By this point in George W. Bush’s second term, the dangers of his Administration’s national security policy are clear. From the debacle of “preventive” war in Iraq to the abuses of human rights at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the Bush Administration’s post-September 11 policies have had disastrous consequences.
These failures of the Bush foreign policy should have opened the way to the presentation of substantive alternatives by the Democrats. Sadly, that has not been the case. For example, a brief outline of the “Real Security” policy, released on March 29 by the Democratic leadership in Congress, dodges the most important issues. The document has some good proposals, including a call to promote energy efficiency and alternative fuels. A concrete plan that talks about where to invest and what the results are likely to be would offer a sharp contrast to the Bush Administration’s “all oil, all the time” energy policy.
The positive elements of the Democratic plan are overshadowed, however, by its implication that it may be necessary to increase military spending beyond the levels already reached during the Bush buildup. Counting the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US military spending is weighing in at more than $550 billion per year, higher than the peak levels reached during the Reagan buildup or the Vietnam War. Yet the Democratic statement speaks of the need to rebuild the military without calling for any cuts in unnecessary programs. This may be a tactical decision aimed at showing that Democrats too can be tough on defense, but all it indicates is that they can compete with Republicans in wasting defense dollars.
A second approach that has received considerable attention is found in New Republic editor at large Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight: Why Liberals–and Only Liberals–Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. Beinart’s book stresses the importance of working with allies and the need for justice at home as foundations of a sound foreign policy; but these themes are more than offset by his messianic advocacy of nonstop military interventionism.
The breadth of Beinart’s proposed mission for the military is stunning: “It would be naïve…to think that freedom, even broadly defined…is enough to defeat jihadism…. From the Middle East to Southeast Asia, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the United States may need to enter stateless zones, capture or kill the jihadists taking refuge there, and stay long enough to begin rebuilding the state.”
After more than three years and $300 billion spent in Iraq–a war Beinart supported–one is hard-pressed to know when the beginning of the rebuilding of the state will have been accomplished in any given intervention. In keeping with his ambitious military agenda, Beinart supports a stable or growing military budget, deriding progressives who “casually urge cutting the defense budget.”
The Progressive Policy Institute–the research arm of the Democratic Leadership Council–has produced its own set of proposals for reforming US military strategy. The DLC analysis shares Beinart’s call for a muscular liberalism grounded in a “stronger and larger military.” That being said, the DLC analysis does contain some common-sense proposals for expanding nonmilitary forms of engagement. But despite its nod to diplomacy, when push comes to shove the PPI’s proposed strategy speaks of “prevention” of looming threats in purely military terms, as in “destroying weapons of mass destruction…and the means to produce them in rogue states”–essentially a policy of bombing the bombs.