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December 09, 2006

Can "We" Be A Movement?
Posted by Ali Eteraz

I apologize for the inordinately long delay between postings. I was busy getting Eteraz.Org: States of Islam up and running. It is an interactive blog community related to the religion and politics of Islam, as well as general political discussion, and is open to all. It's existence ties in with what I'm going to talk about here.

I have been pretty actively reading the debates at various smaller progressive blogs, as well as a lot of the foreign policy discussions taking place at DailyKos. In the post-victory atmosphere, I'm not exactly seeing very much that makes me hopeful. It is my contention that the "left" is now firmly split between the Truman Democrat and the Isolationist position, and the former is in danger of being overrun because it does not exist as a cohesive movement, but only as something that "DC insiders" know about.

Today's Isolationist Leftist shares almost nothing with a Truman Democrat in terms of foreign policy. Here are the six foreign policy "principles" that define a Truman Democrat: American exceptionalism, the use of force, American hegemony, the world community, liberal-mindedness, and helping the least well off. Today's Isolationist Left rejects the first three of those without a thought (because they are presumed to be solely belonging to the Neo-Cons). The other three are accepted as long as they do not require having to affirm any of the first three principles.

Perhaps nowhere is this split better reflected than in the issue of Iraq. The Isolationist Left wants an immediate withdrawal. Let the chips fall where they may afterward. A Truman Democrat wants to use diplomacy to engage the regional powers, wants to engage the Iraqi police so the country does not descend into nefarious sectarianism (and to prevent a potential human catastrophe), and would, in the future, provide for financial support of all democratic elements in Iraq. In the event that Iran make a military move over Iraq, the Isolationist Left would conclude that such assertiveness by Iran was an unavoidable consequence of us having entered the war. A Truman Democrat would, on the other hand, agitate for immediate quasi-military action to push Iran back (though likely to withhold from all out war).

In other words, it is time we accepted that vast gulf between a Truman Democrat and an Isolationist Leftist. This is hard to swallow, I know, because a Truman Democrat shares many many many principles of importance with the Isolationist Left within the domestic sphere -- shares views on immigration, civil liberties, women's rights, minority rights, labor, regulation, and so on. So the question becomes, if the gulf on the foreign policy issue is really insurmountable, but unity on the domestic front almost necessary (in order to keep the conservatives at bay), how can Truman Democrats ever do the kind of foreign policy they want to engage in?

It's pretty simple: Truman Democrats need to become a "movement" that covers not merely foreign policy, but extends itself to all elements of the domestic sphere. Right now, I am labeling this post "progressive strategy." Yet, I have to be honest. When I think of "progressives" I don't think of a Truman Democrat. No, I think of the Isolationist Leftists (with whom I share a domestic agenda), whose biggest foreign policy issue right now is whether to impeach Bush or not and who have virtually no qualms in leaving the Iraqi and Afghani populace in the midst of massive civil wars (that our country begat). As I see it (from the rank and file position as I am no wonk), Truman Democrats need a movement.

Are they to choose Centrism? Center-Leftism? "Liberalism?" (careful there, the center-right hawks already took that one over). My very simple fear is that we -- all of us on the Left -- are and have already, by virtue of having declared ourselves "progressives" bought into supporting the Isolationist Leftist big-whigs. I am looking at the Democracy Arsenal blogroll right now (and admittedly it doesn't reflect an ideological affiliation), but I am seeing the names of a bunch of progressives whose views on foreign policy are largely driven by negation: we will do the opposite of what those cursed conservatives do.

I'm afraid to say, but I think the Truman-Democrats need to start to diversify. They need to make mini celebrities out of themselves. They need to start to touch the rank and file. Thing is, they know full well that they are lacking in this department and do make occassional efforts to take their position populist. But they need to do more. They need to create a viable netroots. They need to start showing up in progressive webzines (like Counterpunch and Cursor) and try and create a dialogue on the issue of foreign policy with their Isolationist Leftist brethren (with whom they have a shared domestic agenda, I reiterate).

It is not too late to do this. But it can get out of hand. In UK, the split between the Isolationists and their equivalent of the Truman Democrats is complete. If anyone even so much as suggests that he/she would like to remain in Iraq to prevent a catastrophe that would be caused by our presence there, they are immediately labeled fascist and Nazi. I know this because while I am not British I followed the Euston Manifesto very closely. You'd think that the Eustonites -- if you listened only to the British Isolationist Progressive -- were a bunch of neo-imperialistic colonizers.

This is what the Truman Democrats are going to be called by their Isolationist Leftist brethren. Unless they do something. Unless they create a broad and wide-ranging social movement (which means it has to be more than just a foreign policy movement).

I have some idea on how this can be accomplished. I'll lay out some pointers right now:

  1. Destroy the illusion (and that is all it really is), that you guys (wonks) are merely elitist wonks. There is only one way to do this. You have to get your message out to as many people as possible (I'm talking about sheer number). You do this by relaying on what I am going to term "intermediate authorities." (People who are not wonks but do tend to think that the wonks have something meanginful to impart).
  2. Write in those publications which are currently dominated by Isolationist Leftists -- where the only view on foreign policy is the one where the Left does what the Right is not doing.
  3. Try to reach out to those people in the Center-Right who are turned off by the Right at the moment. This is a brief moment but the opportunity is out there right now. A Truman Democrat does this by peddling not the first three of the six principles listed above (they already agree with you on this and will tell you that you are nothing more than a Neo-con), but by peddling the last three. A large part of the Center-Right is very concerned about the fact that our heavy handed policies are turning an entire religion against us. We can go in and say (and prove) that we are willing to work with forces in that religion which support us. This will warm many hearts on the Center-Right.
  4. Reach out to the large Muslim bloc in Western English speaking nations. This is almost common sense. Muslim communities in England, Canada, UK, are almost dogmatically anti-Bush. But they are not Isolationist because they don't really like to see their co-religionists kill each other. One place to start this project is at Eteraz.Org.
  5. Reach out to the reeeeeally well established netroots of self-proclaimed "Centrists." They are dying to hear the Truman Democrat message on foreign policy. This is the ideal place for a "movement" to begin. Right now, the only foreign policy view that these "Centrists" have available to them is a Neo-Con tinged one.

Me and fellow activists are more than willing to offer our rank and file services in the pursuit of these endeavors. However, it means that more active engagement will be required from the experts (you guys). Democracy Arsenal has been self-enclosed long enough. So has Qahwa Sada. So has the Truman Project. I really have no doubt that you guys have got all the theoretical problems ironed out (and those that you don't, you can figure them out later).

I can do my part. I can offer to make Eteraz.Org a launching pad for the dispersion that is necessary. I think of you as elites. I want to have you come over and talk to the housewives, defense contractors, students, and librarians that hang out (in great numbers) within our community. The site has demonstrated success in touching Centrists and Center-Rightists as well as vast numbers of English speaking Muslims. 100,000 page views in three weeks. As great as Democracy Arsenal and the Truman Project are, they are not places where people like me do too well. We prefer plain-speak and really have very few facts to back up what we think is the "right" thing to do. When we come to places like this we become stiff.

At some point the Truman Democrats have to become a movement. At the expense of sounding like a pompous revolutionary I have to say that the movement is now.

Please share your thoughts in the comments, via email, or telepathically.

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Comments

I consider myself part of the Truman Democrats and have a few more in depth comments I hope to make later. But for a quick starter, I think it would be more fair to call the progressive movement "anti-Interventionist" rather than "isolationist."

There are certianly isolationist elements on the left. However, the wider anti-interventionist movements do not have unified stands on trade, aid, support for allies that aren't dictatorships, etc.

Particularly since we're still allies on most issues, I think we should try to refer to them by a name they'd answer to. Those of you in what I'm calling the anti-interventionist left, feel free to tell me if I'm wrong. (For an example of a fairly mainstream anti-interventionist, I think of Matt Yglesias.)

... how can Truman Democrats ever do the kind of foreign policy they want to engage in?

They are a minority. They share domestic policy with one group and they share foreign policy with another.

So obviously, they must form an alliance with the isolationists on domestic policy, and form an alliance with center-right hawks and neocons and whoever they are most aligned with on foreign policy.

Also, you might see about getting funding from defense contractors and rich right-wing nutjobs and whoever. With a lot of money you could swamp the media with your views. And with the neocons so badly discredited, Truman Democrats might take their place as a cover story for US military intevention that benefits defense contractors and particular US international businesses. And rich right-wing nutjobs might gladly fund you as a cover story for what they really want to get done.

A pet peeve- do we really need movements named after long-dead presidents? Can't we base movements on ideas and not people? I always get suspicious when individuals are elevated and not simply the principles.

J.S.

The basis for this post is: The Fallacy of the Missing Middle.

In the event that Iran make a military move over Iraq, the Isolationist Left would conclude that such assertiveness by Iran was an unavoidable consequence of us having entered the war. A Truman Democrat would, on the other hand, agitate for immediate quasi-military action to push Iran back (though likely to withhold from all out war).

Being a dumb member of the "isolationist Left" (though I quite agree with the apellation "anti-interventionist" as being much more descriptive of my views than "isolationist"), could you serious policy geniuses please explain to me the difference between a "quasi-military action" and "all out war"? And if there is a discernible difference, how you prevent one from escalating into the other?

And moreover, considering you assiduously fail to deal with the scenario most likely to provoke the aforementioned Iranian incursion, namely a pre-emptive strike on Iranian facilities by us, could you explain what the "legitimate" Iranian responses to such an attack would be and whether they would constitute a "quasi-military action" or "all out war"?


One thing about the "Truman Democrats" of yore is that they were willing to put their ass on the line with military service. Let's see if you geniuses follow suit.

Mr. Eteraz--

I'm sorry your insane war in Iraq is going so poorly. Since those you deride as "isolationist" overwhelmingly supported interventions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia (each of which was far less of a disaster, both geopolitically and morally), perhaps you could change your terminology. "Not insane" seems suitable. I think you can put us all down for opposing invasions of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, France, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, and whatever other countries occur to Michael Ledeen's pretty little head. See? NOT insane.

Also, you may wish to drop the "Truman" from your "Truman Democrats"--it will make people think you are referring to President Harry Truman. Truman, you may recall, failed to invade or nuke mainland China when presented the opportunity. A move striking in its lack of insanity. Perhaps you could call those you admire "MacArthur Democrats" (for Douglas MacArthur, since none of them is exactly in line to get a "genius grant").
Not that MacArthur was a Democrat, but he was clearly not "not insane" at that point.

This post is so obscenely moronic that it's hard to know where to start. A few main points:
- It's poor form to blogwhore yourself so shamelessly.
- "Here are the six foreign policy "principles" that define a Truman Democrat: American exceptionalism, the use of force, American hegemony, the world community, liberal-mindedness, and helping the least well off." Um, the vast majority of Dems have no problem with any of these, and certainly doesn't "reject [them] without a thought" -- depending on HOW they're applied. Exceptionalism is as exceptionalism does: if you use your power for good, that's exceptionalism. If for evil, that's decidedly not exceptional. The use of force is fine depending on HOW it's applied -- you saw the vast majority of Dems, including your so-called "isolationists", support use of force in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, among other places. Hegemony, again: whether that's good or not depends on circumstances! These aren't principles to take or leave at all times. And the rest of the six are embraced by virtually all Dems.
- It's a ridiculous lie to say any significant number of Dems oppose diplomacy, negotiations, regional coordination, and financial support for Iraq. It's not a choice between withdrawal and those options -- those elements could all occur ALONG with redeployment.
- It's intellectually dishonest to slam one group for advocating withdrawal and praise Truman Dems for advocating a host of options . . . but not state the Truman position on withdrawal. I suspect you left out that detail because Truman Dems largely support withdrawal, and would simply quibble over the timeline.
- You show a serious lack of understanding of Iraq and Iran relations when you speculate that Iran might invade. Due to it's relationship with Iraq's government's leaders, it doesn't have to invade to have its influence felt.
- The easiest way to get followers is to avoid being wrong on everything of importance. Many Truman Dems are (rightfully) eating crow over Iraq, and the way to recover from that is not to become "mini celebrities" (?!?!?).

It's frustrating to read one straw man argument after another being built up and then smashed down. I'm generally a fan of interventionist Democratic foreign policy, but you're not doing it any favors.

'I'm sorry your insane war in Iraq is going so poorly. Since those you deride as "isolationist" overwhelmingly supported interventions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia (each of which was far less of a disaster, both geopolitically and morally), perhaps you could change your terminology. "Not insane" seems suitable.'

Well said. This post is ridiculous, and simply reifies all the phoney false dichotomies used by the right to frame foreign policy issues in convenient terms.

Trying to paint mainline progressives as divided with enlightened exceptionalists, on one hand, and the loony isolationist left, on the other, is completely disingenuous given the substantive support that existed for the war Afghanistan as a legitimate action under the collective security regime, compared to Iraq which was a clear case of a preventative war of choice.

Indeed, I think anyone who is still advocating exceptionalism at this stage outside the De Tocqueville sense is guilty of a sickening abdication of reason. This is an especially puzzling intellectual affront to link to the Truman tradition – who was instrumental in continuing the Atlantic Charter consensus after Roosevelt – an explicitly non-exceptionalist approach.

The whole point about coherent liberal interventionism that distinguishes it from the unthinking neo-conservative variety is that whilst it leaves room for invention it does not do so at the expense of universalisation of norms on the use of force. This is why liberal interventionists want to the develop the idea of ‘erga omnes’ in regard to forceful counter-measures, rather than just sending John Bolton, with middle finger extended, to the UN.

Who needs FNC to misrepresent liberals when people in the movement do such good job hatchet job of mudding the waters, and failing to grasp even the most elementary distinctions which make the liberal tradition superior to the ad hoc nature of neo-conservatism.

Ali, to answer your question, no. Your view is a minority one in amongs rank and file Democratic voters in this country. You're probably going to have to accept that.

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