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June 14, 2005

First Principles for Progressives
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Michael riposted my response to his initial post recounting the conclusions of a recent Truman Project meeting that discussed the pillars of a progressive foreign policy.    Anne-Marie Slaughter at America Abroad and Stygius have also waded into the fray.

I agree with Michael that progressives need to be definite, simple, and passionate.  I wrote a piece in 2002 entitled Battle Hymn of the Democrats that said:

In a milieu of war or near-war, the public will look for leadership that is bold and strident—more forceful, resolute, and pugnacious than would otherwise be tolerated . . .The Democrats’ problem is that they fit the British description of peacetime virtue to a tee: thoughtful, reasoned, wary of hyperbole and over-simplification, and fearful of making mistakes . . .
That said, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking the time to debate how to get our ideas right.  It's too soon after the Kerry defeat to decide that we have all the answers and need only repeat them with conviction. 

1) On exceptionalism, I think the key is that we view ourselves - our history, our values, our capabilities - as exceptional.  This is something both progressives and the public at large feel proud and passionate about.  This is distinct from the belief that America's status merits automatic exemption from the rules we think are needed for a world order.  This doesn't mean our exceptionalism is without consequence.  It affects the sway we expect to hold over others, and at times it may be valid grounds to argue for new or separate rules.  Defined otherwise, I fear that the claim of exceptionalism may swallow what Michael cites as a bedrock of progressives' proprietary agenda (as distinct from those principles we hold in common with conservatives), namely "the world community."

2) As the US's military superiority and technology have advanced, most Americans are increasingly comfortable with the use of force.  Had the Iraq War ended when "major combat operations" concluded in May of 2003, most of us would have judged the risks and costs of force so diminished as to warrant a wholesale recalibration of the criteria for military intervention.  Given the military's ability to minimize loss of life (and its political consequences), a lot of the traditional phobia about force would've fallen away.  But the 2 year insurgency has called that reasoning into question.  The American people are grappling with this conundrum; I agree with Derek that progressives need to offer more thinking on how to resolve it.   We should be passionate about positioning our military to succeed.

3) On hegemony, our foreign policy should have as a primary goal the maintenance of America's primacy.  That objective is grounded in another hallmark of a hard-headed progressive philosophy (one Michael did not mention), namely that America is and must be a force for good in the world.   

But (as I've said here and here), as the world changes, exercising power by fiat will often thwart rather than promote the cause of sustained American primacy.  I am not against fiat in principle.  It would make life easier and maybe even make the world better if the U.S. could simply call the shots.  Moreover, I don't think we should tie our own hands, or willingly forfeit any of the prerogatives we enjoy as a superpower.  But as a practical matter the goal of sustaining our power (which emptywheel talks about in his comments to Michael's post) demands that most of the time - though not always - we exercise it with the support and consent of others.


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» The Principles of a Progressive Foreign Policy Agenda from Princeton Progressive Review
As I'll be moderating a panel on this topic in just a few short weeks (perhaps you'll even be there), I want to respond (if I may be so bold) to this very interesting discussion of "first principles" for a... [Read More]

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As I suggested at the outset, there are three different visions implicit in this debate. The Truman Democrats don't have to agree with one another, but they ought to recognize that these visions have very distinctive ramifications. [Read More]

» Progressive Foreign Policy from The Duck of Minerva
As I suggested at the outset, there are three different visions implicit in this debate. The Truman Democrats don't have to agree with one another, but they ought to recognize that these visions have very distinctive ramifications. [Read More]


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