Well, of course, we'll criticize McCain or Obama, or maybe even praise something if Obama does something we approve of (which seems rather unlikely with McCain). Democracy requires eternal vigilance, and citizens of a democracy do NOT have a "commander in chief." There is no sharp line between criticizing someone for not doing what we want, and urging them to do what we want. Still, what we want exactly is a fair question. We claim that Bush's mayberry machiavellis have made us less safe, less free, and less prosperous, but what would we do if we were running the country or had people who represented us running it?
One of the best outlines I've seen of a foreign policy that makes sense and could make us all more safe, more free, and more prosperous can be found in a short new book called "Re-Engage: America and the World After Bush," by Helena Cobban. Like Thomas Jefferson and most people with useful ideas for the world, Cobban lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where we work together on the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice. She also writes for the Christian Science Monitor and works in Washington, D.C., for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. That's Friends as in Quakers.
Cobban explains that addressing problems with only the tool of military force often makes it impossible to address the roots of the problems. She advocates a policy of "inclusion," which involves repairing relationships with the rest of the world, recommitting to international laws and organizations, and treating security as something broader than just protection from bombs. Cobban addresses issues of economics, poverty, immigration, and terrorism, and makes clear that these issues cannot be separated. China, which has loaned the United States the money to occupy Iraq, plays a major role in Cobban's picture of world relations in the coming years.
"Perhaps the longtime big picture security our country enjoyed prior to 9-11 meant the attacks of that day caused a particularly deep shock to our national psyche. The attacks were outrageous. They capriciously inflicted death, mutilation, and the loss of loved ones on scores of thousands of Americans (and citizens of other countries present on that day, too). However, the trauma of those attacks should not obscure the fact that, at the big picture level, our country remains extremely secure -- especially if we compare our situation with that of most other countries around the world. Remembering this can give us the self-confidence we need to deal rationally and effectively with the other security challenges we face."
Cobban tackles the question of addressing terrorism:
Cobban lays out a strategy that includes politics, police work (rather than military), peace negotiations, and consistency (rather than hypocrisy). She addresses as central concerns: global inequality, absence of human rights, climate change, and global power shifts that will end the American empire. How, Cobban asks, "should Americans deal with being a former uberpower?"
"First, there is no cause for alarm. I grew up in a Britain that, at the time, seemed to be losing its power in the world rapidly. Every month, it seemed, an additional nation in Africa or Asia was gaining its independence from the bonds of empire. But ... withdrawing from the former empire turned out to be good for Britain - as it was for all the other European powers that decolonized in those years. Being a former uberpower will probably be just as good for Americans. It will enable us to deal in a far more friendly and constructive fashion with the rest of the world's peoples than we can ever hope to do if we try to retain strong U.S. 'control' over everything that happens in the world."
This is a positive vision in every sense. We can actually be better off by changing course, and we can help others around the world to do the same by working with them as equals, equals who can all be better off than the "homeland" of the empire used to be.