Progressive Values Don’t Stop at the Water’s Edge

Progressive Values Don’t Stop at the Water’s Edge

Progressive Values Don’t Stop at the Water’s Edge

Our foreign-policy alternative should be based on people’s actual concerns, not the made-up “crises” Washington think tanks cook up.


These are dark days for progressives. While many worry about what will happen here in the United States in the coming years, what with immigration round-ups and Muslim registries potentially looming on the horizon, we also ought to spare a thought for foreign policy. While we may have worried about the hawkishness of Hillary Clinton, the sheer horror of a President Donald Trump is likely to make many of us long for the relatively good old days of George W. Bush. Even while we ready ourselves for the many battles ahead, we must at the same time begin to consider how we can finally present and advance a truly progressive foreign policy.

For the past eight years, progressives could often—though not always—count on President Obama to articulate a progressive worldview even as his actions sometimes fell short of his own rhetoric. But as Trump prepares to take office, we need to start speaking for ourselves and for the millions of Americans who share our belief that our progressive values do not stop at the water’s edge.

While there will always be disagreements on particular policies, the core of a values-based, progressive foreign policy is clear:

Abroad, as at home, progressives believe in human equality, with everyone’s rights defended, especially those historically marginalized by systems of oppression. We know that injustice anywhere remains a threat to justice everywhere.

We understand that true human security depends as much on protecting our planet from the harmful consequences of climate change as it does on breaking the cycles that fuel violent extremism. In neither case is the most effective weapon a bomb.

We recognize that the systems of corporate greed and economic exploitation transcend national boundaries. Fighting back will require global strategies for a global playing field.

We believe that people are entitled to safety and security in their communities, that they should never fear being killed by the police and the militaries meant to protect them. That is true whether they live in Ferguson or Fallujah.

There are many more pillars of our progressive worldview and countless policies that stem from these beliefs, but perfecting this list is not the task at hand. Our job must now be to put our beliefs and our values into action.

One of the many lessons of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign was that if we want people to follow us, we must speak authentically and present them with real solutions to the problems we face. Americans are sick of an endless “war against terror” that has only made us less safe. They are tired of corruption at the Pentagon that squeezes our troops for savings while lavishing billions on arms makers whose weapons don’t work and wouldn’t keep us safe even if they did. And Americans are heartbroken watching the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Syria, Nigeria, and countless other places, while we are told that our only options are to send in the special forces or sit back and do nothing.

Let’s finally offer a foreign policy that actually solves problems. Let’s listen, intently, to people’s actual concerns and not the made-up “crises” that Washington think tanks declare to be what “serious people” should focus on. And let’s demand that our elected officials listen to us, not special interests, arms makers, and the same “experts” who have been wrong time and time again, from Vietnam to Iraq and everywhere in between.

Now is the time to get to work, to demand policies that reflect our values, to support politicians who support us, to build the political power we need to win. Together, we can not only stop Trump—we can pave the way for a progressive America, both at home and abroad.

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