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.
We no longer hold the moral high ground after the revelations of torture by US troops at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In general, Bush’s “doctrine” has corroded the rule of law abroad and civil liberties at home, with no measurable gain for our security.
Writing recently in the Financial Times, Michael Lind persuasively argued that Bush’s security policy has backfired. “A new world order is indeed emerging,” Lind wrote, but Bush’s strategies have generated so much ill-will abroad that “its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited.”
“Practically all new international institution-building of any long-term importance in global diplomacy and trade occurs without American participation.”
A fascinating and underreported 119-page study, “Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project,” recently issued by the CIA’s National Intelligence Council, underscores Lind’s arguments by highlighting the steep decline of US moral, political and economic capital. Available on the CIA’s website, the report predicts that in 2020 China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other nations will have emerged as powerful rivals to US global dominance, “transform[ing] the geopolitical landscape” and significantly eroding US power.
What, then, will a democratic alternative to Bush’s doctrine look like? First, let’s understand that there is a constituency in the US and the world for a progressive-left security policy. (Even Bush’s staunch ally Tony Blair seemed to suggest as much in his speech at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos.) The Democratic Party should ground its affirmative vision in the reality of public opinion.
In November 2001, the highly regarded Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) reported that a majority of Americans supported a multilateral approach, wanted a strong UN role in the world, and endorsed using humanitarian and development aid to build good will abroad. In April 2003, PIPA released a poll showing that the American people didn’t like Bush’s “global cop” vision, and that they endorsed global institutions like the UN that confronted global challenges.
According to a recent Chicago Council of Foreign Relations poll, a large majority of the American people think the US should have “strong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being attacked” before we use military force. This is a powerful rebuke to the pre-emptive war doctrine, which is at the heart of Bush’s security policy. So, too, is the finding also in the Chicago CFR poll that a majority of Americans support the use of diplomatic and economic tools rather than military ones to fight terrorism. Last week, the Pew Research Center revealed that 76 percent of registered Democrats believed that “good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace.”
Democrats, in particular, want to see a real alternative to Bush’s go-it-alone jingoism; as The Atlantic‘s Jack Beatty put it, “the neo-cons are history’s fools. The strategy they championed was the wrongest possible strategy for the wrongest possible moment in the wrongest possible region of the world.” (Abject failure hasn’t slowed down the neocons however; full of typical arrogance, in a letter to congress dated January 28, the neoconservative think-tank/power broker known as The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) essentially called for a draft without actually using the ‘D’ word.)
The second thing progressives should do is talk about a more constructive, intelligent use of American power exemplified by things like the founding of the UN, support for universal human rights, and our commitment, however imperfect, to a framework of multilateralism. We should urge America to support a leadership that wins respect at home and abroad through global partnerships, and understands that the key to world order, peace and prosperity is not American unilateral dominance but the strengthening of international governance and the global rule of law.
Third, the US needs to redefine security to meet the challenges of the 21st century, at a time when the world is increasingly interdependent. The reality is that overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the early 21st century: stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in the former Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, environmental degradation, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality. These are problems that no one country, however powerful, can solve on its own.
The new definition of national security should include using US power to lead a global campaign to meet the UN’s Millennium Goals–halving world poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeing every child primary education by 2015; strengthening multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties, encouraging nuclear disarmament and increasing funding for Nunn-Lugar and other programs aimed at eliminating nuclear stockpiles in the former Soviet Union; ratifying the Kyoto, ICC, ABM and other treaties to strengthen our alliances; reducing our dependence on foreign oil by forming a global alliance that invests in alternative energy sources; and engaging the world so that America becomes a source of hope, not fear
Democracy cannot be imposed from without on nations with different cultures and histories. Freedom, liberty and democracy are built not in the ashes of war and occupation but from a history of struggle, civic work and economic development. The American people have no appetite for a religious crusade. What they would like to see is a principled foreign policy. Progressives need to offer the American people an affirmative vision.