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Towards a Democratic Foreign Policy

| 14 Comments

David Adesnik offers (note: permalinks broken, scroll down to Sunday May 11, "The Left vs. Itself" ) a history of U.S. foreign policy, and an outline of what he believes a liberal, Democratic, and effective foreign policy might look like.

First I have to publicly go on record that this is an exciting time for me; I've felt isolated from much of the Democratic party and what passes for liberalism for some time, and am constitutionally incapable of moving to the other side of the aisle. But now, I feel that there is some ferment in the Left both here in the U.S. and in the U.K., and that we're starting a process that could well result in an effective, moral, and progressive vision of the country and the world. I'm happy as all get-out to be one of the smaller yeast organisms and a part of that fermentation process. We'll taste the beer in a year or two and see if it's fit to drink.

But I think that David is waaay off the mark in at least three areas, and want to offer some off-the-cuff collegial corrections.

First, in case, you haven't, go read his post.

OK?? Click through to see some quick thoughts on what he's written and some directions I think the Dems ought to be taking.

[Update: I respond to his rebuttal below...]

He neatly collapses the history of recent American foreign policy into a blog post, and talks about the varying positions of the Democratic and Republican wings of our politics. But in doing so, he misses or mis-states a few things.

First, he characterizes Bush as a Wilsonian (in the Mead sense). Uh, sorry?? Wilsonians are typically defined as attempting to enmesh nations in a framework of democracy and the rule of law. Bush?? I'd have to make him as a Jacksonian/Hamiltonian in the Mead framework.

Overall, I think that David is right in characterizing most of the recent Republican administrations as Hamiltonian in promoting "a realist approach to foreign policy that considered no dictator unworthy of an American alliance provided that his brutality was matched by his anti-Communism".

Carter was Wilsonian/Jacksonian, as was Clinton.

Adesnik argues in favor of the Wilsonian notion that "democracies do not make war", with this comment:

As any compelling liberal foreign policy must be, Wilson's was founded on the idea of protecting individual rights. Having witnessed the horrors of the Great War, Wilson belived that such tragedies could be avoided if governments would only listen to the voice of their citizens.

Anticipating the democratic peace theorists of today, Wilson believed that no democratic government would commit acts of agression against any other. Thus he insisted that the German Empire be replaced by a German republic.

Yet Wilson also recognized that most governments at the time were not democratic and would not become so. Thus, he sought to project democracy onto the international stage by creating the League of Nations. Its purpose was to create a forum for "world opinion", which Wilson believed would be an unfailing opponent of war. While this approach has considerable merit, critics point out that the people of the German Reich overwhelmingly supported war when it was declared in 1914, as did the citizens of most other nations.

You'd have to add me to the list of those critics, because I'll point out that democracies can and often are bellicose (not as often as tyrannies which often rely on demonizing the 'other' and the rigid apparat of the wartime state).

Democracy alone…whether within states, or among them…is itself not a strong defense against war, as commentators from Thucidydes forward have shown us.

Neither is the rule of law alone enough. As the U.N. and the E.U. (and to an extent, the U.S.) show us, writing laws itself does not solve problems, it does not prevent injustice, it does not build stable or progressive societies. It does build complicated legal-regulatory structures which ignore inconvenient realities and find ways within the law to ignore (or perpetuate) injustice.

So when Adesnik comes out as a Wilsonian,

As you might have guessed by now, I believe that the foundation of a liberal vision for American foreign policy must entail a return to the Wilsonian vision that animated American liberalism from the First World War until the tragedy of Vietnam. Perhaps the greatest flaw of such a foreign policy is that it does not provide Democratic candiates with a credible means of differentiating their views from that of the current administration.
I think that he's missing the boat in three ways.

The current Administration isn't Wilsonian.

The most successful Democratic foreign policies – FDR, Truman, and JFK – weren't either.

We have a surfeit of international institutions, laws, and regulations. They aren't working. The public – here and abroad – sees this. Democratic candidates who tie their foreign policy to a new round of international institution-building may as well go home now and save themselves and their donors dollars and heartache. It won't work and it won't sell.

So what do we do?

Well, I'll suggest a few things.

First, and foremost we have to sell America. Adesnik is absolutely right when he points to the Vietnam War as the turning point in U.S. foreign policy, but it wasn't just because we 'lost he war'. It was because for the first time, a number of Americans and people abroad were united in the vision that America was wrong, and bad, and even evil.

Our foreign policy has to be based, not just in our mechanistic view of 'doing what's good for America', as one nation among many, but on the notion that we (along with many others) have something to offer the world. And what we have to offer the world – the reason why so many want to come here – is not only our prosperity, but our freedom, our belief in and respect for the individual, and most of all our belief in justice – that everyone is equal before the law, that everyone gets an opportunity, and that if we get it wrong once, we'll work and change and eventually get it right.

It is our belief in the dignity of every American.

Now those values are under attack within America, too. Not just in our imaginations, but in our policies, laws, and institutions. We need to fight on two fronts – to restore the power of those beliefs here – and to expose them to the world as what we have to contribute.

We need to make it clear that violence will be met with violence. Because we aren't ashamed to be Americans, we need not be ashamed of defending ourselves nor of taking threats to ourselves or others seriously. Out of a mixture of guilt and passivity, we've tolerated extremism and saber rattling and watched it turn into saber waving.

Democrats love their country as much as Republicans do, and shouldn't have a problem with "kill an American and you're toast".

But this (standing up to violence) is a cornerstone of Bush's policy, and taking that stand alone won't do much for the Democrats.

First, a successful challenge to Bush's foreign policy will rest on highlighting the close connections between Bush's 'Engine Charlie' Wilson ("“What’s good for General Motors is good for the rest of America.”) view of the U.S. and the world and his policies.

Second, we have to show fairness above all. The Kyoto treaty was probably a bad treaty, but driving CAFÉ and a gas tax – or even a commitment to a future gas tax – would go a long way to show the world that we're not liberating Iraq to make commuting in a Hummer affordable.

Third, we need to focus on foreign intervention and aid that empowers from the bottom up, rather than the top down. The Soviet-style of building immense projects and the institutions to support them has to be inverted toward something more like this:

The ramshackle facade of Christopher Wilson's two-room home in the gritty Southside neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica, doesn't raise great expectations. But through the rickety wooden gate and beyond the drainage ditch lies a new, freshly plastered extension to his house and woodworking shop.

Wilson, 36, who has a wife and two young children, brings in $800 a month making cabinets, tables and chairs for a furniture store and for neighbors. His business got a big kick six months ago when he bought a used drill press and lathe for $650. It doubled his productivity, which in turn allowed him to purchase the materials for the extension and hire a mason.

Wilson bought the tools, at a 20% discount from their secondhand value, from a nonprofit called Tools for Development. Started 15 years ago by Roy Megarry, 65, the former publisher of Canada's prestigious Globe & Mail newspaper, Tools for Development has a simple but powerful premise: Make secondhand equipment available to poor entrepreneurs at an affordable price. There are no handouts. The entrepreneur pays for the tools either up front or on credit, with interest rates slightly lower than banks charge.

Foreign aid is only one component of foreign policy, but part of what we need to do is pitch our policies downward, at the people affected, and sell them on the value and power of American friendship.

It will be hard to do…selling American ideals and friendship retail, one-by-one. But it is vitally necessary.

We ought to work with our friends and allies to do this, but while we figure out how to do this together, we ought to be doing it on our own.

If that makes me a Jacksonian, so be it.

Addendum in response to Adesnik's rebuttal:

David Adesnik takes me to task on my interpretation of the Wilsonian and Jacksonian threads in American foreign policy.

I'm irritated - at myself.

I should have made my points more clearly. Haste is an explanation, not an excuse. So first off, let me move away from formally mapping him against Mead. I read the book when it came out, and it's still in the Giant Stack Of Boxes in the garage. Another explanation, not an excuse; I'll go dig it out and we'll talk about what Mead meant later.

Let me try and explain in some greater detail what I meant.

Adesnik points out the post-Boshevik invasion of Russia as an example that Wilson was no dove. I never meant to suggest that he was.

What distinguishes the Wilsonian view, in my opinion, is the belief that formal international institutions and a body of international law - rules between nations, as it were - was the route to peace and international stability. When those institutions permit, violence is certainly acceptable.

Jacksonians, on the other hand, rely on the direct relationships between people and subnational institutions (along with violence).

I'm arguing that the core defect in his proposal is the overreliance on international law and institutions which directly bind states - institutions and laws which today have virtually no legitimacy worldwide, and less here in the U.S.

My counterproposal is that we work to build and nourish good subnational institutions and attack (sometimes literally) bad ones. To me that is a Jacksonian position; I'll stand abashed if I've misinterpreted Mead, but will work to expand and defend my argument.

14 Comments

I know this is most probably a pipe dream (a very expensive pipe dream), but I've become obsessed with what I've taken to calling "The Declaration of Energy Independence". This would be basically a 21st Century WPA except instead of building a massive highway infrastructure, it would develop and expedite the creation of an American clean energy infrastructure in cooperation with American corporations. Energy dependence should be a matter of national security. The enormous number of working class jobs that could be created in the heartland plus the boost to the manufacturing sector would be immense. This could also strengthen the unions. Hire straight off the welfare roles and get people on both coasts to move to the center. I'm convinced that the most violent places in the US are so violent because there's such high unemployment. I've read that the most violent parts of LA have double digit unemployment rates.

This would also be useful in highlighting Bush's business connections and how he has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I really think he is weak on this. There's considerable hay to be made out of the Katrina Leung-Republican activist-spy for China case as well but Dems are bitching about a Top Gun photo op. Indeed, why are we locking up Americans who knowingly or unknowingly gave money to Islamic charities that support terror but Bandar Bush runs free?

Without the umbrella of the US hegemon, I suspect the democratic peace theory would be blown to bits.

Carter as a Jacksonian? You have got to be kidding me. In terms of foreign policy, Carter may in fact defy classification for his special brand of idiocy. Jeffersonian caution/Wilsonian dreamer, maybe. But there isn't a Jacksonian bone in that man's body.

Clinton, on the other hand... I'll buy that dual Wilsonian/Jacksoian characterization. He leaned very heavily to the former, though.

Second thought... we already have a democratic foreign policy. The Democrats, on the other hand, are in trouble.

"Toward A Democrat Foreign Policy", perhaps?

"Carter as a Jacksonian? You have got to be kidding me."

Donno, I trained with the commander of the Delta team that went into Iran. Carter's fingers were burned there...literally...but he argued that a lot of the modern multi-service Special Forces was born on Carter's watch.

A.L.

I agree with your linked article insofar as I think VN was the major blow to Liberal FP. This 'loss' placed us in an uncomfortable position because each ensuing encounter was seen thru that prism of potential loss or never-ending entanglement. We could threaten force, but the threat wasn't credible when the base of the democratic party was going to be knee-jerk resistant to its use. Placed in such a position, with no support of the right(who we now find for only political reasons screamed that intervention whjen proposed by Democrats was a misuse of the military, leading us into the next VN, yaddayadda)we had no choice but take a more multilateralist approach thru mean other then military force.

And I'm not arguing this was all bad, as diplomatic means should be exhausted at every opportunity. But what this did mean in the post 911 world was that we were really in a pickle because just like the divisions in the party could be exploited like they were in 1968, so could they be exploited in 2002.

I see the Iraq war as a Liberal idea, certainly not in tune with traditional Republican isolationism. Using the military to depose a tyrant, using the military to nation build...these ideas were not only shunned by the gop but necessary stances for most of them to take to even stand a chance for the oval office. But as a paradox, perhaps only Gooper could have done Iraq because if it was proposed by a Dem they would have been shunned by both the left and right.

I think part of the resistance from the left to this war was knee jerk, but part of it was understandable. On one hand, we believed we needed to meet the demands of Powell doctrine, especially in the area of an exit strategy. For some unkown reason, suddenly the media(nor Republicans) no longer cared how long we were going to be there or what the cost would be. We believed we needed to produce evidence for the country that we were in dire circumstances, yet this evidence was never produced in a suitable way. To this day we find that the single most important reason for going to war- to destroy WMD- is no longer important, and in fact may have been either gross evidence of problems in our intelligence gathering network or outright lies. So to some extent, the rules changed overnight and it was unclear just what the new rules would be. I can't fault dems or their leadership for being confused.

While the public may not care, the rest of the world certainly does. We may take comfort in the elimination of a despot, but we've never really been too worried about despots when they do our bidding. While we can use the rationale of a moral imperative, we are now left in the always uncomfortable position of turning a blind eye to other tyrants. We'll see just how consistent the shrub FP is when we take a closer look at places like Korea or Uzbekistan under the lens of moral justification.

From a political standpoint, the smartest thing Liberals could have done was label this war as a Liberal war, and praise Bush for seeing the light of Liberalism. Then they should have offered their full support, while not being timid about critiquing missteps along the way. They should have offered gudance to a party having no historical experience or stomach for such an endeaver.

This is even more important in the post war arena in Iraq. We need to have the conviction to go the distance there in terms of our support. We will shortly see whether our conservative friends have really seen the light as evidenced by the zealousness of their support, or if once the political capital can no longer be milked they'll fall asleep at the wheel.

I think there is a great comparative biography/history book waiting to be written concerning the lives/careers/values/politics/ ideas of three great Americans: Douglas Macarthur, Dwight Eisenhower and George C. Marshall. The modern Republican party foreign policy is essentially a combination of the Eisenhower and Macarthur wings. The Democratic party defense/foreign policy, at its best, espouses the values of Marshall.

If you want a catchy slogan for a Democratic foreign policy, you might say "Democrats believe in kicking ass to win the war and hauling ass to win the peace". Or something along those lines, but less crude.

I think the liberal idealism of this Administration's foreign policy is much exaggerated. There were 4 rationales for the War with Iraq:

1) The National Security case

2) the moral/humanitarian/Iraq as beacon of Arab Democracy case

3) the minor national interest case (e.g. oil considerations, no longer any need to enforce no-fly zones or keep troops in Saudi Arabia)

4) The Resume Building for 2004/Demonstration of American Power/ restoration of American Awe/ The Pride is Back/ we get some cool photo-ops and a big-ass parade/ rah-rah-rah case for War.

The national security case for war was very weak, the minor national interest case is, well, minor, and a cool photo-op should not by itself be a reason for going to war.

That leaves the humanitarian/long-term transformation of the Middle East as the sole legitimate reason for the war, and resume-glossing as a possible illegitimate reason. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the moral case for war, but humanitarian reasons alone have not traditionally been a reason to sacrifice American soldiers in a foreign land. In any case that's not the way this war was sold, making any unbiased person wonder what the Administration's real motive was. Anyway, the circumstances make it vitally important to American interests that Iraq and Afghanistan become success stories.

I take it that praising Krugman in these quarters is almost as bad as praising, shudder Al Gore, but here is something he wrote concerning the humanitarian benefits of deposing Saddam:

"Does it matter that we were misled into war?
Some people say that it doesn't: we won, and the Iraqi people have been freed. But we ought to ask some hard questions not just about Iraq, but about ourselves.

First, why is our compassion so selective? In 2001 the World Health Organization the same organization we now count on to protect us from SARS called for a program to fight infectious diseases in poor countries, arguing that it would save the lives of millions of people every year. The U.S. share of the expenses would have been about $10 billion per year: a small fraction of what we will spend on war and occupation. Yet the Bush administration contemptuously dismissed the proposal.

Or consider one of America's first major postwar acts of diplomacy: blocking a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Ivory Coast (a former French colony) to enforce a truce in a vicious civil war. The U.S. complains that it will cost too much. And that must be true: we wouldn't let innocent people die just to spite the French, would we?

So it seems that our deep concern for the Iraqi people doesn't extend to suffering people elsewhere. . ."

Does any conservative blogger have an answer to Krugman's questions? I would genuinely like to know.

Lastly, nothing was more damaging to the Democrat's credibility than their Job-like recantation (see below) of their criticisms of Bush and the Iraq war in the face of military success. James Carville had it absolutely right: if people don't trust you to stand up and defend yourself, how can they trust you to stand up and defend America?

I happen to believe that many of the criticisms made were valid, but in any case, having made those criticisms, they should have stood by them, or carefully explain why their position was a reasonable one at the time, and why they were wrong or why they changed their mind. To put it mildly, that's not what happened. Daschle's mea culpa was particularly comical.

Democrats before the war: No-exit strategy, not enough troops, inept diplomacy, we have a right to ask questions!

Democrats after the war:

2: "I know that Bush canst do all things, and that no purpose of His can be thwarted.
3: `Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4: `Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.'
5: I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee;
6: therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

"The national security case for war was very weak, the minor national interest case is, well, minor, and a cool photo-op should not by itself be a reason for going to war."

I disagree with this. Sure, I think imminant threat from WMD was low to non-existant, but that doesn't encompass national security as a whole.(this leaves aside the political question of the reality of the threat level and the public's perception of one)

We now have a base, a presence and a threat in the area to thwart other troublemakers. We have control of the oil, and like it or not this is a national security issue. We have levelage over OPEC, and we no longer have to look the other way when countries like SA fund terrorism just because we need a place to park a few airplanes.

So while the threat from SH was small to non-existant and just an oversold rationalization, there are legitimate security concerns in the region.

jdw,
I made a distinction between the National Security case(i.e. More Americans will die if we don't remove Saddam than will die if we do remove him) and the National Interest case (i.e. base, presence, oil, Saudis). I called it the "minor national interest" case for war. You apparently believe that such benefits are not so minor.

I don't really disagree, but don't you think the primary justification for the war, in retrospect, is the moral case? And isn't the implication that it is absolutely vital to American interests that say, six months from now, Iraq is an unquestionably successful, even thriving, country?

I should also add to my previous "comment" that in addition to standing up for themselves and their pre-war positions, whatever they may have been, Democrats should always state constructively what they think we should be doing. Criticism of Bush is necessary, but first must come the explanation of what the Democrats would be doing if they were in charge, and then the critique of Bush stems from that.

Socialism is dead.

Energy independence is in train.

Why? Because there is a market for it.

The only thing government can do is slow things down by distorting the market.

We will get energy independence when it is economically feasible. Until then putting money into it taken at the the point of a gun (government's method of aquiring resources) will temporarily speed things up while ultimately slowing them down.

Case in point: solar hot water heaters. Big government financed a boom in this technology in the 70s and 80s. Today the industry has a bad reputation and is practically dead. And BTW we got a net waste of energy instead of a net gain.

The best thing government can do in most cases is to get out of the way.

This is the current party's major contradiction. They abhor American guns being used on foreign countries but have no problem using government guns on Americans. The Republican's are no better - they just support a different set of enforced policies - just a little more consistient.

I do agree that for the most part the Democrats have no clue. Foreign policy = 0. Economic policy = 0. What they do have correct is civil liberties. But they are not pushing that too hard. When will they make opposition to drug prohibition a National issue? Or even medical marijuana which is more popular than Bush?

What I see as viable for the Democrats is a national unity government similar to the cold war. Their opposition then would be to Republican civil liberties grabs. The anti-war anti-capitalist anti-market Democratic party is DEAD. The funeral will be held in November 2004.

Who then will be left to oppose Patriot Act IV? or XXVI?

Roublen;"I don't really disagree, but don't you think the primary justification for the war, in retrospect, is the moral case? And isn't the implication that it is absolutely vital to American interests that say, six months from now, Iraq is an unquestionably successful, even thriving, country?"

In retrospect, it has to be because we've found no WMD, and we also found that SH's forces weren't much of a threat to anyone. So you are correct that if the moral case is to be tenable, we will need to have a successful rebuilding process.

That said, I think what is termed 'successful' is widely open to interpretation.

Thinking aloud...

It is unfortunate that so much of this debate regarding the liberal purposes of the war in Iraq is taking place after the fact. Unfortunately, neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration were afraid they couldn't sell the war based upon the stand-alone value of Iraqi regime change and its role as a step toward a liberal peace in the Middle East. Instead, reliance on the apparent paper tiger of WMD as the official impetus for war denied Americans this debate before boots were on the ground.

Now that the Hussein statues have tumbled and the weapons-hunting task forces have come up empty handed, the war is about liberalism, democracy, and freedom from tyranny. In a weird twist of fate, the Bush Administration now gets to cast Democrats, some of whom opposed the war as a path to non-proliferation, as being against warfare generally as a tool to intervene against tyranny and bring about democratic regime, individual freedom, and liberal peace where it is lacking abroad. That the party of Bill Clinton has this label cast upon them by the party of Pat Buchanan seems unfair in light of recent history.

I wonder what Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and other new "defenders" thought last decade when a Democrat "builder" was bringing security to the Balkans.

jdw,

There is one Democrat who used to be a Goldwater Republican who truly sees that liberals when it comes to war need to form a "national unity government" as they did in the cold war.

That Democrat is the female Senator from New York.

I think she was extremely lucky to be the NY Senator on 9/11. She was forced to shift to a pro war stance by her position and now although it seemed to make her uncomfortable at first she is perfectly positioned to contest the center.

The country is moving right. Like any good politician she is shifting with her voters.

Is the country really moving right though? I suspect it isn't really. 911 just pushed a lot of people to unite under the president who happens to be a Republican, and they're seen as being more competent at national security. In fact, I think it's split down the middle. But I do think a very American belief is reasserting itself-- the freedom from government. I think the Democrats would do well to shift away from using the federal government to administer social programs (aka Big Government) and work on developing more novel, decentralized programs for health care, etc. Basically, I don't think Americans want socialist utopia because we don't want the government intervening on a daily basis. I just think the left is pulling in the wrong (European) direction. They're also not competent at expressing their ideas to the people (but that's another topic), which is why Clinton was such a success. It's what he does best.

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