Democracy Arsenal

February 27, 2008

Progressive Strategy

On Foreign Policy Coverage
Posted by Michael Signer

An essay I wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday about foreign policy coverage during this campaign has provoked a wide range of interesting and occasionally bewildering responses, from Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, AJ Rossmiller, Ilan Goldenberg, and Matt Stoller.   

I will get to them in a moment, but first wanted to say that there was an extremely heartening sequence in the MSNBC debate in Cleveland last night.  Tim Russert asked both candidates tough questions about Dmitri Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor as president. 

As I’m still involved in the race in some ways, I won’t comment on the particular merits of each answer, but the exercise proved my original point—when the media engage in a serious way in probing candidates on foreign policy, they can push the candidates to reveal ways they think and qualities they would manifest as commander-in-chief.  I’ve included an excerpt at the end of this post.

Now, for the debate about coverage.  Ezra, Matt, and A.J. all had approving, thoughtful posts both appraising the depth of this disaster and trying to explain its causes a little better.  Ezra observed a lack of thoughtful, in-depth journalistic coverage of policy in general.  Matt said we lack Krugman-esque journalists working on foreign policy.

This is exactly the constructive path we ought to take, and I just hope that some members of the MSM get in the game.

But then there were a couple of posts that took a different path—toward a blame-the-victim pattern that attempted to blame campaigns for the media’s failure to cover their foreign policy proposals.  I'd like to talk about this because I think it's actually a really instructive pressure point in this debate, especially for the blogs who are supposed to be keeping the MSM honest.

Continue reading "On Foreign Policy Coverage" »

January 18, 2008

Progressive Strategy

Next Steps for Stopping Genocide
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I know that Michigan and Nevada are getting all the attention this week, but before you head to the strip, take a minute to think about Tennessee, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas.

This month might be dominated by presidential politics, but January is also a great time to plot advocacy strategies for Capitol Hill. During the coming year, the distraction of headline politics provides a great opening to pilot new policy ideas inside Congress -- and get heard. National security is unfortunately an issue that gets warped and slung about in a most unhelpful way on the campaign trail. Which is why Americans who work on issues like Darfur and genocide prevention have a double opportunity to present their issue campaigns within a larger security strategy that changes our direction in the world. People who work on these issues inside Congress will welcome a ground truth check from public minded citizens.

The last month has brought both progress and setbacks for the fledgling peacekeeping mission in the Sudan. The fact that the UN troops have now joined African Union troops is a great step forward. Yet attacks against the peacekeepers continue -- the most recent one last Friday was against a supply convoy. Everyone who cares about this issue deserves to feel frustrated. After all, the U.S. and its allies pressured the U.N. to deploy a new peacekeeping force for Darfur but are now failing to support it. None of the hardware-heavy wealthy countries, it seems, has the wherewithal to come up with a few helicopters. This failing points out an important new direction for anti-genocide movement here in the USA -- one that will make all the difference in the world for promoting the primary security principle of this century: the safety of people. But doing this will require a few new strategies and tactics.

The genocide prevention movement is one of the most encouraging grass roots campaigns that I have seen in 20 years of working on peace and security issues in politics. When I worked on Capitol Hill,

Continue reading "Next Steps for Stopping Genocide" »

October 03, 2007

Progressive Strategy

Talking National Security in 08
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

So the "inept" Iraqi government did what the U.S. Congress should have done years ago. They threw out private military contractor Blackwater and caused unprecedented interest in commercial war fighting. Despite this, I have a sneaking suspicion that if KBR or Halliburton had received a no-bid billion dollar contract to run the SCHIP (State Child Health Insurance Program), there would be no threatened veto from this White House. The privatization of
our public sector has come full circle

As P.W. Singer points out in this must-read  briefing paper Blackwater and other private sector soldiers put our very philosophy of government at stake -- and every conversation about profiteering and uncontrolled violence in Iraq needs to round back to this common denominator: What is the essential purpose of our government? The monopoly on violence is the undergirding notion of the state. Yet this has been outsourced with barely a murmur by our elected leaders. The privatization of war is just the last domino to fall after decades of privatization of the public sector. The military was supposed to be the sacred cow, even for conservatives. But now, it too has been slaughtered in the free market of the fundamentalists. Privatization has greatly harmed what many consider our finest public service -- for this reason it must be a centerpiece issue in how we talk about national security throughout the election year.

I've been traveling over the last month, in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Georgia, giving talks in communities about national security. I've learned a few things along the way that might be non scientifically helpful to progressives interested in framing -- and winning -- this issue in 2008.

Continue reading "Talking National Security in 08" »

March 31, 2007

Progressive Strategy

The Security Frame Temptation
Posted by David Shorr

A few weeks ago Heather told us about the public's sour mood, and how their cynicism makes them resistant towards many political arguments. According to recent polls and focus groups, voters are so suspicious of all officials, politicians, and parties, that they will discount most anything they're told. Among the wells that have been poisoned is the very idea of national security. To any of us who might try to make policy arguments on the basis of national security, Heather warns that this approach,

...hurts at least as much as it helps with voters who are over-security-ed.

Using the rubric of security might be tempting, she says, but it's a temptation to be resisted. I guess I'm skeptical about how we're supposed to deal with this skepticism, though I accept the caution about inch-deep rhetoric.

Continue reading "The Security Frame Temptation" »

March 11, 2007

Progressive Strategy

National Security and '08: What's Different
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Lorelei, progressive faith guru Mara Vanderslice and I teamed up last week on a panel to talk about peace and security issues and the '08 elections.  We were challenged to think about what's going to make this cycle different. Here's what I came up with:

1.  People already know that things are bad.  Four and even two years ago, progressives engaged in great debates about whether and how to tell Americans that neo-conservative policies had made us less safe and less respected.  Not this time -- if anything, I would argue that the public doesn't want to hear more harping about how bad things are, but rather what anyone is going to do about it.  If you need more convincing about that, see here, here and especially here -- reporting that the top words that come up in focus groups when people are asked their feelings about their country are "sad," angry," "uneasy" and "worried."

2.  But that doesn't mean they think progressives can fix it.  Iraq and Katrina, following on decades of conservative rhetoric about "shrinking government until we can drown it in the bathtub," have convinced lots of Americans that government can't do anything right.  National security is the only government function that gets passing marks from a bare half the population in a recent poll.  Americans no longer believe that stationing troops abroad helps fight the War on Terror or prevents states like Iran from getting nuclear weapons -- a healthy repudiation of Administration strategy, yes, but also a vote of no confidence in our strongest tools. 

3.  This means linking everything to security won't work.  Some progressives have been very tempted to put every foreign policy into a "security issue" frame for the public.  And of course, in an interconnected world, issues like AIDS, poverty and the environment do have security impacts.  But it seems likely that this framing hurts at least as much as it helps with voters who are over-security-ed.

4.  Speaking of skepticism... I'm still looking for the link, but I understand there exists an 06 poll in which Americans said that while they are still nervous about terrorism, they think their neighbors are more afraid than they are -- which is a good sign that scare tactics won't work as well with as many voters this time.

5.  Accountability.  The Democracy Corps gurus who brought the focus group adjectives I mentioned in point 1 say that "Accountability is the core doubt people have about Congress, Washington and the federal government."  They recommend that everything progressives propose should have specific accountability elements, and that all Iraq proposals should have financial accountability provisions.  That's an interesting challenge for us striped-pants-and-noblesse-oblige types, but probably a good challenge.

6.  And about Iraq...  I'll just quote what a longtime public opinion observer said to me last December:  "Iraq's not a foreign policy issue anymore.  It's a domestic policy issue now."  Fair or not, adjust mindsets accordingly.

March 07, 2007

Progressive Strategy

Playing the Muslim Card to the White House
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It looks like Obama is finally beginning to realize that his Muslim background is - or at least can be - an asset on the campaign trail. Here's hoping he'll keep on making points like this:

And although my stepfather wasn’t a practicing Muslim either, you know, I obviously was immersed in the culture that, you know, in which Islam played a role. I think it does make a difference. I think it makes people feel that I am less likely to engage in stereotypes and that I’m less likely to respond out of fear toward the Muslim world. That I’m willing and able to listen. And most importantly, I think, in our foreign policy, that I’m dealing with people on the basis of mutual dignity and respect. . . . one of the biggest problems with the Bush administration’s . . . foreign policy is a general dismissiveness, a sense that we will do what we please and we expect the world to align itself with whatever decisions that we make.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias provides a note of caution about politicians who've spend a lot of time in Indonesia:

"[Obama] once got in trouble for making faces during Koran study classes in his elementary school,' writes Kristof, "but a president is less likely to stereotype Muslims as fanatics -- and more likely to be aware of their nationalism -- if he once studied the Koran with them." One would certainly hope so. On the other hand, the last major American political figure to be knowledgable about Indonesia was . . . Paul Wolfowitz.

I tend to think that Wolfowitz gets a bit too much of a bad rap from liberals. Still, I'd venture to say that Wolfowitz would be a lot worse if it wasn't for the time he spent in Indonesia. Unlike some other neo-cons, I've always sensed a genuine empathy for Arabs on the part of Wolfowitz, an empathy which clearly drove his advocacy for the Iraq war. And, wait, isn't Wolfowitz dating a Tunisian woman?

March 01, 2007

Progressive Strategy

The Blame Frame Begins....
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Sorry absent so long. I got caught on the West Coast until late Monday. Jetblue cancelled all flights back. Not that being stuck in San Diego is bad....

I didn't realize that right wingers were so into recycling, but 1972 is written all over the agenda of the Conservative Political action Committee CPACconference that starts today. On Friday, they'll be having a panel discussion with Swift Boat vet operatives hyperventilating about "the left's repeated campaign against the American soldier." Not slated for discussion: Iraq, Walter Reed, armor for the troops, outsourcing our national security to their campaign donors, public sacrifice during wartime... and basically anything else that really does affect the American soldier.

Speaking of.. one of the Swift Boat 50K donors, Sam Fox, was up for an Ambassadorship this week. After decrying the bitterness of partisan politics, mind you. Um. why do we believe anything any of these people say anymore?

I'm in NYC right around 51st and 6th Avenue...where that big news ticker blares headlines on the Fox television building. Trying to counter the Oscar night glory of " An Inconvenient Truth" the scoop that Al Gore's yearly electricity bill was 30K was up there...but strangely, nothing about VP Cheney's 185K yearly bill a few years back.

Speaking of global warming, too bad they can't figure out a way to recycle all the hotair coming out of the CPAC conference.

January 31, 2007

Middle East, Progressive Strategy

Is Criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic"?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The American Jewish Committee is showcasing a new report called "'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism." The report, by Alvin Rosenfeld, rightly draws attention to the dismaying resurgence of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world (including increasing media stereotypes-- especially in the Islamic world-- of Jews as "a treacherous, conniving, untrustworthy, sinister, all-powerful, and inplacably hostile people," and an upsurge in assualts and vandalism against Jews in Europe and elsewhere).  But then it goes a step further, claiming that "one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism [is] the participation of Jews alongside it, especially in its anti-Zionist expression."  Singled out for criticism are a wide range of Jewish scholars, writers, and activists, from Adrienne Rich and Tony Judt to Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

The report stops short of calling Jews critical of Zionism anti-Semites, but only barely; in an interview with the New York Times, Rosenfeld, the author, was coy: "Jews thinking the way they’re thinking is feeding into a very nasty cause.” 

On some level, this is the Mearsheimer-Walt debate redux; we've also seen this played out to some extent in the very public attacks on Human Rights Watch and Tony Judt. But with this new report, the American Jewish Congress is upping the ante still more.  I have written elsewhere about baseless claims that Human Rights Watch's coverage of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict was "anti-semitic," but this latest controversy threatens to send my blood pressure through the roof. Here's what I think:

1) "Anti-Semitism" is dislike of, or prejudice against, Jewish people because of their supposed "essence." It's hatred of human beings for no reason except that they are, or appear to be, "Jewish," leaving aside for now the complex question of what it means to be "Jewish."

2) There is plenty of real anti-Semitism in the world. It's nasty, scary stuff, and it needs to be condemned, promptly and vociferously, by people of all faiths and traditions. 

3) Being critical of Israeli policies is not the same as being "anti-Semitic," any more than criticism of US policy should be construed as "anti-American."

Continue reading "Is Criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic"?" »

January 11, 2007

Progressive Strategy

National Security Temptations
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Some of you may recall Marc Grinberg's spirited run as a guest-blogger in November. Marc and I sparred quite a bit on questions of progressive strategy and the Dems' approach to foreign policy. These discussions (see here, here, and here) were productive, forcing us to reassess some of our original positions. Well, Marc and I decided to try to synthesize some of these ideas and come up with a more coherent argument. So we co-wrote a piece for TomPaine, published earlier this week, where we argue for a principled foreign policy approach that emphasizes sincerity over poll-tested notions of "strength," even if that means incurring political losses in the short-run. Here's an excerpt:

There are two national security temptations for Democrats in the new congress: a reflexively anti-Bush approach, and a reflexively "strong" approach—trying to out-tough the Republicans on security. Both must be rejected. Though based on political calculations, they are, in fact, bad politics. Neither is driven by an overarching set of principles, leaving Democrats looking like they stand for nothing.

According to supporters of the first approach, November's victory was a mandate for opposing the Bush agenda blow-for-blow. Thus, Democrats should respond with a strategy that is the antithesis of neo-conservatism — redeploying from Iraq, limiting American activism in the world and adopting a realist foreign policy outlook. But these Democrats have come to support a mishmash of policies that could hardly be described as liberal. A reflexively anti-Bush Democrat might oppose democracy promotion in the Middle East, arguing that that's what neoconservatives do. Others may claim that the internal politics of faraway nations should not be of concern to progressives —that we have enough problems at home to worry about. But it is precisely because we are progressives that we care about poverty and oppression abroad. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

The second temptation—to prove Democratic toughness on national security—is based on the interpretation that November's win was more a response to Republican failures than a vote of confidence in Democrats. The public still does not trust liberals to keep them safe, and so the Democratic Party must promote only what will be perceived as strong national security positions, taking on Republicans from the right, and avoiding soft issues such as civil liberties.

Continue reading "National Security Temptations" »

December 18, 2006

Progressive Strategy

The Iraq War's Worst Casualty
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

It’s a truism today that America’s position as the world’s superpower is shakier than it used to be. The nation’s military is overstretched and unable to take on new commitment. And Washington has made little progress on urgent foreign policy objectives, including stabilizing Iraq, curbing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, expanding global trade, and ending anti-American extremism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The Iraq war has directly caused much of this damage. Financially, it has been a huge drain: The Congressional Budget Office reported in mid-2006 that costs topped $432 billion. Militarily, it has been punishing: The Pentagon admits that the conflict has badly stretched the Armed Forces, with 70 percent of troops scheduled to return to Iraq next year set to serve their third tours. In human terms, the price has been high: nearly 3,000 American troops have died to date.

The war’s dearest casualty, however, has been to America’s international standing, specifically its legitimacy abroad. The Iraq intervention has eroded the esteem, respect, and trust that the United States once commanded on every continent, hampering a host of current policy objectives and putting ambitious and important new goals out of reach. Rehabilitating America’s legitimacy, therefore, will be essential to ensuring that the Iraq war does not exact a permanent toll on American global influence.

International legitimacy is a measure of the acceptability and justifiability of a state’s actions in the eyes of other states and their citizens. Legitimacy, a kind of moral capital, reflects a collective judgment that the assertion of power, through a policy or an action, is valid even if it is unpopular. After all, leadership requires taking the occasional unpopular stand; but whereas popularity is inherently ephemeral, contingent on personalities and temporary alignments of interest, legitimacy is more enduring. It provides a foundation for respect and understanding that can transcend short-term, conflicting goals.

Practically, when America’s purposes are well-founded, openly articulated, and broadly consistent with its professed values, the use of power toward those ends is generally judged legitimate. But when the United States misleads others about its motives, acts on inadequate or selective evidence, flouts its own principles, or unilaterally exempts itself from broadly agreed standards of conduct, its legitimacy suffers.

For a discussion of how US legitimacy was lost . . . and the steps needed to recover it, read my piece in this month's issue of Democracy, A Journal of Ideas (the logon process is swift and free!)  Eager for your comments here at Democracy Arsenal. 

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