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April 14, 2005

Redefining Progress
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Here are two books that each tell a story of post Cold War change from a military "ground truth" perspective and also bolster the claim that the military is a progressive institution--not in philosophy, but in action.

The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century by TX Hammes

Colonel Hammes describes how "Fourth Generation Warfare" or "4GW" has evolved over decades, with powerful military forces from economically advanced nations being defeated by seemingly weaker opponents. This book illustrates what is meant by asymmetric warfare....and points out how we, with our hardware and technology fixation...are using the wrong tools for today's wars.

The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military by Dana Priest

This book shows how, over the past decade, the U.S. government has become increasingly reliant on the military to carry out foreign policy.

My post about progressives and the military needing each other generated both pushback and agreement.  The comments made me realize that this blog needs to help re-define what it means to be progressive and what are the values of any nascent "progressive movement." I, at least, need to understand this better before plunging into what a progressive security alternative looks like.

Here goes: Today's progressive still has a basic faith in people, participation and broadly shared well-being. However, given the degraded state of our democracy, and the increasing decadence of our political leadership, progressives can simply go back to basics and reclaim many of the democratic principles enshrined in our history like problem-solving, compromise and benign, pragmatic nationalism.  Blogs can claim the role of the progressive journalists of the last turn of the century, who documented the frenzy of institutional corruption and greed--and were motivated by a conviction that publicized facts would lead to social transformation. In other words, that truth would set us free.

Truth is a little more problematic nowadays, however. Current political leadership are virtuousos at "truth management" and polls have shown how a chunk of the population believe the product that's served up despite hard facts to the contrary. Karl Rove has truly turned corporate public relations into a governing philosophy.  So we have to learn a hard lesson, there's a worldview and then there's facts.  If you're a non-negotiable conservative, when the facts don't fit the worldview, you don't chuck the worldview, you jettison the facts.

Today's new progressive movement needs to be non-partisan but not apolitical. In short, it needs to rescue our democracy by claiming the wide terrain that has opened up in the middle of the political spectrum. This is the fundamental reason why the military and progressives need each other.  The market fundamentalism of the conservative movement--along with its anti-government rhetoric--has damaged cultural notions of sacrifice, common good and public service, the military's very reason for being.  This damage can be seen in the effects of privatization on the uniformed Americans serving in Iraq...where a private contractor earns several times more than a soldier.

The military institution--whose professional education system is steeped in American history and the labors involved in building a healthy democracy--looks more and more ideal as our civilian/public sector systems fail.   Internationally this holds true as well: American JAGs have become global human rights champions for their work defending the rights of prisoners in Guantanamo.

The conservative strategy of substituting public relations for a governing philosophy has impacted the military as well. Intentions aside, the military has allowed the public and elected leaders to persist in the belief that defense industry pronouncements equal professional military opinion. As a Hill staffer, I visited military installations--trailed by industry staff (and lobbyists) where Lockheed or Boeing reps answered all the gadget and hardware questions and the uniformed professionals were mostly silent. Strategy, doctrine and the challenges they were really facing in the world went unmentioned.  Military involvement in policymaking is always controversial, but somehow this inaction has helped lead us to where we are now: with lots of non working missile defense and not enough body armor.

In two out of the last three years, the only budgets that have passed in Congress within the fiscal year are the defense bills.  If all Congress is willing to fund is defense, then pretty soon everything is going to become a security issue.  This should frighten every American, left, right and center.

Progressives need to stand together to turn back the contagion of institutional pyromania unleashed on our federal government by conservatives.  Getting to know and understand the military, its history, culture and needs will hopefully lead to a more balanced and mutual respect.  This is an important first step in any progressive security alternative.


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I disagree with Lorelei KELLY’s assertion (below) that “today's new progressive movement needs to be non partisan but not apolitical.” That is just too cute. But, then, I come from an old political tradition that has always been progressive.

Of course, I agree with her main premise, “the military is a progressive institution--not in philosophy, but in action.”

KELLY wants a “progressive movement” that is not just warmed-over leftist rhetoric, as do I. But, like a number of ex-conservatives, of which I am not one, she probably means by “non partisan” something like “grounded in the constitution” or just “popular”, in any case very different from the pettiness that is all too characteristic of what passes for “partisanship” among the Congressional leadership. (She was a staffer on the Hill where the Vichy Democrats ruled.)

Well, that tradition – bi-partisan concession-tending -- certainly makes “partisan” obnoxious. But, it is fake partisanship: What she finds revolting is simply posturing over petty matters in order to reach “compromises” at the expense of the voters and the nation. That is how we got where we are: The GOP has internalized the log-rolling that used to go on between the “conservative” Democrats (agro-military pork) and “moderate” Republicans (military-industrial rackets). Tom DeLAY handles all that now. He can have it.

We need to “move on” but to what? Right now the only choices Democrats have are “Republican Lite” – DLC nostalgia for agro-military pork and military-industrial rackets – and religious or secular pacifism of various sorts. Neither of those are serious alternatives to what the GOP is doing – internalizing the old Jim Crow Whiggery and Great Awakening Evangelism.

So, only one party is going to embrace a military-patriotic progressivism, – republican, democratic, and robustly progressive -- as distinct from the ideological and just aesthetical militarism of the other party.

The other party, today, has what it considers a “popular” party with a “progressive” platform no less. But, the “popular, progressive” politics of Karl ROVE and Newt GINGRICH are what KELLY correctly identifies as a “conservative strategy of substituting public relations for a governing philosophy”. In fact, there is a little more to it than that: The governing philosophy of the GOP is hiding in plain sight: It is “market fundamentalism” and what might be called “unilateral isolationism”.
The other party is not coherent. For instance, the neo-conservatives were going to “liberate” Iraq’s oil and “break” OPEC by flooding the markets with cheap oil. But, they have lost that battle within the Administration to paleo-conservatives who are re-integrating Iraqi reserves into the OPEC cartel as represented in Anglo-America by the vertically-integrated “majors”.

But, there is no coherent opposition to either of these administration policies, neither of which is consistent with international security or economic and social progress anywhere. That is a failure of partisanship that only one party can correct. The old military-patriotic progressivism, – republican, democratic, and robustly progressive – lies fallow, buried in political correctness of the Democratic left and the rank opportunism of most so-called Democratic moderates. Lost is what another of these military critics of our present militarism look to: “First, heed the intentions of the Founders”, in the words of Andrew BACEVICH (The New American Militarism).

The washed-up leftists and pseudo-moderate opportunists in our party whine or bargain over anything and everything but stand and fight for nothing. But, I think a new generation within the party – the “Deaniacs” – are going to re-discover an old political tradition that has always been progressive.

And, David Van Os will lead them.


I mentioned this is a different comment thread, but it fits here. I think it's a big mistake for law schools like Yale and others bar military recruiters from their campuses. I'd rather have a Yale law grad defending detainees than a Liberty grad. Allowing recruiters on campus might also perhaps forging a link between the military and the "progressive" community.

When it comes to things like think tanks, the military, the Fed and a number of other critical organizations, I would definitely like to see a return to a nonpartisan approach.

In politics, it's not possible to be nonpartisan, even for independents. However, one can be a progressive and fact-based and nonideological and that would be an acceptable approach. Conservatives, moderates and liberals all can get some useful things done if they are fact-based and nonideological. At this point, one can't avoid the feeling that Bush is doing his best to eliminate even fact-based conservatives from the government.

Certainly, for sixty years, until Bush came along, we had a bi-partisan foreign policy that was able to tolerate shifts in emphasis as parties changed. Of course there was a lot that happened under a bi-partisan arrangement that at times went against our stated values and that did not actually help our foreign policy much.
But this was a part of a debate that went on for 60 years. That debate is now over thanks to Bush's ideological bent and ineptitude. It's going to take twenty years to rebuild a consistent and viable foreign policy.

I'm a liberal Democrat and the biggest mistake my generation has made is that too many of my fellow travellers avoided the military and business. I may be reading the history wrong but it's been my impression for years that the military underwent a period of reform from within during the 1970s and it's those reforms and a changed attitude that has managed to maintain a nonpartisan attitude in some quarters. But twenty-five years of conservativism have had their effect.

In business, I've seen three generations go from the first generation that actually had a strong sense of responsibility and actually cared about the long-term future of an enterprise to the current generation that focuses on reaching the top so they can implement a five-year self-enrichment program whether it helps their company or not; workers and the community have become almost irrelevant.

Regardless of what happens in the next few years, things are not going back to the way they were. It's important for progressives to build a relationship with the military, it's important to have a clear understanding of weapons of mass destruction, and it's important to have a foreign policy that doesn't isolate us diplomatically or isolate us economically.

Bush has done serious damage to our future. It's not just the high price at the gas pump or the deficits or the balance of payments. What's becoming obvious is that Bush has driven our friends, rivals and enemies into each other's arms and, in slow motion, we are becoming increasingly isolated. As nationalism rises around the world, no one should cheer the erosion of American leadership and the values that many tried to bring to that leadership as incomplete as the final result was. What progressives should never forget is that most of the world wants the values we talked about. Making it real will do far more for the United States in the long run than simply talking about those values as Bush has so often done.

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