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April 09, 2005

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.

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Comments

I don't know where to start with this.

Imagine if you will, you were fortunate enough, like me, to be born into a liberal democracy, and one that happens not to be the U S of A (if you could stretch the definition that far). Now we could be talking any number of countries here, but in my case, it is the UK, the US's closest ally. Take some time and think about it. You're still the same person, with the same unalienable rights (or would you dispute this - does being a US citizen place you above all other so called 'humans'). Ok, doesn't read so well, does it?

Now, let's take a it a step further. Let's say you live on the bread line in a Venezuelan barrio, or have been born into a family of 15 in the Hindu Kush. Now read what you have written.

I don't mean to belittle what you trying to outline above, or what this ongoing discussion (blog?) is trying to achieve, but really, until America, the city on the hill, blessed with unprecedented power to do good OR ill, starts to realise the constitution that your forefathers fought to bring about, despite its faults still (or at least, could be) rightly viewed as a model for the world - not only should it apply to former slaves in your own country, but every human being on this planet, then we all, American's and everyone else alike, have a long way to fall ...

"If given a choice of whether the U.S. is better off being liked or feared around the world, most Americans would choose feared." Machiavelli might offer that choice, but candidates don't. Probably they know that Americans want to be liked by the good guys and feared by the bad guys. Think Superman. Bush played to this in 2000 when he called for America to be humble, but strong.

It is not widely understood by Americans that a lot of "good guys" around the world Really Didn't Like the Iraq war. I think progressives -- heck, pragmatists -- are doomed if they can't find a way to break out of the global test / no-permission-slip "debate" without conveying that America is itself a bad guy (which is indeed a losing message).

I personally think it's kind of weird to utterly discount U.S. public support for the UN as "studies" while placing heavy emphasis on unsubstantiated hypotheticals. But we should take a close look at the 2004 campaign to see what it shows about the political viability of multilateralism. Maybe the U.S. public is like the stereotypical woman who says she wants a nice guy but falls for the brute every time. Ick. I think the truth is at least more subtle than points #1-3 above make it seem.

If your goal is to help progressives regain[sic] the upper hand in foreign policy, I can only take it that with your myth #5 ("Either the left or the center will get a foreign policy platform they are reasonably happy with."), you are saying either that the left and the center are not progressives or that 'the upper hand' can somehow consist of a platform one is not reasonably happy with[sic]...

I don't see how a defense of either of those positions can rely on anything but tautology or triviality, but do you care to give it a whirl?

Frankly, most of what you've given us here is incoherent, but just to stick with #5 for the moment...Perhaps you'd visit the comments to say when progressives last had the upper hand on foreign policy? How did that manifest itself? How long did it last?

You seem genuinely to be a person who believes that Bush has done everything for the right reasons, to bring democracy to the world, he merely may not have done enough of it and he hasn't sometimes followed it up in the very best way -- Is it really the place of such a person to be giving political advice to 'progressives?' I mean, really, wouldn't you feel closer to, and be more warmly embraced by the right?

Or am I just slow in getting your point that it's the right that represents progressivity?

So ... what about the Bush administration's foreign policy do you oppose, exactly?

Praktike, you took the wind right out of my sails! Maybe I'll still come up with a post. Although, in Ms. Nossel's defense, she appears to be talking more about premises than conclusions. I think you pick up on what I do - that if the premises are more or less the same, what reason is there to come to different conclusions.

Personally, I'm more put off by the notion that a political faction should be seeking "the upper hand" in a public debate rather than seeking to promote the best policy for the American people. I understand that's what the goal is, so why not talk about it that way? It appears to me there's much more to be gained by working together (though, for those who don't know me, I should disclose I'm from "the other side") - especially when the term "progressive" seems to be getting muddier and muddier every day.

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.

You could take this in the way you did. But you forget that it was Arafat who was holding out the olive branch throughout the entire intifada, endorsing the Clinton plan and the Geneva talks. What this really proves is that Ariel Sharon wouldn't talk with Arafat, and that American hawkish support of Israel has hindered the peace process. Not the assertion you tried to debunk (even I'd agree that the Israel support is small potatoes next to a slew of other problems), but you're nonetheless wrong, demonstrably.

Personally, I'm more put off by the notion that a political faction should be seeking "the upper hand" in a public debate rather than seeking to promote the best policy for the American people.

Oh, foreign policy debates have long moved past what's "the best policy for the American people." What we have is a debate about the best way to run the world, which is something rather different.

I think most Americans would argue that an America that runs the world is best for Americans. Ask them, ask any of them:

"If you could bequeath America's economic and military power to ANY nation on Earth (including the USA), which nation would it be?"

Is there any question what the answer would be? Most Americans don't mind discussions about how to run the world, it's when the World starts discussing how it will run America (i.e. Kyoto, ICC, etc) that gets people riled up.

I think you make some very good points (except #10) but I want to add that there are so many concrete issues that people can relate to:
1. Oil money=money for terrorists so we should decrease our dependence
2. Why are we still so close with the Saudis who finance Islamic extremism more than anyone?
3. Supporting democracy can come through cultural exchange, financial aid, etc.
4. Reckless wars will increase the chance that WMD end up in the hands of terrorists:

http://www.voicesofreason.info/2005/02/why-bush-and-all-of-us-are-lucky-that.html

etc. etc.

J.S.

http://voicesofreason.info

In terms of the issue of protectionism, while labor often gest bashed for protectionism, it is often business that campaigns for protectionism as much as if not more than labor (think prohibitions on sugar imports and other agricultural imports as well as textile imports, all equally if not more supported by industry associations as by some members of the AFL-CIO). Second, protectionism is a rational agenda for a labor movement that has no wage insurance, a weak unemployment insurance or and a weak trade adjustment program (or any other adjustment program for that matter).

While I generally agree with the notion that protectionism is not the best policy, labeling it as simply labor's fault is simplistic.

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