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November 09, 2005

What Does the Democratic Party Believe In?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It's been a pleasure guest blogging for Democracy Arsenal. I hope I'€™ve provided some insight into the question of democracy promotion in the Arab world, and Egypt in particular. For this, my last post, I want to just throw out a few disjointed, but hopefully useful, thoughts about the future of the Democratic Party.

For a while now, I've been getting increasingly frustrated with our party's approach to foreign policy. Let me just backtrack a little bit. I remember, last year during the election campaign, when John Kerry cited "stability" as our most important objective in Iraq. There was something disturbing about the idea that our soldiers were dying by the hundreds for "stability." For some it seemed a perfectly logical statement - yet more evidence that Kerry would be the safe, sober choice relative to the recklessness of George Bush and his coterie of war-crazed advisors. For others like me, we wondered, perhaps with looks of incredulity on our faces, how and when sobriety had become the revered hallmark of the Democratic Party. (Of course, stability is of vital importance. But one would hope that stability is not, by itself, all we are striving for in Iraq).

This otherwise unremarkable statement from John Kerry was evidence of the poverty of new, or even interesting, ideas in our party. It's become a cliche by now, but we're lacking the "vision thing." For all its faults, at least the Bush administration acted (or pretended) like it operated out of conviction and not calculation. When you listened to Bush speak about a variety of foreign policy issues, you got a sense that he was presenting a vision, however frightening that vision sometimes was. Ideology mixed with foreign policy can be dangerous (i.e. the last 5 years) but, then again, I suspect that few Americans have an emotional affinity for the dank grayness of realpolitik.

There doesn'€™t seem to be even a trace of Woodrow Wilson in our Democratic leaders (Joe Biden is an exception that comes to mind). More often than not, we'€™ve avoided the issue of democracy promotion in the Middle East like it was some kind of partisan plague unleashed by Karl Rove. I dislike many things about Bush's foreign policy, but I -€“ and I say this with a more than a hint of reluctance -€“ really liked the language Bush used in his state of the union and inaugural addresses earlier this year. "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you," or "the road of providence is uneven and unpredictable, yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom." It'€™s unfortunate that these words, so long overdue, came from a Republican president. This used to be our issue. A passion for promoting freedom, democracy and human rights used to be what animated us and what drove us. This was the essence of what it meant to be a liberal internationalist. But now it seems that the liberals have turned conservative and the conservatives turned liberal.

It seems to me that a keen awareness of the West's often destructive role in the region coupled with well-deserved anger over the last 5 years of President Bush's messianic militarism has pushed many democrats to disengage from the noble and worthwhile venture of democracy building. In the process, the Democratic Party -€“ which used to be most vigorous in its support of humanitarian intervention abroad -€“ has ceded this crucial issue to the neo-conservatives.

So a few questions to all of you Democracy Arsenal readers and I'd love to hear your feedback: What do we believe in ? What are the ideas that guide us ? Will we be able to provide a bold, comprehensive vision for US foreign policy ?  More importantly, what is our overarching theme, our  message, our meta-narrative ?

Yes, I am a Democrat, and a proud one at that, but I have no problem saying that I hope that America's great project this century will be the unapologetic, vigorous promotion of democracy in the Middle East (note: this does not mean using military force). This is not so much a policy choice as it is a moral commitment. Moreover, it'€™s an idea and it'€™s a vision and, yes, it'€™s also in our national interests. This was once also, long ago, our language -€“ the language of Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy. It is easy to forget it now, but the driving force of the Left has always been something much greater, and certainly more noble than "stability." Let us, then, work to reclaim that lost spirit.


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» Putting the Democrats Back in Democracy from cruel sommer
I forgot to mention yesterday how much I love this post by Shadi Hamid. I have tried to write exactly this sort of thing before, but have been unable to do so nearly as eloquently. Read it. Then read it again. And then run for public office. [Read More]


I really liked what I read here.
Lets start a new party:
I would call it
Democratic Capitalism--Capitalism under the
firm control of the people, without corporate
Society needs enough capitalism so as to foster
and maintain individual incentive---
enough socialism so as to foster and maintain,
individual humanity and dignity.

Unfortunately, the legal fiction of corporate personhood is essential to the modern economy.

Joan Baez was once asked a hypothetical question about her being president and she stated she was not qualified because she was a pacifist. It is a moral duty to oppose an unjust or immoral war but this can not be converted to all war is unjust.

The democratic party used to be a centrist party with an anti-war wing but became an anti-war party with a centrist wing. The party needs to get comfortable with the notion, again, that sometimes the moral thing to do is fight a war and that to be unprepared for war is immoral. They only need look to FDR and JFK for inspiration.

Democracy is sometimes worth fighting for. Sometimes it's worth fighting for strangers. It would have been right to fight for Rwanda and Darfur. It was right to free Kuwait in 1991 and Afganistan in 2001. The arguement that because we can not do everything means we can do nothing needs to go from the common lexicon of the Demorcratic party.

Lane Brody

Thanks Shadi for your insightful blogging the last week. I´m looking forward to hear more about your thoughts and analyisis on the current parliamentary elections in Egypt,the new thougt, the democratization process, or the lack of it, and the American policy of promotion of democracy in the ¨broader middle east , rhetorical or real, republican or democrat. Also interested in hearing your thoughts on Jordan.


Shadi, it's very hard to be excited about promoting democracy in the Middle East after seeing what's happened in Egypt ... the Egyptian regime just gave the US a big fat middle finger by taking out Ayman Nour and I find it all too unlikely that we're going to do anything about it. So I'm a little depressed about the state of democracy in the ME right now. The rest of the opposition is a sick joke; the MB is the only political force that has its act together and they're ghamidh shywaya.

As to the big picture, I think John Ikenberry speaks for me here:

What is striking is that liberal internationalists are much more optimistic that the "forces of history" – capitalism, economic development, global integration, democracy – are pushing and pulling the world in the right direction. Bush-era neo-cons seem to believe that the U.S. needs to use force and strike quickly lest the moment of opportunity passes. Liberal internationalists believe that the key is to keep the democratic-capitalist world order stable, growing, legitimate, and well managed – which takes American leadership, strategic restraint, and commitment to rule-based order. If the core is thusly organized, the forces of change will move the world in our direction.

I know the siren song of romanticism is tempting, but I think our goals are better advanced by pragmatism and patience.

Praktike's observations and especially his Ikenberry quote are paradoxical in reference to the example chosen: Egypt. It is commitment to strategic restraint that ties our hands vis-a-vis the Mubarak regime. The so-called liberal internationalist alternative is no alternative at all. It is more of the same.

I would wish instead that our policy of democracy promotion was more consistent.

Caution is and always will be the watchword of statecraft. But incautious acts often serve as catalysts for events of historical proportions to occur. So it is that our own country has revolutionary origins.

That we now fear revolution elsewhere and seek to thwart its possibility rather than promote it, is a symptom of how conservative we have become as a nation, and of how frightfully bereft we are of historical memory.

"Praktike's observations and especially his Ikenberry quote are paradoxical in reference to the example chosen: Egypt. It is commitment to strategic restraint that ties our hands vis-a-vis the Mubarak regime. The so-called liberal internationalist alternative is no alternative at all. It is more of the same.

I would wish instead that our policy of democracy promotion was more consistent."

Well, my preference would be to dial down the rhetoric and focus instead on pragmatic objectives that aren't going to encounter road blocks. If you announce your intention to unseat the Egyptian government, which sounds like what you want to do, they're going to resist. And they're very, very good at clinging to power.

But I don't see any conflict between calling for political reform in Egypt and what Ikenberry wrote. Now, invading Egypt--that would be something Ikenberry would oppose.

Well, I'm going to throw the first bucket of dung into this lovefest for Shadi's bankrupt rant. The ideas arent't new. They're nothing more than warmed-ove musings from the Dulles brothers of the 1950s in their crusade against godless Communism. Only the target has changed. I loved how the author had the cojones to claim that the Democratic Party had no new ideas. If this is the example, then the Democratic Party truly has no new ideas.

The Democratic Party long ago had made clear that it would help those who tried to claim self-government for themselves. Our little adventure in Iraq is not that. It's an effort to impose a solution from outside and seems to be having as much success as our efforts against the Iranian regime did in 1953. I am so glad to see the "new ideas" in action.

Shadi, I believe the problem is that many of our elected Democrats believe the Republican approach.

It's hard to argue effectively against policies that you believe in.

i dont agree its so stupid!hahah

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