Weekly Top 10 List - Top 10 Myths Progressives Need to Let Go Of to Regain the Upper Hand on Foreign Policy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel
1. Americans like and care about the UN – Progressives love to cite studies showing that most Americans support the UN. That support may be a mile wide, but its an inch thick and never translates into political payback for politicians who either undermine or strengthen the world body It's not that going through the UN on many issues doesn't make sense to people, but they need to see the rationale for it.
2. Americans want to be liked/don’t want to be seen as a global bully – Most progressive foreign policy types (myself included) believe that, as a strategic matter, the U.S. is best off being liked and respected around the world. But this should not be confused with public concern for the U.S.’s popularity. If given a choice of whether the U.S. is better off being liked or feared around the world, most Americans would choose feared. We need to explain that being liked need not be at the expense of being influential.
3. Americans care about alliances for their own sake – Clinton framed the progressive approach as: “with others when we can, alone when we must.” (Amb. Richard Gardner may have originated this coinage). Some have described the conservative ethos as “alone where possible, with others where forced to.” The public likes coalitions in that they save money, and because international imprimatur can save us divisive and politically costly internal debates. But they are also deeply attached to the idea that we can act alone. The end result is something like: “with others where possible, alone when we feel like it.” So we cannot totally discount the option of going it alone.
4. A progressive foreign policy is reconcilable with protectionism – Protectionism will never look like anything other than hypocritical pandering to labor. That doesn’t mean labor’s interests don’t have to be taken into account. Progressives should be working now to put flesh on the bones of compromises involving labor and human rights standards that most agree are the only way forward here.
5. Either the left or the center will get a foreign policy platform it is reasonably happy with – Ain’t gonna happen on either side. Neither of their pure prescriptions will attract a broad enough constituency, so we need both sides under the tent. They can debate all they want in bars and blogs, but when it comes to politics, both sides need to replace purity with pragmatism.
6. America is a dangerous force in the world/does more bad than good – Americans will never follow a leader who believes this. (A corollary myth we must abandon is the idea that a policy of promoting democratization is necessarily tantamount to imperialism. Bush has made it that, but it needn't be. See more on that here). We need to assert a confident vision of how American power can be channeled to positive ends.
7. Americans can fully appreciate abstract threats – Though they are all critical issues, talk of loose Russian nukes, North Korean uranium enrichment and dirty bombs aren’t going to move ordinary Americans unless something happens to make these threats real. Until then, the criticism of conservatives’ over-emphasis on the terrorist risk at the expense of these dangers falls flat. We should continue to talk about these things, but should not expect most Americans to focus on them.
8. The failures in Iraq will push ordinary Americans toward a progressive foreign policy – This did not happen in 2004 when Iraq was at its worst, and won’t happen in future. That most Americans do not approve of the U.S.’s approach to post-war Iraq is not driving them toward alternatives (probably because the level of casualties is low enough). Our criticisms and the alternatives we offer need to go well beyond Iraq.
9. We’re up against a tradition of passivity and pacifism in our own ranks – Not so. Witness FDR, Truman, JFK and even Bill Clinton. We need to get over our own self-doubts if we’re going to win over others. Getting closer to the military as suggested here and here will help. So will elevating people with the background and personality to be convincing in talking about security issues.
10. The U.S.’s challenges in the Middle East are primarily caused by our policy toward Israel – On the contrary, it’s the U.S.’s unwavering support (and his own history of hawkishness) that has allowed Ariel Sharon to move forward. Abbas’ election and the restarting of peace talks prove that Arafat was a huge part of the problem in recent years. At the same time, there are areas where we can and should challenge Israel.