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April 23, 2006

10 Foreign Policy Questions Progressives Ought to Be Thinking About How to Answer
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

After a series of meetings and discussions this past week on questions of progressive strategy thinking beyond 2006 and toward 2008, here are 10 questions progressives ought to be thinking hard about how to answer.  I have left out issues - like China, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East Peace Process, Iraq and more - - upon which I sense relative consensus among progressive ranks.  These are issues that either divide us or on which we have no clear answers at all:

1.  Should the US Military Be Enlarged? - The Center for American Progress and Hillary Clinton say yes, citing our current predicament in Iraq as Exhibit A.  Others believe if we forswear unilateral invasions and can reorient the armed forces to be better able to handle challenges like post-conflict reconstruction, we won't need more personnel. 

2.  Is the Fight Against Terror the #1 priority or simply a top priority? - Progressives are in general agreement that the fight against terror will be a centerpiece of our foreign policy for years to come, and that the battle needs to be waged more broadly and effectively than it has in the past 5 years.  But is combating terror the foremost objective?  Has the emphasis on terror led us to overlook or neglect other issues?

3.  What is our position on free trade?  I am troubled that coming up on six years after the Democrats first lost the White House, progressives have yet to arrive at a broadly accepted position in the debate over protectionism versus free trade.   Surely the answer lies with an enlightened free trade, paired with systematic measures to temper its ill effects both at home and abroad.  But the details remain unresolved and badly needed consensus is still elusive.

4.  What are the primary lessons of Iraq for American foreign policy?  Iraq was not decisive in the 2002 elections or the 2004 elections.  Nor will it be in 2006 or 2008.  As the debacle of the lead-up to the war begins to fade from the headlines, the big remaining question will be where does Iraq leave us and what's next.  Though the fat lady has not yet sung in Baghdad progressives need to begin to think in terms of a post-Iraq foreign policy.

5.  How should the US promote democracy around the world?  Most progressives seem to agree that despite the disastrous results of the Bush Administration's purported press for democracy in the Middle East, we ought not throw the baby out with the bath water and abandon an agenda of trying to advance democracy globally.  We agree that Bush went about it the wrong way, but need to build consensus on what the right approach will look like.

6.  What will we do to revive global nuclear non-proliferation?  Progressives need to put forward a clear set of proposals for restriking the broken bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and, relatedly, for responding to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea's.  Talking tough on WMD and then advocating little more specific than direct talks with rash and unreliable regimes cannot be the answer.

7.  How will we deal with global development and poverty?  While progressives have traditionally paid more attention to these issues, it was conservatives who enacted the Millennium Challenge Account which, at least on paper, is probably the biggest policy innovation to occur in this arena in decades.  When progressives seek to rebuild global support for American leadership and policy priorities like WMD and terrorism, other countries will demand answers to this question.

8.  What are our big new ideas?  We didn't have any memorable ones in 2004 and cannot afford a similar void again.  My favorite is still the Stabilization Corps

9.  What More Needs to Be Done to Straighten Out the Gathering and Use of Intelligence?  A raft of questions are emerging over whether the creation of the post of Director of National Intelligence is serving the coordination function the 9/11 Commission envisioned, or has instead become yet another bureaucratic layer protecting the Pentagon's vast intelligence budget and operation from scrutiny.  Progressives need to assert a position.

10.  What needs to be done to shore up American superpowerdom?  My own view is that this will be the central question of the post-Iraq era, and that the answers are manifold and of vital importance.

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Comments

The question about Intelligence is probably #1 if ordered in terms of importance. Only if we can trust our intelligence can we determine how many troops we'll need, what the priority of the "war on terror" really is, etc.

Excellent list of questions, Suzanne: the problem, though, in the political sphere, is not so much what questions need to be asked: but far more importantly, what the answers should be.
The Bush Administration has, so far, been able to set the terms of any foreign or domestic policy discussion in no small part by already having a ready set of answers to provide. Wrong-headed answers for the most part (IMHO) - based on a simplistic worldview. and flavored with facile jingoism: but "answers" nonetheless.
If any "progressives" (or, for that matter, any conservatives, liberals or centrists) wish to wrest, even in a small way, control of the direction of this country's policies away from the dangerously incompetent hands of the present Administration; they must be prepared to offer a credible alternative policy, or slate of policies. Otherwise any and all efforts to effect change will run aground on the twin shoals of apathy and nationalism: hazards which the Bush crew have spent five+ years dredging up for that very purpose.

I believe the military does need to be enlarged. Politians can always negotiate better with other countries when they have the forces to back up their words. We had draw downs after WWI and WWII and look what happened. Countries and people will always wait to do something if they perceive weakness.

An excellent rubric! Its unstated warrants are clearly pro-American --- that's a good way to win American elections.

The current, unabashedly anti-American approach has garnered Democrats nothing.

If you discover good answers to these questions, Democrats might start winning elections again.

Stating that we ought to "forswear unilaeral invasions" and "reorient the armed forces" to better do post-reconstruction efforts is tantemont to waving a white flag. First of all, we're stuck in Iraq and even if we got out in FY07, which doesn't look good unless the Dems win in November AND grow a pair, we're going to need to replenish the force and be prepared for other threats.

Between the Clinton drawdowns and the Bush refusal to grow the force, the challenge is convincing the Congress that they can back off the excessive acquisition program that is costing us billions more than necessary. Simultaneously, we need to convince the services that they can back off the ridiculous requirements built into the acquisition programs and still get a good program. Then reinvest the money where it belongs - into the troops, for more troops for more training, and for retention.

We don't need to spend more on defense, we just need to spend more wisely. And if we work with our allies and pick the right battles, as you suggest, then it's very much easier to do the post-conflict clean-up.

Here's my answers:

1. We already spend more money on the American military than the rest of the world combined spends on their militaries. What we need to do is end the imperial wars and the policy of unilateralism put forward by the morons of the far right, which have been demonstratedto be completely counterproductive to any set of political goals designed to actually advance American Vital Interests.

2. The War on Terra is a crock of propaganda designed to promote a political justification for the presidential coup d' etat against the Constitution promoted by the Bush-Cheney-Gonzales-Addington-Yoo-theorists of "l' etat c'est moi" - were it otherwise, there would have been no war on Iraq where we create 5 "terrorists" for every one we kill, and Osama Bin Forgotten would have been captured. It really is police work, not military work.

3. "Free trade" is imperial mercantilism dressed up with standard-issue fifth-rate B-school bullshit buzzwords. If you want to know why all those Mexican farmers are here willing to mow your lawn and all the other jobs they take, look at how NAFTA destroyed small-time Mexican community agriculture, to the point these people can't live on their farms anymore, at the same time destroying the American "family farm" in favor of agribusiness and their frankenstein "food". There isn't an issue under the topic "free trade" that isn't ultimately all about maximizing profits for the corporate pimps while pauperizing everyone else so all we can afford to buy are the cheap clothes made by prison labor in China after our jobs were exported in the name of corporate profit margins.

4. The primary lesson from the Invasion of Pandora's Box - aka the war *on* Iraq - is to stop listening to the morons who celebrate the idea of American Empire, and not commit such an incredibly stupid act again.

5. We should promote democracy around the world by the radical act of actually practicing it both domestically and internationally. The best way to do it internationally is to look at everything we're doing now and do the opposite, since nothing we're doing now "promotes democracy." Of course, this would also include understanding and accepting that the rest of the world might democratically vote to tell us to "go fuck yourself" in Dick Cheney's immortal words.

6. How do we stop the global nuclear arms race? Rewarding the Pakistans and the Indias isn't the way to go about it, and building bunker-buster bombs ourselves doesn't cut it either.

7. How do we deal with global development and poverty? Well, we start by deciding that what's good for Wall Street is generally not good for anyone else. We get rid of the WTO and "globalism" and start promoting policies that aren't written in the corporate boardrooms. That will also go far in ending world poverty.

8. What are the "big new ideas"? See above.

9. What needs to be done to straighten out intelligence? How about putting Larry Johnson and that guy who was on 60 Minutes last night, telling the truth about Bush's bullshit, in charge of the CIA, and taking Porter Goss out and hanging him from the first available lamp post? Getting rid of Dick Cheney will also go far in accomplishing the needed reforms.

10. Stop talking about the "American exceptionalism" - which has never ever existed outside the fevered minds of morons like Woodrow Wilson and George Bush - and stop worrying about being a "super power," since all we have now is the "power" Rome and Britain had, i.e., a big military to scare people with, and a hollowed-out economy incapable of providing support for doing anything worthwhile.

Of course, doing any of this would mean that the otherwise-unemployables from Versailles-on-the-Potomac (as my old friend the late David Hackworth used to call that swamp) like the people who run this site, would find themselves actually unemployed. So I am not holding my breath that any of it would happen.

But all the other bullshit being spouted here is nothing but, as they say, "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" and about as useful.


I am no “progressive” as the term is used here. But you pose interesting questions, and you may be interested in hearing from the reasonable right. So:

1. My son is in the military, and I’m given the sense that it is large enough. A second / third front in Iran need not call for more troops, but rather for movement of existing troops out of Europe, where their presence is obsolete, and into the more arid climes. What would be needed is not more manpower, but more hardware.

2. If the question is, IS the WOT the top priority, the answer is clearly no. WW II teaches us about what it is to focus an economy and population on defeating an enemy. Tires were unavailable. Gas was rationed, as was meat, sugar, etc. This is merely a priority – seems about on a par with the “war on drugs’ – except that the military is involved.

3. The Left needs to pick sides. Unions or (illegal) immigration. The Right has it’s own problems in this regard – cheap labor or controlled borders. As an observer, I don’t see a coherent position, from your side.

4. You phrase it, “debacle.” You refer to the “Bush lied” mantra, I presume. You must understand by now that that chant wins no converts. Less emotion, more reasoned discourse, might score points.

5. Odd, how you see it as disaster, and I see it as the natural and expected outworking of historical processes. The werewolf actions in Germany lasted for two and a half years. Saddam emptied the prisons, and hardcore thugs roam the streets – of course, recruited. The Baathist police force was not a crime-solving body, but an arm of political repression. Of course there would be problems. Big ones. Since the USA isn’t the Raj, we don’t put down Sepoy rebellions with massacres. Little slower, then. RE promoting democracy, seems like Lebanon and Libya or heading our way. Whatever we’re doing seems more effective than the *realpolitik* of ages past.

6. Can’t say what *you’d* do. You have a reasonable tone, so I don’t want to be snotty and say ‘appeasement.’ But I just wrote on the Rhineland analogy, here

http://forgottenprophets.blogspot.com/2006/04/statuesque.html

and I suggest that hard and violent action is needed, against this particular enemy. My blog has an archive on Islamism, where I outline my thinking.

7. Good question. Why is Mexico a third world country that exports is unwanted and surplus population here, like drug smugglers? Corruption. They have great material resources. Wasted on oligarchies and fat cats. The World Bank solution, of flushing billions down the corruption toilet needs a rethinking, eh? But what is it that brings prosperity? I suggest enlighted self-interest. Free enterprise regulated to prevent corruption. Simplistic, I know, but it comes with writing sentences rather than paragraphs.

8. I suggest, for the Left, branching into a sort of patriotism. An idealism that acknowledges the imperfectability of human nature, and works with that fact. So, a Peace Corp, a CCC, that embraces and celebrates what is great and shareable in the American spirit. I know – unlikely.

9. Sorry, but my bias is that the Left loves bureaucracy. An ethos of individual excellence and accountability is the solution to bureaucratic layering. And that’s not a Right or Left thing. Accountability comes with a linear organizational structure – smaller, leaner. Look at successful private corporations, for the model. Copy success, not theory.

10. You *want* the US to be the super power? Has *progressive* taken on a new meaning? I don’t particularity want the US to be the world policeman. Let somebody else do it. But since it is us, and since no one else will do it, I suggest dumping the UN – by which I mean taking it even less seriously than we do, and forming an analogous body for which there are actual criteria for joining. Like being a liberal democracy, with meaningful human rights laws (not perfect, just better). Economic benefits should flow from such membership, and accountability. I won’t elaborate – seems clear.

Interesting questions. Thoughtful post.


Best,

Jack H

I think #10 is central. If we don't get a good answer to that one, all the others turn to pipe dreams.

First, we need cheap alternate energy. If we don't get that we aren't going to become a superpower again.

Second, we need a new pathway for other nations to join the USA. Becoming a US territory for some indefinite time first will not do it. Many of our external problems would be far better as internal problems. Like, if mexico were to become 18 US states instead of a foreign country, they would be better off and we would be better off. Similarly guatemala, honduras, el salvador, and nicaragua. They would get far more influence on the US government, and far better outside investment, etc. And we would do far better investing in them and so on. But it would have to be voluntary on their part, and it would take a method all agreed was fair. Ideally it should be somehow gradual so everybody would have time to figure out the details. That isn't a project that can be completed in 4 years, but it's a project that's worth doing. We americans get along far better with each other than we do with foreigners. So persuade the foreigners to be americans....

Third, scale back our military while we rebuild the economy. We can't afford the military we have, just now. When we get cheap energy then we can build up the military again. On the other hand, maybe we need to keep a strong navy, if we can do it cheaply enough. And if we can afford a strong navy we need to start building nuclear cruisers again. We have aircraft carriers that can go anywhere, and all their support craft that they're sitting ducks without are running on oil. And so are all the planes. We desperately need to think this out....

So -- #1. Should the military be enlarged? Only when we can afford it, in the short run we must scale it down to something we can afford.

#2. Fight against terror? Mostly international police stuff, and increase our first responders and local police etc as we can afford it. The giant homeland security boondoggle shows no sign of being workable, we probably need to dismantle that and salvage some useful pieces of it.

#3. Free trade? Why should we let other nations manipulate our trade without any response from us? Maybe free trade with nations that do free trade with us? (But that means nobody.) Negotiate about our subsidised industries and their subsidised industries? Yes! Let them explain to the media about our subsidies that our lobbyists don't want the media to cover?! Oh well. Issues of free trade don't even come up for nations that have joined the USA....

#4. Lessons of iraq? Our military is very very good at killing people and blowing things up, when price is no object. We aren't very good at running wars and occupations on the cheap. I guess the biggest lesson about occupation, reconstruction, democracy promotion, etc is just -- don't suck.

#5. Democracy promotion. Writing inspiring speeches explaining what democracy is good for. Likewise web pages, documentaries, etc. We might make agreements with foreign nations, they get to proselytise to us about whatever they like and we get to run our democracy stuff there. Would the syrians, say, agree to let us do that in exchange for a chance to tell us about themselves? When almost everything we hear about them now comes through israel? Maybe.

I think the best chance for democracy comes when a whole nation gets disgusted by their current government and drives them out with general strike etc. If enough people are burning for democracy when that happens, there's a good chance. The philippines. Nicaragua. Hungary. Etc. Cuba failed at that, people didn't stop a nondemocratic government from getting in. Democracy is most good when the citizens deeply want it. When the army is loyal to the democracy to the point that a coup can't get its start. You can't impose a democracy any more than you can free a slave. Slaves stay slaves until they free themselves.

6. Nonproliferation? Nonproliferation is dead. The only way we get nonproliferation now is when nations see that nukes are not worth having. We'd promote that if we reduced our own nukes by about 90% (or maybe 95%, or even 99%) and promised we wouldn't make a first strike on anybody, but we might quite likely nuke anybody else who did make a first strike. But probably nonproliferation is dead until the day two small nuclear powers have a small nuclear war and the whole world gets a look at what the winner has won. That month nonproliferation will be resurrected.

7. Global development and poverty. We are getting slowly poorer. We fudge the statistics and keep borrowing, like a man who keeps spending hoping his creditors won't notice how bad off he is. The best thing we could do for global poverty is find cheap alternate energy that poor countries can use too. There are more things we can do once we do that, but without that we can't do much -- even for ourselves.

9. Intelligence. We need to spend enough on this to keep our hand in, so we can expand it again when we can afford to do something about the intelligence reports we get.

Oil at $70 a barrel cripples us. People say we have all the synfuel we want at $70 a barrel -- I doubt this, not this year or next year. We could easily get to $80. All our great plans depend on our not being crippled. So answering #10 is the most important. Without a good answer to that one it mostly doesn't matter what we decide about the rest.

I think the problems of the "progressive ranks" and concerns about their "strategy" go deeper than can be addressed by yet another jejune bullet-ponting of reality. So I will abstain from coughing up answers to this particular list of canned, leading questions.

One of the comments stood out for me though:

As the debacle of the lead-up to the war begins to fade from the headlines, the big remaining question will be where does Iraq leave us and what's next. Though the fat lady has not yet sung in Baghdad progressives need to begin to think in terms of a post-Iraq foreign policy.

Isn't it a bit unseemly to start digging the memory hole while our soldiers are still dying in Iraq? The fat lady!? I take it Suzanne isn't very close to anyone who is actually over there; otherwise it is hard to understand how she could resort to such an offhand and tastless cliche. I can understand why all the so-called Truman Democrats, who are smeared up to their elbows with Mesopotamian gore, would be so eager to change the subject at this time. But I would remind everyone that we still have tens of thousands of soldiers waking up each day to risk their lives in the battle zone, and who do not yet have the luxury of thinking about a "post-Iraq foreign policy."

like most militarists, Nossel starts with the presumption that progressives aren't already thinking about these issues, and haven't offered a plethora of ideas. Basically, this is just one more case of "special pleadings" by another member of the Beltway cocktail circuit who has bellied up to the progressive think tank trough, in the hope of getting a government job the next time a Democrat is elected president.

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