A great, if slightly biased article in today's New York Times Magazine about Democrats and foreign policy. The article, called The Things They Carry, by James Traub (echoing Tim O'Brien's great book) is written from the perspective of a friendly critic, but a critic informed by history nonetheless. He explains some of the historic roots of Democratic ambivalence toward the use of force, and talks about the thorny dilemma the party finds itself in today. He talks at length with Dean:
When I pointed out to Dean that he was depending heavily on continued failure in Iraq, he said, ''I'm not betting on it, and I'm hoping against it, but there's no indication that I should be expecting anything else.'' What neither of us knew at the time was that Saddam Hussein was already in custody, having been seized about eight hours earlier. The following day, when Hussein's capture was announced, there were endless TV images of Iraqis dancing with relief and joy, and even the most intractable foreign capitals issued gracious congratulations. There was no way of knowing whether Hussein's apprehension might prove as transitory a success as the toppling of his statue, but suddenly the antiwar position seemed like a less marketable commodity than it had the day before. And the fear of some senior Democrats -- and a considerable number of freshly polled voters -- that the party hadn't disposed of the old antiwar bogy, but rather raised it once again, appeared all too well founded.and then lets Dean set out his strategy for confronting Bush:
Toward the end of our conversation, Dean said to me: ''The line of attack is not Iraq, though there'll be some of that. The line of attack will be more, 'What have you done to make us feel safer?' I'm going to outflank him to the right on homeland security, on weapons of mass destruction and on the Saudis,'' whom Dean promises to publicly flay as a major source of terrorism. ''Our model is to get around the president's right, as John Kennedy did to Nixon.''which is a most interesting strategy. I'll suggest that Dean and I may well agree on homeland security, but probably differ on WMD and the Saudis. I think that a defense strategy based solely on containing WMD and pre-WMD artifacts is a bad, brittle strategy; that the technology is - as all technologies do - moving down the learning curve, and that effective embargoes amount to putting reassembling shattered bottles and hoping the genie will climb back in. Clearly we need to do the easy things - buy up and secure the Soviet warheads, track the large-scale industrial complexes where components and weapons will be built. But as long as there are people who want to use them, we have to assume they eventually will get them, and so in parallel we need to reduce the number of people who want them. Here his argument about the Saudis makes sense. But I'll disagree with his priority. It is clear that Saudi money and influence are a big part of what we face in Islamist terror, and worse, permeate Washington, in both parties, at high levels. And we can only assume that Europe is similarly disposed. But I don't even think that is the major obstacle to directly confronting the Saudis. It is simply that direct confrontation will lead to their collapse - and that our logical response - occupation - will provoke the Muslim-wide war I mean to avoid if possible. Here is a case where gentle pressure, patience and finesse - combined with some serious housecleaning on our part - seem like the logical paths. Which is a polite way of saying that in a year, the horse may learn to sing. Traub puts the debate into historic perspective.
The Vietnam War spelled the end of cold-war liberalism. Jackson sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1972 but lost to George McGovern, the leader of the peace wing, who had opposed almost all the weapons systems that Jackson supported. The battle inside the party continued with the election in 1976 of Jimmy Carter, who divided his foreign-policy team between the dovish Vance and the hawkish Brzezinski; the contest reached its theatrical climax when Carter nominated Paul Warnke, a former McGovern adviser, as chief negotiator on the 1979 SALT II arms talks. Warnke had stated that he would be willing to make unilateral cuts to the American nuclear arsenal. Jackson, who opposed the negotiations altogether, used Senate hearings to depict the nominee as an enemy of military prepared-ness. He brought in witnesses from the Committee on the Present Danger, an assemblage of Democratic hawks, many of whom would soon be known as ''neoconservatives.''The Democratic Party lost these hawks, and was soon moved to the sidelines on issues of security.
It remains a matter of debate whether Reagan did, in fact, spend the Soviets into the ground [A.L. note - hey, I said he was partisan...]. Nevertheless, the cold war ended on the Republicans' watch, and so Reagan's unyielding stance was given much of the credit for bringing it to a close. And while the G.O.P. emerged from that era as the party of resolution, the Democrats emerged as the party of fecklessness -- a status brought home in the most mortifying possible manner when Michael Dukakis, their nominee in 1988, posed in a tank wearing a tanker's helmet and was compared to Rocky the Flying Squirrel.The collapse of the USSR left us as the world's hyperpower, and gave us the luxury - as Halberstram describes Clinton - of being disinterested in foreign policy. It became a secondary arena for policymakers, and a place where a kind of cross-party, nonideological consensus could emerge.
There are two very large inferences that can be drawn from comments like these and, more broadly, from the current debate over national security issues in policy institutes, academia and professional journals. One is that the Bush administration stands very, very far from the foreign-policy mainstream: liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans have more in common with one another than any of them have with the Bush administration. The other conclusion is that the administration's claim that 9/11 represents such a decisive break with the past that many of the old principles no longer apply is right -- but the new principles need not be the ones the administration has advanced. A different administration could have adapted to 9/11 in a very different way. And this is why national security should be, at least potentially, such a rich target of opportunity for a Democratic candidate.The fact that the Bush policy violates so many of the 'institutional' norms ought to make him vulnerable to charges of recklessness. But...
The terrorist attacks made the moral quandaries of the 90's look like luxuries and restored the old party stereotypes with a vengeance. By the time of the 2002 midterm elections, the Republicans enjoyed an astounding 40-point advantage on the question of which party was best at ''keeping America strong''; the election was understood as a referendum on national security policy, and the G.O.P. swept the board.The Democrats are, intelligently, trying to reformulate a response. Dean has one, as does Clark. But Clark's positions are surprising, and raise questions about whether he will be able to directly confront Bush on issues of military policy.
And yet here was the former Supreme Allied Commander positioning himself slightly to Howard Dean's left. Indeed, the central paradox of Clark's campaign, which in recent months has neither gained nor lost much altitude, and remains fixed in a flight path well below Dean's, is that a candidate whose chief virtue was his credibility on national security issues has proved to be such a peacenik. People around Clark disagree as to the source of his surprising politics. One figure who has given Clark substantial advice says that Clark has moved left owing to the ''political dynamic'' fostered by Dean. Clark himself says that he's just angry at the commander in chief's failure to take responsibility. When Clark and I spoke in November, I said that those of us in the audience at the conference assumed that he believed the Bush administration could have and should have stopped the terrorist attacks -- a terrible charge, almost a calumny. No, he said; he meant that the administration had refused to conduct ''an after-action review,'' as he would have done. Of course, if that's what he meant, he could have said so. It seemed, rather, that he had decided to mine the vein that Dean had worked so effectively.And having done so, will then be presented with the dilemma of selling those views to a general electoral base far less willing to be 'weak and right' than 'strong and wrong'. Clark also has very specific criticisms:
When I asked Clark how he would have behaved differently from Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 -- we were sitting on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport beside his campaign plane -- he said, ''You could have gone to the United Nations, and you could have asked for an international criminal tribunal on Osama bin Laden,'' thus formally declaring bin Laden a war criminal. ''You could then have gone to NATO and said: 'O.K., we want NATO for this phase. We want you to handle not only military, we want you to handle cutting of fund flow, we want you to handle harmonizing laws.''' NATO had, in fact, declared the terrorist attack a breach of the common defense pact, but the Bush administration had brushed it aside. Clark said that he would have made Afghanistan a Kosovo-style war.and
Clark argues that the very consensus war-fighting strategy that produces terribly inefficient wars also greatly increases the likelihood of a successful postwar outcome -- which is what the whole effort is supposed to be about. ''It's not where you bomb and what building you blow up that determines the outcome of the war,'' Clark said to me. ''That's what we teach majors in the Air Force to do -- make sure you hit the target. It's the overarching diplomacy, the leverage you bring to bear, what happens afterward on the ground, that gives you your success. And for that you need nations working together.'' That, in a nutshell, is the Wesley Clark alternative paradigm of national security.He's right in the sense that international consensus, once reached, is a powerful tool for managing the political aftermath of war. But discussing it and doing it are very different things.
Clark understands the lessons of the post-cold-war world as no other candidate does. But the post-cold-war world has already been superseded, at least from the American point of view, by something quite different -- the post-9/11 world. Clark argues persuasively that the NATO ''consensus engine'' forces member governments to ''buy into'' joint decisions. But what if the French or Germans don't want to buy into Iraq or, say, to a tough posture should Iran start violating critical nuclear safeguards? A key aspect of the neoconservative argument on terrorism, most associated with the analyst Robert Kagan, is that Europeans do not feel threatened by terrorism in the same way, or to the same degree, as Americans do; consensus-dependent institutions like NATO or the Security Council are thus likely to fail us in the clutch. Clark's answer is that if we take the concerns of our allies seriously, they will rally to our side. But they may not; Frenchmen may consider the United States, even under a benign President Clark, a greater threat to world peace than Iraq. It may be that in his years with NATO, Clark so thoroughly absorbed the European perspective that he has trouble recognizing how very deeply, and differently, Americans were affected by 9/11.This isn't to suggest that Clark - or any of the Democrats - are without a grounded, coherent perspective in which to place their policies.
In an article last spring in World Policy Journal, Dana H. Allin, Philip H. Gordon and Michael E. O'Hanlon, foreign-policy thinkers from the conservative side of the Democratic spectrum, proposed a doctrine of ''nationalist liberalism,'' which would ''consciously accept the critical importance of power, including military power, in promoting American security, interests and values,'' as the neoconservatives had in the 1970's. But the doctrine would also recognize that America's great power ''will create resistance and resentment if it is exercised arrogantly and unilaterally, making it harder for the United States to achieve its goals.'' The authors laid out a ''generous and compelling vision of global society,'' which would include ''humanitarian intervention against genocidal violence; family planning; effective cooperation against global warming and other environmental scourges''; foreign aid; free trade; and large investments to combat AIDS. All the major Democratic candidates could be considered nationalist liberals. And it's no surprise: since this is more or less the consensual view of the foreign-policy establishment, practically everybody the candidates have been consulting takes this view. With the very important exception of Iraq, the major candidates hold essentially the same views. Hawkishness or dovishness on Iraq thus does not correlate with some larger difference in worldview, as, for example, the left and right views on Vietnam once did.What is suggested is something which seems to combine the aggressive military effort of Bush with the humanitarian - and more importantly, the internationalist from an economic, environmental, and postentially political base. I see a number of issues with this approach, and will touch on several immediately. The first is that I think it unlikely that the world community - which had a stated interest in restraining US power before Iraq - is going to accede to the unfettered use of US military forces as long as we sign Kyoto, offer cheap AIDS drugs, accept the ICC, and agree to spearhead militarily intervention to limit genocide. I don't think that one buys us the other. Domestically, I see a hard time forging a consensus for the kind of sacrifice that would take - a military large enough to both act on our behalf, and do the world's bidding at the same time that we harness our economy to benefit the world's (stipulating for the moment that those actions would in fact benefit the world economy, which is a legitimate subject for debate). All of this is an airy academic discussion unless the Democrats can either sideline defense as a subject for this election, or demostrate that their warm goodwill for foreign governments can be handcuffed to a ruthless willingness to defend US lives and interests.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has a nightmare in which Dean wins the nomination, conditions in Iraq improve modestly and in the course of a debate, President Bush says: ''Go to Iraq and see the mass graves. Have you been, Governor Dean?'' In this nightmare, Bush has been, and Dean hasn't. ''Saddam killed 300,000 people. He gassed many of these people. You mean I should have thought there were no chemical weapons in the hands of a guy who impeded our inspectors for 12 years and gassed his own people and the Iranians?'' O'Hanlon glumly says that he has resigned himself to the thought that ''the Democratic base is probably going to lose the Democrats the election in 2004.'' Strong and wrong beats weak and right -- that's the bugbear the Democrats have to contend with. George McGovern may have had it right in 1972, but he won Massachusetts, and Richard Nixon won the other 49 states. McGovern recently said that he is a big fan of Howard Dean, whose campaign reminds him very much of his own. Dean may want to ask him to hold off on the endorsement.No kidding. I'm wrestling with the issue of internationalism a lot these days. My core issues, simply, are that I believe that the EU elites are far more corrupt and self-serving than our own - and I distrust ours. I think that the UN has squandered it's legitimacy as it dignifies murderous kleptocrats with votes matching those of countries with legitimately chosen (or at least imposed over a long term) governments which have some legitimacy beyond the barrel of a secret policeman's gun. This is all great food for thought; sorry to have quoted so extensively, but please go read the whole article and draw your own conclusions.