support and admiration for the United States among friends and allies. Washington has succeeded in restoring the international partnerships necessary to confront complex global challenges. But by putting a premium on listening, not lecturing, and by injecting a corrective dose of pragmatism, an impression has been left that America's historic support for the spread of democratic values has diminished.

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