Democracy Arsenal

« Yes We Can | Main | The Craziest Thing Said on the Campaign Trail 2008 »

January 18, 2008

Winning (and losing) on National Security
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I've been wanting to respond to another post from Matt Yglesias since last week, but only now have gotten around to it. Matt writes

Brian Katulis writes on a subject near to my heart: how progressives can win on national security. His thought, meanwhile, largely mirrors my own. It's important to make a broad-based, principles-driven argument that the failures of the Bush years represent an ideological failure that discredits not specific people but their ideas.

Matt has made this same point several times - that progressives have to go beyond mere criticisms of the Bush administration's policies abroad, and instead question and attack the ideas that underlie said policies. Agreed. And on things like torture, the unitary executive, pre-emption, the so-called 1% doctrine, unilateralism, and militarism, liberals must offer a sustained critique that grasps that these destructive policies are not a coincidence. Rather, they are a product of an ideological bias that reflects a very dangerous worldview.

But, it's also worth noting that some of the Bush administration's ideas are/were quite good - even visionary - and the problem wasn't that they were pursued with dangerous aplomb, but, rather, that they weren't pursued at all. They were ideas that, except perhaps for a brief period in late 2004/early 2005, were never really implemented. I'm talking about the Bush administration's supposed elevation of democracy promotion as a central component of U.S. foreign policy. Not only that, the Bushies offered the novel argument that the only way to defeat terror and extremism in the long run was to support Middle Eastern democracy. The idea was that as long as Arabs and Muslims did not have legitimate, peaceful channels with which to express their grievances, they would be more likely to resort to political violence. Lack of democracy was seen as an important root cause of terrorism.

These ideas could have provided the impetus for a radical new direction in the way we approached the Middle East. But it was not to be. But let's be clear about it - the problem, at least in respect to democracy promotion, was not the Bush administration's ideas, but, rather, its apparent lack of interest in putting them into practice. It would be sad to learn the wrong lessons from the last 7 years of Bush-induced destruction. As difficult as it may be to believe, the Bush administration had some good ideas. It's time to resuscitate them and keep them alive. The neo-cons do not have a monopoly on democracy promotion. It's time for liberals to reclaim it from them, and mold it into a policy program that's not just visionary in theory, but that actually produces results on the ground.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Winning (and losing) on National Security :