In his State of the Union address tomorrow night, we can expect Bush to riff on a familiar theme: the onward march of “freedom.” When it comes to this President though, watch the deeds, ignore the rhetoric.
Few would argue that achieving “freedom” and “liberty” are valuable goals though, as historian Eric Foner reminds us, “freedom by its very nature is a contested concept, to which different individuals and groups have imparted different meanings.” What progressives need to do is reclaim these terms from an Administration that has corroded their meaning. It’s time to stand up for a redefined and affirmative vision of national security and US foreign-policy. The good news: there’s a real political opening for a credible and alternative progressive security policy. And as John Powers observed recently in a provocative piece in the LA Weekly, “Money and organization can only take any political movement so far.” Ideas matter.
We know what not to do. The New Republic‘s Peter Beinart recently argued that Democrats should adopt a get-tough crusade, launching a “war against fanatical Islam.” But this strategy not only buys into the GOP’s fear-mongering and militarized approach to the threat of terror, it is more likely to give life to Bin-Ladenism than it is to liberate people in the Islamic world or serve to protect America’s security.
The muscular crusade against terrorism that some in the Democratic Party see as the only way to stop Islamic terrorism-and win votes–ignores the fact that it was previous crusades that helped create bin Laden in the first place. Crusades masquerading as foreign policy will weaken our security and divert precious resources from the real fight for hearts and minds in the Middle East and beyond.
Instead of engaging the Republicans on their terms, progressives need to have a debate framed by our own concerns and values. And fighting terrorism should not be the alpha and omega of America’s security policy. Yes, Al-Qaeda remains a threat, but it’s a plain fact that “terrorism” is not a menace meriting hysteria or neglect of other national priorities; nor is the “Global War on Terror” a compelling justification for US aggression around the world.
“Islamic fundamentalism is actually on the wane in much of the world,” Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, recently argued on the Sunday chat show ABC’s This Week. Islamic fundamentalism “does not have the kind of appeal that worldwide Communism did,”Zakaria added.
Progressives can and should debate what an effective security policy would look like. But we also now know that in the fight against stateless terrorism, the war in Iraq was an act of self-sabotage; despite the relative lack of violence this past Sunday, and the courage of millions of Iraqis willing to risk death in order to vote, the invasion of Iraq was an act of hubris that has destroyed US credibility in foreign capitals, killed more than 1,400 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis, and drained the US treasury.