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Friday, November 12, 2004

Democrats and Foreign Policy

Thursday, November 11, Yuval Rubinstein posted a provocative piece called "Are We Feeling Secure Now?" on the Left Coaster blog:
Lost in all the post-election navel-gazing and recriminations is one undisputable fact: the Democrats are in serious trouble in the national security/foreign policy arena....

Now, I think Kerry did a much better job in criticizing the administration's numerous shortcomings in the war on terror. Indeed, he drew some real blood in pointing out bin Laden's Tora Bora getaway. However, I was extremely disappointed at Kerry's inability to develop a coherent national security strategy beyond vague promises to rebuild international alliances. This is even more inexcusable when you consider that Kerry has been in the Senate for 20 years (no country bumpkin state governor is he) and that he was known for his expertise in foreign policy/national security issues.
I agree with some of Rubinstein's recommendations for change -- yes, Democrats should build a better national security infrastructure, for example) -- just as I previously agreed with many of these same sentiments when expressed two years ago in an article by Heather Hurlburt in the Washington Monthly. Rubinstein references Hurlburt and quotes her approvingly.

However, I don't agree with either of these analysts that Democrats are ignorant, inattentive, and/or indifferent to war and national security issues. Many of my best friends are Democrats who care deeply about war and national security issues.

Maybe the problem for the party is that it is too reliant on Washington hacks and not willing to trust academic wonks? The party seems to have no problem turning to the academy for policy advice about social security or education, but seems to ignore academic thinking on foreign policy -- unless perhaps it is published in Foreign Affairs.

The media doesn't take the academic talent pool seriously either. Does anyone outside the academy remember the open letter penned by the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy?

I didn't think so. The American media certainly didn't notice. On October 26, 2004, Professor Stuart Kaufman (who was a driving force behind the letter) wrote:
Since the experts' open letter criticizing U.S. foreign policy was released two weeks ago, international media have provided substantial coverage. Major newspapers in Germany, Turkey and Australia ran stories, as did the Guardian in England, and the Straits Times in Singapore.. Broadcast coverage included a radio interview with the BBC and television coverage on al-Jazeera....Though headline news in many parts of the globe and a significant part of the blogosphere, the
letter has remained largely unreported in the mainstream US media.
This was not a radical group:
Far from reflecting a liberal bias, the group of signers includes an array of prominent conservative scholars such as Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard University, John J Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, Michael C. Desch of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, and Christopher Layne, Contributing Editor of The American Conservative magazine. According to Dr. Thomas Volgy, Executive Director of the International Studies Association, this joint effort and broad agreement by such a diverse group of international affairs scholars is unprecedented.
The media yawned and I don't think the national Democratic party cared.

In any case, back to the big picture. Yesterday, I posted a response to Rubinstein in the Left Coaster's comments section, but let me repost that here to preserve it:

Part of the problem faced by Democrats is that they believe in just about the same policies as Republicans, but within more reasonable limits.

For example, Dems obviously don't want to disarm, but most Dems could easily find tens of billion of dollars worth of fat in the Defense Budget that could be cut. The US spends more on its military than any other 20 nations combined! However, if Dems vote to cut that fat, Republicans call them weak.

Another problem is the Republicans don't fess up to their "real" foreign policy agenda. Republicans talk about US leadership, democratization, and security but actually offer the rest of the world take-it-or-leave it unilateralism, bullying, American exceptionalism (now cast as a reason for the US not to abide international laws and norms), and hegemony (with neoimperial aspirations).

Dems have been ineffective at explaining why the "real" Republican agenda is so outrageous and dangerous.

Finally, Dems need to emphasize the non-military policy tools that can and do work to solve foreign policy problems. Democrats put higher value on diplomacy, foreign aid, arms control, genuine multilateralism and economic sanctions. Republicans would rather fight than switch.

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