How Barack Obama Sees the World's Challenges

Foreign policy advisor Susan Rice on the candidate's worldview.

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As the presidential campaign enters its final weeks, national security remains a top issue. Susan Rice, one of Democratic nominee Barack Obama's senior advisers, talked with U.S. News about Obama's view of the world. Excerpts:

On why Obama is preferable to McCain. First and foremost, Senator Obama has made the correct judgments on the crucial national security challenges of the day, and John McCain has not. Senator Obama was right, not just about the decision to go into Iraq. He was right about the wisdom of setting a withdrawal timetable. He was right to be concerned about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the need to step up U.S. efforts there. He has been right about the wisdom of being willing to engage our adversaries when it serves our interests. In each of these cases, Senator Obama's judgment has been validated by real-world events.

On Obama's vision. Barack Obama is a leader who understands that the challenges we face can't be understood or framed in Cold War or 20th-century terms. Barack Obama is uniquely attuned to 21st-century national security challenges: transnational security threats—things like terrorism, proliferation, cyberattacks, pandemic disease, climate change, and competition for scarce energy and food supplies. And John McCain is out of touch with these 21st-century challenges.

On whether there is an "Obama doctrine." No, there isn't. I think, frankly, doctrines cause us more problems than they solve. You know, if the Bush doctrine was pre-emption (or more accurately, preventive war), it hasn't served us very well. Senator Obama's approach comes down to this: First of all, a recognition that the world we live in is more complex; it's increasingly defined by transnational security challenges of the sort that require cooperative solutions. To view the international system solely in terms of state-based threats misses a huge part of what else is going on. So first of all, it is seeing the world as it is and crafting pragmatic solutions. That pragmatism begins with the recognition that to confront 21st-century security challenges, we need effective partners and allies.

On Russia's invasion of Georgia. The fact that we are now witnessing a resurgent Russia, that it surprised the administration, is a testament to its failed foreign policy. The fact is that we are not as well positioned as we ought to be or could have been to deal with this challenge because of our overstretch in Iraq. And by overstretch I don't mean just military; I mean in terms of senior-level attention and resources. We're still playing catch-up and patch-up with our European allies and partners. Senator Obama is clear-eyed and pragmatic about this [situation]. He first called for active U.S. and international diplomacy to prevent such a crisis in April and again in July.

Going forward, Senator Obama will continue to be forceful in condemning and confronting Russia's unacceptable behavior. At the same time, Senator Obama recognizes that whether we like it or not, to deal effectively with challenges such as terrorism, proliferation, energy security, and Iran and North Korea, Russia is part of that equation.

On Iraq policy. Barack Obama has been calling for years now for a timetable for the responsible redeployment of our forces from Iraq. The logic of that is threefold. First, we can't sustain militarily our level of commitment in Iraq without breaking our armed forces and putting completely unsustainable stress on our servicemen and -women and their families. Second, we cannot ramp up the way we must in Afghanistan to confront al Qaeda and the Taliban with our current force disposition in Iraq. And third—and this is a point of significant philosophical difference with John McCain and George Bush—Barack Obama's view is that in order to obtain the political progress essential to end Iraq's civil conflict and bring stability, we need to do something other than give the Iraqis an indefinite blank check.

Barack Obama's view is that there is a logic that can lead to a more likely success strategy. And that is by letting the Iraqis know that the presence of our combat brigades will be phased down in a predictable and responsible fashion. And by giving them a time frame to get their internal act together. Now, the irony is the Iraqis have recently said, "That's what we want, too. We're ready to stand up and assume responsibility for our sovereignty." And that's the definition of success, when they aim to do that effectively.