Weekly Top 10 List: Top 10 Topics That Belong on Progressives' Homework Assignment
Posted by Suzanne Nossel
Most of us seem to agree that progressives need a clear set of ideas that can attract wide support in order to fuel a foreign policy platform that gains traction (there’s some ferment over whether such ideas should be thought of as an ends or a means – to me the answer is both).
We should take the next year or so to formulate ideas in each of these areas, and then work to syndicate them across the constituencies that matter - the military, the unions, the left, interested ethnic groups, business, moderate and independent voters, etc. We won’t get broad agreement in all areas, but if we can forge some new ground in 5-6 (including #10) we’ll be well ahead of where we are now.
This isn't a list of all issues that matter. In some areas – like the war on terror, the Mideast peace process and intelligence reform – change is so fast that platforms agreed now risk irrelevancy by the time the public debate refocuses on foreign policy (sometime in 2007, is my guess). As Derek has touched on here, I think progressives have an idea how they’d approach Europe.
There are areas – I would count armed intervention as one – that we must continue to talk about, but where I don’t think fixed policies necessarily have a whole lot of influence over how specific situations get handled. There are other questions, like the treatment of veterans, where we can do a whole lot better than conservatives without having to forge brand new policy ground.
Here are some ideas where some more homework could make a big difference. I invite commentators to add their own to the list.
1. Non-Proliferation. Too often, progressives seem reduced to arguing over the size shape of the negotiation table on these issues, rather than laying out a clear alternative to policies that are flagging. (see this exchange on North Korea from the first 2004 Presidential debate) This Carnegie Commission Report offers some useful new thinking to get the ball rolling.
2. Trade. We’ve begun to discuss here and here, and we all seem to agree that policy is stalled. Tom Friedman’s new book describes what we are up against, essentially tens of thousands of Indian programmers and call center entrepreneurs who are a lot hungrier than we are. The new issue of Foreign Affairs reports that we’ve slipped to 13th in the global ranking for Internet Development, an area that helped us survive the last big economic dislocation a decade ago. The direction needed (new engines for job growth, much broader and better supported retraining and restructuring initiatives, realistic labor and environmetnal standards, etc.) is obvious though the details will be devilish. Unions will need to get involved or their fears of irrelevancy will become reality. I read this short piece by Gene Sperling on the topic a while ago and still like it.
3. China. While the Bush Administration has antagonized traditional allies and racked up record trade deficits, the Chinese economy is growing at a record pace (though some think its in for a fall, there’s also a sneaking suspicion the Chinese may be able to sustain it) , and the government is shoring up relations with smaller allies and trading partners throughout Asia, isolating Japan. Meanwhile its hard to escape the conclusion that U.S. influence in the region is gradually waning, which may be precisely what the Chinese were hoping to accomplish. Progressives need a clear strategy for how we will play in Asia.
4. Democratization. We’ve talked about this already here and here. The latest Security and Peace Institute poll reveals that Democrats are less likely to view the promotion of democracy as a foreign policy goal than either Republicans or Independents. That’s understandable given the tainting of the concept in recent years, but we need an agenda for recapturing this issue and reuniting our own supporters behind it.
5. Military Readiness. The question of how we ensure that our military manpower needs are met in future is a tough one, but if progressives are hoping to forge a closer bond to the military (see discussions on Democracy Arsenal here and here) we are going to need to answer it. This provocative piece in the Washington Monthly is interesting less for its argument on behalf of a draft than for its analysis of why each of the alternatives now on the table is so problematic. We'd better start generating some more options.
6. Latin America. Bush talked a good game, but has failed to deliver. At the same time as our influence is diminishing in Asia, it waning in our own backyard. Relations with Mexico are uneasy. Brazil is stepping out as a leader within the region, and of poor countries the world over. Meanwhile China is also stepping into the breach, upping its trade and political influence in the region. Cuba, and the attendant politics, also need to be part of the puzzle. While none of this may hurt us much for now, this shifts will matter in the long-term. My instinct is that with China shoring up power in its backyard and Europe unified, solidifying relations in our own backyard ought to be a top priority. Bush nodded in this direction at a recent meeting with the Mexican and Canadian heads of government, but odds are he won’t follow through. Progressives need to explain how we will.
7. Global health. Progressives care a lot about this issue. In the SPI poll, Democrats rated the spread of AIDS as their second highest national security priority (next to bringing the troops home from Iraq). The Marburg virus loose in Angola is tragic and terrifying, and it’s a matter of time before something like that affects us here. But we haven’t seen a lot of new ideas on what to do differently. Maybe we ought to be training tens of thousands of African doctors (and bribing them to go back to Africa), opening a health clinic for every 5,000 residents in Sub-Sahara. A good place to start would be science writer Laurie Garrett's ideas.
8. Development. Here again, progressives are high on concern (again, see SPI poll), but low on ideas. We should not be intimidated by the Bush track record - the Millennium Challenge Account sounded like a smart idea, but from what I can tell has yet to disburse a dime. Maybe the answer is broad debt relief, and/or a more aggressive challenge program that has something to offer countries that have the will but not the resources or skill to clean up their acts and institute accountability and governance procedures.
9. Post-Conflict Reconstruction. This is a problem that won’t go away, and an area where current policies have failed. I like the idea of creating a dedicated post-conflict stabilization corps because I think inter-agency coordinators and ad-hoc personnel rosters will never be up to the job. But whether that's the answer or not, we need to come up with something.
10. An Umbrella Philosophy. Most importantly, we need an umbrella that makes all of the and more sound coherent and compelling. I am still toying with the idea of Democratic Consolidation; essentially a policy aimed at shoring up democracy around the world, and soldering together a network of democracies and supporting institutions with the U.S. at the center. A lot -- including policies toward Asia, South America, and Africa -- would fit under that rubric.
Whether you like these ideas or not, I'd be interested in hearing yours.