Edwards speech at CFR

Edwards delivered a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York. It was extremely impressive.

(A moment for full disclosure: I like Edwards as a candidate. I like his campaign, not least because I know several people working on it, including some of his foreign policy people, with whom I occasionally chat. Of course, if having friends on a campaign gave me an automatic bias, I’d be biased towards . . . all of them. I’m not on the payroll of any campaign, and in the unlikely event that ever changes, I’ll make it clear.)

The Edwards speech outlined proposals for the future of the military, both in terms of structure and use, and mentioned the foreign policy goals he feels are associated with such policies. I have long wondered exactly what kind of lessons prominent Democrats, especially Clinton and Edwards, took from the debacle in Iraq. I’m not alone in that curiosity, and today’s speech was tremendously encouraging.

The speech was perhaps most notable for what it did not include: absent was the reflexive bellicosity that conventional Democratic beltway wisdom has long insisted is necessary to project “strength” on foreign policy and national defense. There was no talk of “keeping all options on the table,” no insistence that the Middle East only understands strength, and no blind endorsement of plans that deserve significant debate (such as increasing the size of the military).

Edwards rejected the “war on terror”, rightly identifying it as a political frame, and slammed the Bush doctrine of preventive war. He also clearly identified how the current administration is hurting the military, both in the field and at home, offering a persuasive alternative model for the civil-military relationship.

He asserted the importance of defense and foreign policy, and indicated that he understand that human rights and civil liberties are part of advancing American interests, not impediments:

As president, I will close Guantanamo Bay, restore habeas corpus, and ban torture. Measures like these will help America once again achieve its historic moral stature — and lead the world toward democracy and peace.

Quite a contrast with the Republican candidates, who are falling all over themselves trying to most drastically depart from what America stands for. This speech will, I imagine, significantly benefit Edwards’ standing among those who truly understand the state of foreign affairs in the world today.

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