Jim Hoagland
The Washington Post
June 6, 2008

Journalists hate quoting journalists. It seems so déclassé. But a fellow scribe recently helped crystallize the biggest problem I have with Barack Obama’s foreign policy ideas. So a tip of the hat to Fidel Castro of Havana’s Granma newspaper.

The problem: Obama has offered a bold and penetrating diagnosis of the global mess the Bush administration will leave behind. But the candidate’s prescriptions do not match his diagnosis in their scope or daring. Either Obama is, for vote-gathering purposes, holding back his true thoughts, or he is bluffing on how severe the need for fundamental change really is.

Castro spotlighted that dichotomy in his column last week. The semi-retired dictator praised Obama as “the most progressive candidate for the U.S. presidency,” but he immediately balanced that potentially lethal compliment by attacking the Illinois senator’s vow to continue the obsolete, counterproductive U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The modest, sensible easing of restrictions on travel and currency transfers that Obama did promise in an appearance before the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami this month would produce only “hunger for the nation, remittances as charitable handouts and visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism,” Castro claimed.

As usual, Castro’s point is overdrawn. But it does underline the widening gap between Obama’s repeated attacks on “Washington’s conventional thinking” as the root of all evil and his reliance on established consensus when he is questioned in detail on Middle East peace, Iran, the U.S. position in its own hemisphere and other key issues.

My point here is not to accuse Obama of more-than-standard political tailoring of positions or to urge him to commit hara-kiri by needlessly taking unpopular stands. The point is that he is largely right in arguing that new thinking is desperately needed in U.S. foreign policy — but he is failing to show how an Obama presidency would produce and apply such thinking to the policy disasters he decries.

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