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June 13, 2010

National Security Strategy, Political Strategy
Posted by David Shorr

Interesting new polling results from Third Way and Democracy Corps (no relation). It's definitely worth reading the whole accompanying memo, Toward Renewal and Leadership. Meanwhile, I'll offer some reactions. First, given the positive trends in public receptiveness to progressive foreign policy, Democrats should be standing taller on national security. There's really no need to mimic the other side's shallow, robotic incantations about strengthandresolve or change the political subject to domestic policy -- an ingrained Democratic habit that National Security Network was founded to break. The president's foreign policy approval rating has been holding steady above the 50% mark, the Republican advantage on national security is narrowing, and the poll finds that progressive arguments are quite persuasive to voters, particularly independents.

Second, Democracy Corps-Third Way highlight a good straightforward message on terrorism, though I think they miss a key underlying point. The memo recommends that progressives "talk about gains in combating, capturing, and killing terrorists." Good advice. As I see it, the strength comes from speaking to the challenge at a practical level. This is about catching or killing terrorists and disrupting their plots -- not about World War IV, 'realizing we're at war,' or understanding the inherent violence of the Muslim faith. During the last Iowa caucuses, I had dinner with a retired military officer who was surrogate-ing for Chris Dodd's campaign. When the surrogate said Democrats could gain a lot more support among the military, I asked why. One answer was that Democrats respect professionalism and professional expertise. Ron Suskind wrote a whole book,The One Percent Doctrine, about how this applies to counterterrorism. The book is essentially a compare-and-contrast between Dick Cheney's manic 'do everything possible no matter what the consequences or effectiveness' and the painstaking day-to-day work of, well, combating and capturing terrorists.

Third, the memo also advises emphasizing measures to strengthen and support the military. Again this is an approach that highlights professionalism. As Democracy Corps-Third Way argue:

One reason this message works is that it talks about the Democrats' efforts to improve military effectiveness -- not simply efforts to improve the treatment of veterans, important as those efforts are. It is a message that talks about our troops as warriors, not victims. When Democrats stress the steps they are taking to improve the equipment, training, and battlefield effectiveness of our men and women in uniform, they make real gains in the public's readinesss to trust them with America's security.

To which I would add the importance of giving the troops wise and well-considered missions to carry out. Good stewardship of the military is about giving them the right tools for the job, but also the right jobs. This is different from 'support our troops, bring them home,' since the essence of their being warriors is that they're ready to answer the call and be shipped out. This is about embracing the responsibility for making the right call. It always mystifies me when conservatives like President Bush and others show so much deference to "the commanders on the ground" -- which is a complete inversion of the principle of civilian control of the military. I think it's important to talk about this aspect of political leaders' judgment, for one thing, because the defense budget is fiscally unsustainable. While this approach of saying we civilians are in charge may sound at odds with respect for professionalism, I'd only reiterate that in a system of civilian control, the warrior's honor is in the willingness to execute the commands that come down from the civilian top of the command chain. (To cite one more book, my thinking was influenced by Michael O'Hanlon and Kurt Campbell's Hard Power.)

Fourth, Democracy Corps-Third Way encourage progressives to keep drawing contrasts with the Bush-Cheney policy and tout the recent progress in building international cooperation. My own take on the progressive-conservative contrast, The Responsibilities Are Mutual -- The Strategic Tenets of International Cooperation, was published back in April by Center for American Progress. And any reader of this blog has read my repeated stress on the importance of American public discomfort with the international mistrust toward the United States. Today, I just want to add thoughts on the conservative talking points about supposed American declinism.

And since we're talking about opinion polls, let me put it in terms of a polling question. Which of the following statements do you agree with:

a)  The United States is meeting greater resistance of its international aims because we aren't being insistent enough in making demands or forceful enough in compelling others to comply, or

b)  Ever since the end of the Cold War, there has been a steady dilluting of authority at all levels -- making many different players feel less constrained by those "above" them and making it harder even for a superpower to get what it seeks in the world.

The specter of supposed declinism conveniently forgets the failure of neoconservatism's command-and-demand foreign policy to achieve any of its aims, alienating most of the world along the way. Progressives need to keep hammering home that international help, support, and cooperation are absolute necessities in today's world.


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Well today U.S.meets more resistance in the international goal since we are not insistent enough to make requests or strong enough to convince others to observe the political strategy.

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