Like most people, I haven't chosen a "horse" to back in the '08 Presidential race. One of the things you look at, though, is the people the candidate chooses to play roles in his/her campaign. Accordingly, I was very pleased to see that Barack Obama has added one of the more incisive writers I have read in the last few years. Following the race for the British reading public, the Independent notes in tomorrow's edition,
"One of the biggest names to work with Obama is Samantha Power, the scholar and journalist who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. "In 2004, I came out of election night just completely depressed," Power says. "We thought Kerry would win and we'd all get a chance to change the world. But then it was like, 'Nah, same old thing.'" Obama gave her a place to channel her energy. She advised him on the genocide in Darfur, an issue that most politicians at the time were studiously avoiding.
Power is part of a generation of thinkers who, like Obama, came of age after the Cold War. They worry about the problems created by globalisation and believe that the most important issues America will confront in the future (terrorism, avian flu, global warming, bioweapons, the disease and nihilism that grow from concentrated poverty) will emanate from neglected and failed states (Afghanistan, the Congo, Sierra Leone).
Over the past two years, Obama has come to adopt this worldview as his own. He came back fascinated from a quick trip to a US project in Ethiopia, where American soldiers had parachuted in to help the victims of a flood: "By investing now," he said, "we avoid an Iraq or Afghanistan later." The foreign-policy initiatives he has fought for and passed have followed this model: he has secured money to fight avian flu, improve security in the Congo and safeguard Russian nuclear weapons."
I think this says several important things about Obama. First, he looks forward, at the world we are now living in, when he looks at solutions to ongoing problems. With all due respect to Secretary Rice, John McCain and other Cold War vets, you aren't going to solve every problem with conventional military force. You have to use "smart power" a lot of the time, as Obama noted above. Secondly, Obama is a writer and appreciates other writers. Good writers are above all clear thinkers, a quality not to be underestimated in the Presidency. Third, he's not afraid of people with greater expertise than his own in a given area. You need a President who knows what he doesn't know, knows his weaknesses, will listen actively to others.
It's early yet, but it's always true that you know people by the company they keep, and I like what I see of Obama's.