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Monday, February 23, 2004

Progressive Internationalism

Ralph Nader's decision to run for President potentially exposes the Democratic nominee (most likely John Kerry) to political attacks from his left. Today, I'd like to address that problem.

Talk radio, of course, is buzzing about Kerry's anti-war past. Hosts and callers in that right-dominated media malign Kerry on a daily basis for his ties to the anti-war movement. If you don't believe me, just tune into a program for an hour.

In any case, the internet splits much more evenly between left and right. And it is apparent that some 'net writers on the left are worried that John Kerry is a closet super-hawk. A friend of mine (and regular reader) sent me a recent Counterpunch article that links Kerry to "progressive internationalism," and then charges that supporters of this worldview embrace the neo-conservative agenda for American foreign policy. Indeed, Mark Hand says the Democrats are more evil because they are less transparent about their plans:
Kerry and his comrades in the progressive internationalist movement are as gung-ho about U.S. military action as their counterparts in the White House. The only noteworthy difference between the two groups battling for power in Washington is that the neocons are willing to pursue their imperial ambitions in full view of the international community, while the progressive internationalists prefer to keep their imperial agenda hidden behind the cloak of multilateralism.
I think this charge is about as fair as the Fonda/Kerry doctored photo.

To begin, the author's title for Counterpunch is misleading: "Kerry Tells Anti-War Movement to Move On." Given the current context, and the immediate comparison to Bush, those not paying attention might think that the author accuses Kerry of ignoring the current war in Iraq. But to make the "move on" point, Hand quotes Kerry about the Vietnam war:
If those of us who carried the physical and emotional burdens of that conflict can regain perspective and move on, so can those whose involvement was vicarious or who knew nothing of the war other than ideology and legend.
Hand does not want to absolve the US or its veterans for allegedly committing war crimes in Vietnam. Fair enough. We could debate those points.

But I think Hand goes way overboard in his critique of Kerry. Here's what Hand has to say about Kerry's call for the country to "move on" from Vietnam:
"In this one passage, Kerry seeks to justify the millions of people slaughtered by the U.S. military and its surrogates during the twentieth century, suggests that concern about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam is no longer necessary, and dismisses the antiwar movement as the work of know-nothings.
This is ridiculous

Does anyone read "justification" for the war into Kerry's comment? Does Kerry now believe (because of new perspective) that the war was a just cause and that America blew it by failing to "win"? No, of course not. Kerry and Senator John McCain, recall, were leaders in the effort to normalize US relations with Vietnam. And Kerry still talks about the numerous mistakes the US made in Vietnam. Kerry worked for reconciliation and peace, which is what I think he means in calling for the US to "move on."

Moreover, I do not think Kerry is referring to the antiwar movement as "know-nothings." Obviously, the author has literally twisted Kerry's words to make them seem more inflammatory. People who know nothing of the war other than legend or ideology surely includes the very large portion of Americans too young to know much of anything about the war, except what they've learned from an occasional movie. And frankly, there are lots of people who lived through the war experience who are blinded by ideology -- on both the right and the left.

On the right, callers to talk radio say Kerry called Vietnam Vets war criminals. Hand says Kerry wants to "move on" from war crimes investigations. Kerry is taking unfair heat from both sides.

Reconciliation and peace: Move on. That's a meaningful third way.

At the base of Hand's claim about "progressive internationalism" is a document ("The Hyde Park Declaration") Kerry (and numerous other Democrats) signed at the urging of Bill Clinton in 2000. The policy part of the document is called "A New Agenda for the New Decade" and it includes a very short section on "Promoting Peace and Security At Home and Abroad."

If one reads the entire foreign policy section, it is difficult to get upset:
2. Build a Public Consensus Supporting U.S. Global Leadership

The internationalist outlook that served America and the world so well during the second half of the 20th century is under attack from both ends of the political spectrum. As the left has gravitated toward protectionism, many on the right have reverted to "America First" isolationism. This collapse of the old Cold War consensus threatens America's ability to provide international leadership on both the economic and security fronts.

What's needed is a new foreign and security strategy for a new era. Our leaders should articulate a progressive internationalism based on the new realities of the Information Age: globalization, democracy, American pre-eminence, and the rise of a new array of threats ranging from regional and ethnic conflicts to the spread of missiles and biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. This approach recognizes the need to revamp, while continuing to rely on, multilateral alliances that advance U.S. values and interests.

A strong, technologically superior defense is the foundation for U.S. global leadership. Yet the United States continues to employ defense strategies, military missions, and force structures left over from the Cold War, creating a defense establishment that is ill-prepared to meet new threats to our security. The United States must speed up the "revolution in military affairs" that uses our technological advantage to project force in many different contingencies involving uncertain and rapidly changing security threats -- including terrorism and information warfare. This also means undertaking a systematic overhaul of the military to create a force that is more flexible, integrated, and efficient.

Goals for 2010

A clear national policy with bipartisan support that continues U.S. global leadership, adjusts our alliances to new regional threats to peace and security, promotes the spread of political and economic freedom, and outlines where and how we are willing to use force.

A modernized military equipped to deal with emerging threats to security, such as terrorism, information warfare, weapons of mass destruction, and destabilizing regional conflicts.
Arguably, this pre-September 11 document was much more relevant to the 2000 Gore campaign than it is to the 2004 election. It is noteworthy that Democrats were worried about terrorism and WMD (as are about 90% of Americans) at that early date.

The 2000 document, by the way, has been updated by New Democrats (from the Democratic Leadership Council), and they do, as Hand says, use the phrase progressive internationalism" to describe their foreign policy aspirations. The DLC's website list Kerry as a member of the "New Democrat" coalition, but the DLC had lots of horses in the 2004 Presidential race: John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Bob Graham, and Joe Lieberman. I'd bet Kerry was at best the third choice of most DLC members.

In any event, it does seem fair to at least consider what the DLC would like a newly elected Democratic president to do in foreign policy. I've cherry-picked a few quotes to highlight some major contrasts with the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration:
By insisting on our right to act unilaterally, by ignoring intelligence assessments that conflicted with his desire to act, and by underestimating the resources needed to accomplish the missions, the president is putting America's battlefield gains in jeopardy. By focusing too much on U.S. military might as its main foreign policy instrument, the administration is abdicating its responsibility to fashion an effective, long-term political and economic strategy for changing the conditions in which Islamic fundamentalism breeds and from which new threats to our national security are most likely to arise. And by pushing ideologically motivated tax cuts and repudiating the nation's hard-won commitment to fiscal discipline, President Bush also is reducing our future capacity to act around the world and weakening American economic leadership and leverage.
Wesley Clark and other Democrats were offering this same critique throughout the campaign.

Here's more:
Instead of mobilizing our friends and isolating our enemies, this administration is isolating the United States from the rest of the world, squandering the good will and alliances built up over decades by successive U.S. leaders. American military strength is at an all-time high but our moral authority around the world is at an all-time low.
Does Hand disagree?

And finally, this:
Progressive internationalism stresses the responsibilities that come with our enormous power: to use force with restraint but not to hesitate to use it when necessary, to show what the Declaration of Independence called "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," to exercise leadership primarily through persuasion rather than coercion, to reduce human suffering where we can, and to create alliances and international institutions committed to upholding a decent world order.
OK, so the DLC still supports the "Clinton Doctrine" of humanitarian intervention. While I think it has to be carefully crafted, I can imagine using force to stop genocide or other crimes against humanity.

Is this the best the disenfranchised left has to offer?

Bring it on.

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