The rhetoric that President Trump has used to set out and advance his administration’s wildly unbalanced and undisciplined foreign policy has long been cause for alarm, and a new, progressive foreign-policy group made up largely of former Obama administration officials calling itself National Security Action (NSA) has formed with the aim of “advancing American global leadership and opposing the reckless policies of the Trump administration that endanger our national security and undermine U.S. strength in the world.”
The group, which according to its homepage is a collection of “former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders,” was formed for the purpose of “bringing together and mobilizing an unparalleled network…dedicated to a progressive vision of American global leadership.”
National Security Action’s co-founder Ben Rhodes, who served as President Obama’s national-security spokesman, told The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan that, because we are living in what is essentially “an emergency moment,” there was “a need to pull together the national security community on the progressive side to counter Trump’s policies and put forward an alternative.”
This is a group formed not to challenge national-security and foreign-policy orthodoxies but rather to protect, defend, and perpetuate them.
If the adage is true that “personnel is policy,” then this is a problematic group that includes the architects and cheerleaders of the Obama administration’s disastrous interventions in Libya and Syria and among its most vocal and visible proponents of a policy of escalation in eastern Ukraine.
By putting the maintenance of the “United States as a global power” at the center of its mission, as its founding statement notes, the group would seem to be ignoring the finding of a study by University of Minnesota law professor Francis Shen and Boston University political scientist Douglas Kriner that found that the uneven toll America’s long wars have taken on heartland communities contributed to Hillary Clinton’s defeat in November 2016.
Worryingly, too, is that the ideas that NSA presents are all too reminiscent of what the Clinton campaign had on offer. And in the absence of a realization that the Democratic Party needs to rethink its commitment to liberal interventionism as an organizing principle and governing philosophy of its foreign policy, the 2016 result may repeat itself in 2020.
While rightly deploring the deplorable Trump (“His outbursts on Twitter are destabilizing abroad and beneath the dignity of the highest office in our land”), NSA has a vision in which the concepts of national sovereignty, national interests, and pragmatism are all but absent. One might even expect at least some mention of the global challenges wrought by free trade, including the rise of global inequality and the emergence of a global oligarchical class (see under: Davos).
One could also be forgiven for wondering: Is there really such difference between what NSA has on offer and the Trump administration’s recently released National Security Statement (NSS) statement?
After all, both the mission of NSA and the Trump NSS reflect the prejudices and preferences of what President Barack Obama himself referred to as “the Blob,” the principal one being the primacy of maintaining American hegemony (or “leadership”) abroad. As MIT’s Barry Posen recently pointed out, “For all the talk of avoiding foreign adventurism and entanglements, in practice, his [Trump’s] administration has remained committed to geopolitical competition with the world’s greatest military powers and to the formal and informal alliances it inherited.”
“For nearly 30 years,” writes Posen, “the United States tested the hypothesis that the liberal character of its hegemonic project made it uniquely achievable. The results suggest that the experiment failed.”
That lesson seems lost on this particular group of Clinton and Obama alumni.
Some may object to the above criticism of the Obama-Clinton record as unfair, after all, Trump did just appoint a hard-line fanatic, John Bolton, to be his national-security adviser; indeed, some prominent liberal Clinton supporters have observed that Bolton’s appointment was yet further proof that Hillary Clinton would have been the better steward of US foreign policy. But it is worth recalling that it was the Clinton campaign that played a key role in the rehabilitation and laundering of the reputations of many of the country’s leading neoconservatives.
Still more, the Bolton appointment may serve a similar role as to that of played by Russiagate: It will allow for hawkish Democrats to avoid accountability for the checkered record of much of the Democratic foreign-policy establishment. Democrats have their own breed of hawks who need reining in; and the appointment of Bolton doesn’t (or shouldn’t) absolve the Democratic establishment’s role in the triple fiascoes of Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.
In the end, the NSA’s message will only narrow the already narrow parameters of debate within the Democratic Party.
There are other voices from which Democratic foreign-policy intellectuals and practitioners ought to draw inspiration in the age of endless war, aside from those liberal hawk/interventionists who are partially responsible for it.