Across the United States, progressives just won difficult races for Congress in no small part because they articulated a clear, bold vision for the country they want to build. Meanwhile, Donald Trump—and others of his ilk across Europe and South America—have chosen to embrace a reactionary, nationalistic isolationism, which has been strengthened by Trump’s doubling down on the most hawkish elements of Washington’s failed foreign-policy consensus.
In the United States, the new Congress and the upcoming presidential race present real opportunities for progressives to reshape the debate on the US role in the world—and in doing so, to spark a vision for global progressives in the fight to defeat virulent nationalism around the world. The good news is that this debate has already begun to take shape, and, while there is some disagreement on details, progressives already have a unified vision of a better path forward.
Over the past few months, a proliferation of pundits have bemoaned the lack of a progressive vision for foreign policy, complaining that progressives are good at diagnosing the world’s problems, but have few thoughts on how to solve these ills and reform US engagement abroad. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of this commentary has not come from the progressive movement itself.
As two people currently working in the ecosystem of organizations and individuals tackling these issues, we agree that it is time to put forth a vision of what it means to be a progressive on foreign policy, developed not by foreign policy elites but by the movement itself. Through our work at Win Without War, we know that progressives believe strongly that how we project ourselves abroad should be no different from how we engage at home. Our values, in other words, do not stop at the water’s edge.
Building on years of partnership, we’ve spent the last few weeks talking with leading progressive activists and organizations to try to define a core of 10 principles for a progressive US foreign policy. This initial draft will be refined during the coming months as we work closely with a broad base of movement leaders and allies to promote this vision inside and outside the Beltway. Our hope is that these principles illuminate a path towards ensuring US foreign policy upholds progressive values in practice. Four core concepts embody these principles and expose how progressives’ struggle for change at home intersects with the changes we seek around the world.
Progressives know that true security is not divisible, that we cannot buy our nation’s safety by victimizing others through endless wars or separating families seeking refuge at our borders. For too long, our national-security policy has sought to impose violence-first solutions on problems that cannot be solved through military might, and often only fuel our own and the world’s insecurity. In fact, the most pressing security threats Americans, and indeed all people, face include global climate change, extreme economic inequality, and endemic corruption. Yet confronting these issues will require us to reconceive our approach to security—only by helping to make others secure will we ourselves become more secure.
Progressives know that the cornerstone of a stable world is justice, including working to confront injustice around the world. The United States must be central to this effort, but it can only do so if we first erase the blank check of impunity we have given ourselves and our “friends” to violate the very international norms we say we seek to promote and defend. We cannot be part of creating accountability for others unless the United States first ensures its own actions uphold international law, universal human rights, and empowers global collective action to end atrocities and abuse. Only then can the United States help create a more inclusive and accountable world system that ensures the desires of peoples, not just governments and corporations, are protected.
Progressives know solidarity is essential for humanity’s shared struggle to bend that long moral arc towards justice. Whether that is protecting our neighbors’ right to pray how they choose or ensuring that no one’s plate is empty while our fields are fruitful, we must always strive to take care of one another. On the global stage, we can only do that when we support every person’s desire for security, human rights, and equity. We must establish a new path wherein the United States’ foreign policy centers on the voices, the needs, and the right to self-determination of the people our policies affect most—women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, people in the Global South, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and low-income communities around the world. We must recognize that this will entail dismantling the systems of oppression that have too often fueled our foreign policy to truly act in solidarity with peoples around the world working to free themselves.
Progressives know as humans, we are all born with certain inalienable rights. Yet today, around the world, growing authoritarianism and hate are fueled by oligarchies preying on economic, gender, and racial inequality. No nation, no matter how powerful, can confront these challenges alone, nor can we ignore them and pretend the same forces are not impacting us. Building a better future will require a new, more equitable system of international governance and a global economy that ensures the needs and desires of people—not just governments, corporations, or elites—are fulfilled. We must prioritize championing the right to organize collectively in order to build an international economic system that uplifts the poorest, gives workers around the world a fair playing field, and upholds the same basic rights and dignity for all people regardless of who they are, whom they love, whom they pray to, or where they live.
The problems of today are evidence enough of the failures of the status quo. As progressives, we know that a better tomorrow is indeed possible, but only if we organize together to create a unified movement for change. Achieving that vision will require further refining this expression of our already shared values, and developing clear, actionable policies for both here at home and our engagement with the world. It will also require the progressive movement to hold policy-makers who claim the progressive mantle accountable for upholding our values in foreign policy, just as we do on the domestic front. We realize these principles won’t be accepted by everyone, but we hope they can serve to spark a debate within the wider movement about the bold vision we seek of the United States’ place in the world. Only by creating an intersectional movement for change at home and abroad can we fight like hell for the solutions we all know are necessary.