Democracy Arsenal

November 16, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Where State and Human Security intersect
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Marc and Shadi have pointed out a painful dilemma in their last few posts: That the values of a democracy promoting foreign policy have been given a bad name by the neo-cons and their rush to war in Iraq.  I have also been perplexed by this (keeping in mind that the USA has undermined itself abroad in the name of democracy several times before the neo-cons were on the scene). Yet I agree, we must not let the values of democracy (human rights, transparency, participation) become casualties of the past five years.  One way to do this is to forget about the rhetoric for awhile and dive into real problem solving.

The DLC  method of lining a bunch of lefties up against the wall and forcing them to say "kill terrorists" or "twin perils of terrorism and tyranny" before they get into the serious-foreign-policy club is silly. A much better strategy is to actually tackle liberal dilemmas in the real world: Like when to use force.  How to do it, whether or not the military is the one who should do it, should it be done by the USA or through a collective organization, what does the doctrine look like, what does the training look like, should it be privatized etc. etc. etc.

Our challenge today, not just as progressives, but as a planet is to derive a way to understand security two ways simultaneously: one that combines the needs of the individual with the more traditional needs of the state. This intersection is dangerous--with lots of careening traffic. Rhetorically this place is often posed as a tradeoff like the old rusty guns versus butter debate. But that is conceptually wrong and mostly unhelpful.  Both are important. Always. State and individual human security needs are not mutually exclusive and should not be seen as tradeoffs. A strong Army is good. So are more girls' schools. Because we haven't talked about it --putting everything on the budget table as we go--we have neither.

I attended a book reception today where the audience pitched questions along this theme.The Impossible Mandate? is a new publication out of the nonpartisan Henry L. Stimson Center . It centers on military preparedness, the Responsibility to Protect  and Modern Peace Operations. (The book will be up on the site asap!)

The central question: Is the world prepared to use military force to protect civilians from mass violence?

Author Tori Holt called the military role in providing civilian protection "coercive protection". What a great example of the new language we need to explain our new world. Those two words together help me envision an integrated idea at the all important intersection--using the military to create safety.  The humanitarian lobby Interaction comes at it from a humanitarian aid point of view in this publication

We're living in a time when an individual can inflict terrible harm on a state. The flip side of that coin is that the state is also marshalling resources on behalf of individuals.

I'm hoping that the outcome of all this conceptual athleticism is a policy to make a virtue out of necessity.  Support for preventive measures that help both states and individuals: participatory, self-government early and often. I'm going to think about this some more and hopefully come up with a less clunky way of putting it.

November 14, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Or Is It: When Neocons Sound Like Liberals?
Posted by Marc Grinberg

Shadi raises an important issue in his last post, on foreign policy messaging.  He argues that liberals (including him) are increasingly uncomfortable with moralistic messaging that decries human rights abusing regimes, calls for the promotion of democracy and freedom abroad, and suggests that there is evil in our world.  The important question is why. 

The answer, it turns out, was in his post (the title) the whole time: because "liberals sound like neocons."  The language of good and evil, criticizing oppression and human rights abuses, democracy promotion - today, these are all neoconservative themes.  When liberals refer to them, they are seen (by other liberals) as mimicking the Bush Administration.

But there is something extremely disturbing about this.  After all, human rights, democracy, values-based foreign policy - these are traditionally progressive ideas, right?  Was it not President Carter who argued that our foreign policy must be guided by our belief in human rights - by our "belief that dignity and freedom are fundamental spiritual (yes, he said that) requirements."  Was it not President Clinton who stated that under his leadership "America's bright flame of freedom [was] spreading throughout all the world."  Was it not Clinton who called on the international community (at the UN!!!)  to "take a side - not merely stand between the sides. For when good and evil collide, even-handedness can be an ally of evil."

Now, I believe Shadi's problem is more with the language than with the policies (human rights, democracy, etc.).  I fear, however, that this is not true of all liberals who increasingly oppose the injection of morality into foreign policy and object to American involvement in the affairs of other nations.  I can understand why.  The Bush Administration has stolen our foreign policy tradition and made it their own, perverting it to a nearly unrecognizable form in the process. But I think the tendency to run away from our tradition, to ditch morality to the side of the road, let the neoconservatives pervert our values, and move forward with some variant of a realist foreign policy is wrong. 

Instead, liberals must fight to take back our tradition from the Bush Administration.  Let's reclaim the policies of liberal internationalism and the language of a moral foreign policy.  After all, the two come hand-in-hand.  Since liberal internationalism is an approach rooted deeply in liberal beliefs and worldview, it would be impossible to sell it in language devoid of values and of morality (I challenge you to try).

I'm up for the fight.  Are you?

November 13, 2006

Progressive Strategy

When Liberals Sound like Neo-Cons
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I think Marc, in his latest post, has gotten to the root of the Democrats’ problems on national security:

What concerns me is the increasing tendency among liberals (of all stripes) to confuse taking a security threat (or a moral travesty) seriously, with advocating an armed response to that threat.  The Bush Administration has already stolen democracy promotion and a moral foreign policy from liberals.  Has it now taken ownership of the ability to assess threats to American security

What we’ve been doing too much of and for too long is letting conservatives define the terms of the debate. We have to go on the offensive and reclaim what was once ours but has now been taken away.

A couple weeks ago, a few of us were discussing US foreign policy. I started going off on neo-conservatives. Someone interrupted and said “wait, you’re not a neo-con?” At first I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t. She really thought I was. Why? Because I talk about democracy promotion a lot and I sometimes use explicitly moralistic language when doing so. It’s irritating, tiresome, and it bores me to have to start my arguments with a disclaimer (I’m not a freaking neo-con. I’m a liberal and damn proud of it).

So I know what Marc’s talking about and I sympathize with his frustration. The neo-cons (and Republicans in general) act as if they have a monopoly on morality, democracy promotion, and whatever else. And, too often, progressives run away, scared and disillusioned, accepting the terms of the discourse. Well, that’s got to end.

With that said, let me hedge a bit. And I know Marc will jump on me for this. I didn’t like the way he phrased the Iran security threat in his Democratic Strategist article:

If any issue should arouse the passion of Democrats, it is the spread of nuclear weapons to a radical Iranian government. Iran is a nation that stones women, publicly executes homosexuals, suppresses its minorities, and has violated the most basic human rights we fight for as Democrats. Allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon would strengthen this government's hand against their own people. And nuclear proliferation--which would spread from Iran to the rest of the region--poses the greatest human rights abuse of all: threatening to destroy millions of lives in a war or a nuclear accident.

It just makes me feel uncomfortable. It sounds a bit too… ummm…Manichean? Marc and I talked about this earlier and he pushed me to explain what I thought was problematic with his choice of words. And I’ll say the same thing I said then: I’m not entirely sure: I just don’t feel entirely comfortable with that kind of rhetoric.

To be frank, sometimes I look back at the language I use in my own articles and I wonder if I go too far. For example, a couple months ago I wrote the following in the American Prospect:

We do indeed have a story to tell, and it is this: America will close, finally, the longstanding gap between words and deeds; we will, today, wage a war on the twin perils of tyranny and terrorism; and we will not stop until we have won.”

I stand by my phrasing here. However, I can fully understand why it makes progressives uncomfortable. The question is: should it?

November 10, 2006

Progressive Strategy

A Conservative Framing Coup - Threat Assessment
Posted by Marc Grinberg

I was recently discussing the North Korea nuclear test with a fellow liberal friend.  I noted that the prospect of a nuclear North Korea was somewhat unnerving, given Kim Jong-Il's personality and the country's development of ICBMs.  "Do you really think we should bomb North Korea?" he responded.

Excuse me?  From where in the statement "a nuclear North Korea makes me nervous" did he infer that I was advocating military action?

While his response was out of left field, his reaction was not entirely uncommon.  I recently co-authored a political article titled "A Progressive Battle Plan for National Security" for The Democratic Strategist.  Among the critiques we received was that our message proposal for Iran was a call for "bombs away."

Our (partial) messaging proposal for Iran was as follows:

"If any issue should arouse the passion of Democrats, it is the spread of nuclear weapons to a radical Iranian government. Iran is a nation that stones women, publicly executes homosexuals, suppresses its minorities, and has violated the most basic human rights we fight for as Democrats. Allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon would strengthen this government's hand against their own people. And nuclear proliferation--which would spread from Iran to the rest of the region--poses the greatest human rights abuse of all: threatening to destroy millions of lives in a war or a nuclear accident."

Can someone please tell me where in that paragraph we advocated military action against Iran?  I'll give you a hint - nowhere.  What we did do was spend a paragraph listing just some of the reasons why liberals should oppose Iranian nuclear proliferation.

What concerns me is the increasing tendency among liberals (of all stripes) to confuse taking a security threat (or a moral travesty) seriously, with advocating an armed response to that threat.  The Bush Administration has already stolen democracy promotion and a moral foreign policy from liberals.  Has it now taken ownership of the ability to assess threats to American security?  If so, conservatives have succeeded in defining the terms of the national security debate to a degree I never thought possible. 

Liberals are, after all, the ones that understand that addressing the challenges America faces requires us to use all the tools in our toolkit.  If even the most hardcore of us now intuitively think that those who address threats are advocating military action, then the Republicans have succeeded framing the debate - in convincing the public that the use of force is the only legitimate response to security threats.  This was, of course, always their goal.  If they could get Americans to think like this, then liberal policies would never be seen as credible.

Instead of questioning the existence (or, at least, seriousness) of threats, liberals need to change the way the American people think about national security policy: the military shouldn't be the only thing that comes to mind - economic development, education, democracy, diplomacy and countless other tools are, in most situations, more powerful than our armed forces.  I'm preaching to the choir, of course, you all know this.

And yet the trend has not been to advocate for smarter uses of American power, but to deny the reality of threats to American security.  Not only is this dangerous (there are serious threats out there), but it is also a political dead-end.  Even if the public agrees with us on policy, they will never trust us with their security if they do not believe we understand their fears.

As much as we oppose the Bush Administration's tendency to take the debate directly from security threat to military response, it should not blind us of the fact that there are real security (and moral) threats in the world.  If we are to change the way the American public sees national security, we have to do it by convincing them that our approach to threats is the better one, not by denying the existence of these threats altogether.

November 08, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Relief and Redemption
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It feels damn good. Thank God freaking OBL kept his mouth shut. The Karl Rove we created in our own minds no longer exists, or perhaps he never really did. I remember the sense of profound disappointment so many of us felt two years ago. I was in Jordan then with a bunch of expats at the Amman Hyatt (which was blown up by terrorists a year later). We woke up the morning after depressed, not quite knowing what hit us. But this time around, there is redemption, finally. Despite conservative machinations, gerrymandering, and other forms of institutional hanky-panky, we have yet more evidence that democracy does in fact work. Alternation of power is a beautiful thing. My parents, who grew up under a repressive dictatorship, never knew what that was before they came to the States. Santorum thanked God last night, and so did I. 

So, anyway, to jump off Suzanne’s last post: where do we go from here? It would be easy now to indulge in political revenge, particularly after the rampant Mitch McConnelism of the last few years. Let’s resist that temptation and keep our eye on the ball. As progressives, we may disagree on Iraq, democracy promotion, the Patriot Act, and on whether or not to call Condi “Dr. Rice” or just “Condi.” But, for now, we can and must agree on one thing: that politics has to be cleaned up. If this election was about anything, it was about the corrupting influences of power, of how a conservative “revolution” with noble origins and lofty intentions descended into tragic self-parody. Ideas no longer meant anything, if not in the service of narrow partisan goals. These are the lessons that must be learned.

We are Liberals and we’re proud of it. We have to stay positive, be ourselves, and restore people’s faith in government. We have two years to perform and prove to the American people that they made the right choice. Now that the campaign is over, let’s throw out the polls, the focus groups, and the hollow politics that has so often paralyzed us, and let’s demonstrate that not only are we better than the conservatives (a low order indeed), but that we have a clear, bold, forward-looking agenda on domestic and foreign policy – an agenda that is defined not by what we think people want to hear but by a set of deeply-held principles and beliefs.

Continue reading "Relief and Redemption" »

November 06, 2006

Progressive Strategy, Weekly Top Ten Lists

We Win: Then What?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Whether progressives triumph in one or two houses of Congress tomorrow, they will immediately face tough questions about what to do next on the thorny foreign policy questions that have dominated the campaign.  Here are ten quick pieces of advice:

1. Don't Overstate the Influence of Congress Over Foreign Policy Making - Foreign policy is the responsibility of the executive branch.  Even in the majority, progressives will not be at the helm and shouldn't pretend to be.  Particularly given the hard-headedness of this administration (Dick Cheney's "full steam ahead" comment on Iraq yesterday epitomizes it) progressives should not pretend to enjoy more sway than they do.  For example, there's been lots of talk of a regional conference to activate Iraq's neighbors on behalf of stability.  That will be tough to make work, but especially so for an Administration that still won't admit what's gone wrong.

2. Don't Let Anyone Forget How We Got Here - The reason the American public is contemplating switching horses absent what many pundits thought was essential to progressive victory: namely, a consensus plan for Iraq, is that they have come to blame the Administration for creating an insoluble crisis.  Iraq will get likely get worse before it gets better, and a changeover on Capital Hill cannot undo most of the mistakes already made.   We need a bipartisan approach to digging out from the crisis, but should not lose sight of who got us into it.

3. Don't Expect an Easy Out From Iraq - Lots of progressives have been speaking as though some tough talk to the al-Maliki government in Iraq will get it to step up to the plate, get security under control, and allow us to exit without a complete meltdown into sectarian violence.  While I don't pretend to know to what degree the Iraqi government's failings are attributable to lack of will versus lack of competence, it seems certain that regardless, the problem will not be solved.  While it may make good campaign rhetoric, its not plausible that the government is willfully allowing their country to devolve into chaos but, with the right stern words, will suddenly reverse course and get things under control.  Short of that all scenarios are pretty bleak.

4.  Be Honest with the American Public - Half-truths got us into Iraq, but they won't get us out.  With greater control in the Congress, progressives will have the authority to unpack the Administration's statements and claims and let the public in on the truth about how the war effort is going, what the likely consequences of withdrawal will be, and what needs to be done to mitigate them.

5.  Look for a Handful of Tangible Ways to Push Policy in the Right Direction - Rather than trying to pull off a miracle in Iraq, progressives should focus on preventing the White House from digging us deeper into the whole, and on some tangible steps to address the worst of the policy lapses.  A few specifics:

Continue reading "We Win: Then What? " »

Progressive Strategy

Debating How to Appear "Strong"
Posted by Marc Grinberg

I argued earlier that part of the liberal security problem is the belief that liberals won't do what needs to be done to keep America safe (aka we are not seen as "strong").  So how do we fix this?  Before we move forward on this, we must answer a fundamental question, which Shadi raises here: what does it mean to be "strong"? 

I hope that my fellow bloggers will join us in answering this challenging question. 

It is important to begin with the understanding that "strength" is a perception issue, not a policy one.  Whether or not a policy makes our country stronger in the long run is (mostly) irrelevant to how it is viewed by the public.  It is also important to note that the public assesses "strength" mostly in reference to grand strategies or approaches to national security, not in specific policies.  Strategists and politicians should not get caught up on debating whether a particular policy choice will be seen as "strong."  What is important is that our overall strategy is perceived as "strong."

The question for us to discuss here is whether liberals can approach national security in a way that will be perceived as "strong," without simply copying conservatives?  And if so, how?

I believe that we can be perceived as "strong" and as liberal at the same time.  The perceived strength of a policy strategy, it seems, has more to do with the "ways" and "means" that are made available for use than with the specific details of the strategy or individual policies.  By this I mean that a national security approach will be perceived as "strong" if it includes an explicit willingness to use all the reasonable tools at our disposal (means) and an explicit willingness to act aggressively (don't read: militarily) in pursuit of our ends (ways).

What is most important here are the words "explicit" and "willingness."  Explicit means that liberals must make it absolutely clear (and believable) to the American public that every reasonable option is always on the table (yes, there can be exceptions when the act of articulating that all options are on the table is bad policy in itself).  Willingness implies that each tool does not actually need to be used in every instance, it just needs to be realistically considered as an option.

I've presented here some preliminary ideas, what does everyone else think?

(This post has been updated slightly in order to clarify several points.  I thank Dan Kervick for his comments.)

Progressive Strategy

A Brief Response...
Posted by Marc Grinberg

Some important questions have been raised about the argument in my original post - that the liberal's national security problem is not one of policy but of marketing.  To be clear, the purpose of the post was to describe the problem (my thoughts on addressing it were for the future- check back soon!).  But it is clear that several concerns arise from my characterization of the security problem.

Read on...

Continue reading "A Brief Response..." »

Progressive Strategy

How to Really be "Strong" on National Security
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Marc brings up some points in his latest post that are worth looking into further. The problem, as he states it, is that "when it comes to pulling the lever…[the voters’] intuition is that they cannot trust liberals with their safety.” Fair enough.

He says that this is a problem of messaging rather than policy. He cites, for example, the “mistaken belief” that Democrats "aren’t sincere when they take strong positions on national security.” There are a couple concerns here: first of all, when someone like Harold Ford, Jr. comes out with an ad where he brags us that he “voted for the Patriot Act, five million in defense, and against amnesty for illegals,” I get both a little uncomfortable and a little suspicious. Ford’s unequivocal support for the Patriot Act seems to be more a function of his need to cater to relatively conservative Tennessee voters, rather than a function of his “belief” in a “strong” national security.

However, let’s say for argument's sake that Ford really does happen to love the Patriot Act. This is equally problematic, because while it may convey “strength” on national security, it doesn’t necessarily make us any more strong or secure in reality. I suppose the issue here is how we define “strength.” Progressives have to be very careful not to accept the current parameters of national security discourse as natural givens. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, certain provisions of the Patriot Act are blatantly antithetical to the rich civil liberties tradition of liberals, a tradition which animates us, defines us, and - one hopes - distinguishes us from modern-day conservatives.

The problem is that many Democrats fall into the trap of “overcompensation,” that, fearful of being painted as soft on security, we take public positions that appear contrived, because they are in fact contrived, a function of our obsession with polls and focus groups more than a function of deeply-held liberal values. And if there are, in fact, liberals/progressives out there who genuinely support the Patriot Act without reservation then it calls into serious question how exactly our liberal values inform our approach to national security.

Marc, what do you think?

November 03, 2006

Progressive Strategy

(Non-campaign) Bumper Stickers
Posted by Michael Signer

I'm down in Charlottesville for a few days coordinating the get-out-the-vote programs for a few Shenandoah Valley counties for James Webb (and there my partisan comments end, thank you to our 501(c)(3) status), so I unfortunately can't blog very much this morning.  But, in the few seconds I do have between creating some last-minute flyers and handling a billion phone calls, I thought I'd point everyone's attention to an interesting post by Bruce Jentleson over at TPMCafe.  Jentleson is writing about whether progressives need a "bumper sticker" type of message on national security, and concentrates on the "liberty under law" idea generated by the Princeton Project on National Security.

We hear a lot about the need for a single concept and phrase like containment both to win the “big ideas” debate and work politically as a bumper sticker. This has been part of the discussion of the Princeton Project on National Security (PPNS) over on The Book Club, both with some critics saying the PPNS Report has too many issues and priorities and not one overarching one, and Anne-Marie Slaughter and John Ikenberry making the case for “Liberty Under Law” as their core organizing concept and integrating strategy.

While we do need core ideas and strategies that are not just laundry lists of position papers, they need to strike the tricky balance of being simple but not simplistic. Clear and integrating enough to be the forest, and not just the trees of this and that issue, but also not denying the complexity that is reality. I have some differences with Liberty Under Law as a core macro-idea and strategy, for later discussion. Here my point is more addressed to the PPNS critics who lapse into rose-colored history about how much and how well containment really worked as the Cold War’s single organizing concept.

I myself kind of like Liberty under Law because it gets at the critical importance of constitutionalism, but I still think the underlying concept of whatever bumper sticker phrase we use should highlight the importance of America's strength and moral leadership.  I'd be partial to something along the lines of "A leader the world wants to follow" -- or, maybe more simply, "The World's Leader" -- or, really, really simply:  "Leadership." 

But then maybe I've got really short bumper stickers on the brain... OK, back to the campaign!

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