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December 12, 2006

Left Realists or Exemplarism?
Posted by Ali Eteraz

Any language that contains the name "Truman" sends shivers down progressive spines. I don't necessarily blame them. While I think the six principles (American exceptionalism, the use of force, American hegemony, the world community, liberal-mindedness, and helping the least well of), if used in a balancing test, are a meaningful way of conducting foreign policy, and far more effective than any cooperation-first method, I don't think it really matters if you take the "Truman" out of there (sorry Rachel).

In his now oft-cited piece, Shadi suggested that the term to employ was Exemplarism. I think it is a wonderful term. I have nothing metaphysical against it. I just think we can do better.

I remember when I read that piece by Shadi, one particular line (among many) made me think. It was this:

In many ways, what is being offered is a middle way between a more narrow realism and the missionary (some would say messianic) activism of neoconservatism. This alternative attempts to reclaim the democratic idealism of the neoconservative movement while wedding it to a more multilateral framework that recognizes the importance of alliances and international institutions.

I remember thinking: isn't "narrow" realism really just conservative isolationism a la Buchanan? And isn't "missionary activism" really just hyper-idealism? I remember thinking: doesn't that just make Shadi a realist? That is what I, a guest blogger, finds so hopeful at the Security and Peace Initiative: a group of people whose domestic policies are egalitarian and civil libertarian and whose foreign policy is realist but not trigger happy.  It makes me want to call myself a Left Realist.

Problem is, when we use the term "Realist" people inevitably think this is a code word for Neo-Con. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it is precisely because Neo-Cons are not Realists that when they claim to be so the results are so absurd and laughable. I recently read a piece by Fouad Ajami where he makes this argument:

It was not naive idealism, it should be recalled, that gave birth to Bush's diplomacy of freedom. That diplomacy issued out of a reading of the Arab-Muslim political condition and of America's vulnerability to the disorder of Arab politics. The ruling regimes in the region had displaced their troubles onto America; their stability had come at America's expense, as the scapegoating and the anti-Americanism had poisoned Arab political life. Iraq and the struggle for a decent polity in it had been America's way of trying to extirpate these Arab troubles. The American project in Iraq has been unimaginably difficult, its heartbreak a grim daily affair. But the impulse that gave rise to the war was shrewd and justified.

Really? This is news to me! If Iraq was a way to assure that the Arab world would stop unleasjing its discontent upon the world i.e. terrorists, then why was it Iraq that was chosen? Why not Saudi Arabia, UAE, even Pakistan? Hell, Osama's entire pre 9/11 MO was his hatred of the Saudi regime. No, Ajami is wrong and he is misconstruing the Neo-Con position just to fit under the Realist banner. It was the Realists from the Left who said that by broadening  the conflict to a post dictatorial Iraq you would create the space for more terrorists; a Babylonian Belt of cviolence filled with mercenaries more violent than the Hessians and Barbar coast pirates. The Realists from the Left turned out to be right. It wasn't because they are from the Left that made them such astute readers of the situation.  It is because they were Realists.

Today, those Realists are saying that we must begin to create democratic institutions in the Middle East (peacefully) no matter what our current state of mind with respect to promoting democracy. We must begin to talk to the Islamists and see if we can turn them democratic. Hint, they are already there: read their principles.

Today, those Realists are saying that we cannot just leave Iraq at the drop of a dime because a human catastrophe might occur. It might not, but we, as members of the International Left, do not roll dice with Life. Our concern for the individual, and our humanitarianism, is what sets us apart from others.

This is Left Realism: taking to task those that erred; but not forgetting to set things aright. A commentator said that the best we can do is return to the pre 9/11 world. You know what? If that is the first step to  undoing what Bush has wrought then sign me up.


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Real leftism, left realism, hyper-liberal activism, hypo-neo-conserva-libertarianism. Get over this stuff! It's just sophomoric gibberish.

Why don't you select a few concrete, real-world problems, and tell us what you would do about them?

Today, those Realists are saying that we cannot just leave Iraq at the drop of a dime because a human catastrophe might occur.

A human catastrophe is occurring and it's likely to get worse whatever we do. If we want to stay, let's get a plan to avert catastrophe. That doesn't involve sitting in bases while the fighting goes on without us. And it probably doesn't involve using air power to kill military formations from whoever we disapprove of, or to blast away at urban areas that we think are rebellious.

What do we do to avoid catastrophe? How will our military prevent the catastrophe? Unless we have a plan for that, we should leave. So far I've heard no military plan beyond "Let's attack sadrist areas and sunni areas until they surrender and accept permanent occupation by our iraqi-army auxiliaries". If that's the plan, better leave now.

A Problem for Us
As Vice-Chair of the Progressive Populist Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party and almost a Truman-era, not just a Trumanesque, Democrat, I am right there up at the Center-Left split you and others are struggling to name.

I expect that both self-described progressives and populists from Texas can support a foreign policy coming from the great minds of, oh, Princeton. We did so for most of the previous and can do so for the present century.

The problem I see is our would-be hegemonic elite's almost perfect indifference to the domestic implications of their self-serving policies.

Their negligence includes, first, the constitutional character of our military institutions or, to put it bluntly, the lack of same:

We have no well regulated militia but, instead, a parody of Horse Guards Parade, The Admiralty and Whitehall. The NSA/GCHQ is "quartered" throughout our, now, deregulated telecommunication monopolies and indirect tax-farms.

So, I cannot imagine why Democrats of any ilk should continue to support this Neo-Federalist and Neo-Conservative wet-dream of Anglo-American military-economic institutions well outside of any constitution other than various, obscure MoUs between self-perpetuating factors managing international debt and derivatives left over from their failed but publicly indemnified post-colonial ventures.

Now that the Jim Crow elements of my party are firmly entrenched in the other party, why should the Democrats maintain a bi-partisan, "Jim Crow" coalition of "Moderate" Republican "industrialists" and "Conservative" Democratic land-owners, mostly now just government concession-tenders, not industrialists or agriculturalists at all?

Let's say we get this fine new foreign policy.

What do we need a corrupt, bloated, Stalinist Pentagon with Brazilian rank-inflation, routine Queen's Honours for retiring military bureaucrats or civilian charlatans, and black/red budgets for?

So, when do we liquidate post-Cold War legacies of "crony capitalism", our counterpart to the KGB/mafiya capitalism in Russia, in order to apply Trumanite populism to new international security challenges?

Well, one reason, we do nothing of the sort is that money from all that still piles up to support duplicate endowments and elites, a "Hold Harmless" policy for legatees of the first Truman era.

That was the Cold War with two Air Forces, the Treaty of Miami, two nuclear ordnance labs, three or four military intelligence organs, and on and on -- Congressional Democrats rolling the log right across the aisle.

I do not think there will ever be a domestic constituency for the New Truman policies unless and until the policy elites recognize that both elements of what used to be bi-partisan and patriotic defense and foreign policy are now in the Democratic Party.

That party has to compete -- not collaborate -- with an unpatriotic and extremist GOP.

Such competition entails going back to pre-Civil War notions of "responsible two-party government", not perpetuating the bi-national liberalism that peaked with FDR and Churchill but that has now degenerated into the Imperial Whiggery of Bush/Blair and Benyamin Netanyahu's claque here.

Our ruling elite of self-serving, chickenhawk, dons and clerics here have nothing but contempt for the very foundations of republican democracy. So, who cares what they call themselves?

We got Truman and Trumanism from a political machine in St. Louis.

He got a bi-partsian defense and foreign policy establishment he did not want and that stabbed him in the back when he relieved but did not actually punish its long-time darling -- Douglas McArthur.

This establishment was left over from the 1876 "compromise" that gave Northern and Southern Whigs domestic hegemony.

That is impractical today, since both sorts or Whigs are now in the GOP and have been since 1994. So, we need coherent domestic and foreign, military and economic policies with a real constituency, not just a comfortable policy elite.

First, I think that particular name is already taken by the "Progressive Realism" as proposed by Robin Wright. I'm not sure how closely your policies track, but the similarity is a recipe for confusion. So you might either want to join up or differentiate your nomencalture more.

Second, call me a theoretical pedant, but I don't really see how your proposals are based in classical Realism. Mind you, Realism has many reasons to oppose the Iraq war, and many Realists are now prominent critics (Brent Scowcroft, George Will). But narrow Realism doesn't care about democracy or anything else inside other countries.

Now, the Progressive Realists do try to expand the term. It sorta works, but is still fairly contradictory. Near as I can tell, you're mostly appealing to lower-case 'r' realism. That is to say, you're pointing out that the policies Neo-Cons carried out were often non-sensical. But frankly, these labels tend to matter most to elites that actually have some idea what the original terms mean. Unless you're actively basing yourself in old school realism, even an expanded form there-of, why muddle definitions?

(For the record, I am by no means a classical Realist.)

I do agree that names and ideas matter and I'm glad that you're open to reconsidering the name "Truman Democrats", which I think is utterly horrible. I think Ethical Realism is an interesting frame and the principles seem consistent with yours. Am I mistaken?

Your use of the words "exemplarism" and "interventionism" as compatible, is wrong. It's the New American Century with a new "progressive" happy face. We don't buy it, nor should we.

Interventionism. War isn't a set-piece battle of warriors out on the battlefield any longer. City destruction, rape, torture and the wanton killing of civilians now follow military aggression like fleas follow a dog. It was true in Vietnam, it is true in Iraq and it's always true. Why do they hate us? Duh.

Bush's "diplomacy of freedom?" Give me a break. Freedom was merely Bush's twenty-third reason, an afterthought, for invading Iraq. Think oil. And now we're forcing another round of political musical chairs in the Baghdad Green Zone as a part of supporting "freedom" in "sovereign Iraq."

What would Truman do? Drop a nuke, or two.

Our foreign policy should be restricted to ensuring that the Millennium Development Goals be accomplished. According to the Borgen Project website, over 800 million people go hungry every day which increases global instability.

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