Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Ideal Political Platform Part #3: Foreign Policy

In the last two weeks I have outlined a political platform that takes the best elements of liberalism and conservatism (in the classic sense), and added some additional points regarding current environmental realities that require greater government intervention than previously anticipated. Given the extreme importance of foreign policy issues, however, particularly issues related to national security and confronting Islamofascism (we need to start by calling it what it is), a political philosophy that is not matched with a coherent foreign policy agenda cannot be taken seriously.

In this piece I am not going to argue about the proper number of troops in Iraq or whether bilateral negotiations with North Korea would be preferable to the current multilateral process because I am not a military or international security expert. I am constantly amazed by how many bloggers and mainstream editorialists seem to believe that they are qualified to speak on such matters when they clearly are not (Hint: reading a few books and newspapers isn’t enough to tell generals what they should be doing; I’m sure I also have been guilty of over-stepping my bounds in this area as well). What I am going to do is lay out some over-arching themes that I think are reasonable, just, and would resonate with large numbers of Americans, who are disgusted with both the strident militarism of the Right and the knee-jerk pacifism of the Left.

Ideally, our future political party would incorporate the following three themes into their foreign policy platform:

1. The commitment to clearly identify all of the threats to American national security and speak of them openly and honestly

For example, with the new Iranian President calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map” any prospective leader must not shy away from acknowledging that Iran is a dangerous enemy that must be confronted (whether militarily or not). For Democrats in particular, this need to clearly identify threats to America and make it known that they will be taken seriously is paramount. This must also be met with the acknowledgement that military force is an option and that while it is acceptable for Americans to protest specific uses of military force, we do not live in a world where military force can ever be completely taken off the table.

At the same time, Americans must be leveled with regarding the dangers we face in the world. Americans citizens are savvy enough to know that sometimes we find ourselves between “a rock and a hard place” in that there are no good options that satisfy the sense of moral clarity that we so often seek.

Cases in point are both Pakistan and North Korea. The former is particularly dangerous given that Pakistan is a nuclear power that is home base to many senior Al Queda members and some of the most strident anti-Americanism. After all, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb spread WMD technology throughout the world and has been called a national hero. Although President Musharraf is a military dictator, he is likely all that stands between us and an Islamofascist state with nuclear weapons. The American people don’t need empty rhetoric about how the U.S. doesn’t bargain and deal with dictators, but with the honest claim that we need to work with Musharraf in order to keep the extremists at bay while we continue to pressure him to bring democracy to his country.

With respect to North Korea, our rhetoric about how we refuse to negotiate with terrorists is clearly absurd since North Korea is a terrorist state and we do nothing but negotiate with them. Why? Because they have nuclear weapons and could wipe out most of Japan and South Korea if we became engaged with them in a military conflict. Again, Americans should be leveled with and told how our current policy is seeking to create incentives for North Korea to give up its nuclear program and reduce tensions in the region. We need more than moralizing about an “axis of evil”.

Looking back to the eve of the Iraq War, there is no doubt that the Bush Administration did not honor the commitment to level with the American people. As someone who opposed the Iraq War, more than anything, I took grave offense that my leaders were trying to bully and scare me into supporting the invasion. Despite evidence that Saddam likely had WMD, by all accounts Iraq did not represent an imminent threat. There were many other reasons to consider toppling Saddam’s regime; notably his human rights offenses, his past territorial aggressions and current ambitions, and the desire to establish democracy in the Middle East. The Administration decided that the American people would not support a war on these premises and therefore used fear and deception to garner support. Our leaders should make an honest case under all circumstances.

2. Clear criteria for when U.S. military force will be used on humanitarian grounds

Many commentators have (rightfully) pointed out that the Republicans have usurped the idealistic foreign policy rhetoric that used to characterize liberals, particularly those in the Wilsonian tradition. With his talk of spreading freedom and democracy around the world, President Bush has been able to successfully characterize Democrats and the Left as isolationists with narrow views of the national self-interest. Unfortunately, this rhetoric has not been matched with a commitment to confront the genocide in Sudan. Bush is famously noted for studying the Clinton Administration’s failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide and proclaiming “not on my watch”. Well, it has happened on his watch and even after Secretary of State Colin Powell called the situation in Darfur genocide the U.S. has not intervened in any substantive way to put an end to it.

This blatant disregard for decades upon decades of the “never again” mantra that has been echoed in the Western World since the Holocaust casts America (and the rest of the West) in a terrible light. Those who most often oppose the use of military force point to our persistent lack of will to confront genocide as evidence of a morally bankrupt foreign policy.

I suggest that we either have a foreign policy that explicitly includes larger humanitarian goals or we make it clear that it is U.S. interests alone that dictate our actions. This middle ground in which lofty moral rhetoric is bandied about, but our actions are not consistent with these principles is bad for national morale and ultimately self-defeating. It is my suspicion that a large majority of Americans across the political spectrum would support a more consistent foreign policy with a clear humanitarian component and mandate.

3. A commitment to strengthening international cooperation and institutions

With the recent scandals involving the U.N. Oil-for-food program and the sexual abuse of refugees, one would be forgiven for believing that Jesse Helms and all those on the Far Right who have been bashing the U.N. for decades may have a point. But there has never been a time when international cooperation is more urgent. Al Queda and other Islamofascists are believed to be operating in approximately 100 countries, our environmental problems are increasingly global in scope, and issues of migration and human trafficking are also becoming more serious. While no U.S. president should ever cede final decisions with respect to U.S. national security to the international community (the dumbest thing Kerry ever said was the “global test”- why couldn’t he have just said truth and honesty?), the U.S. simply cannot tackle the problems we face alone and alienating large segments of the world is not in our interests.

Specifically, I think the move by the Bush Administration against the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been terrible for the U.S. image abroad. It fuels the belief that we consider ourselves above international law and is wholly inconsistent with a belief in universal rights such as freedom and democracy. If anything, the U.S. should be at the forefront of promoting international justice and demonstrating to the world that our people are subject to the same norms regarding crimes against humanity as everyone else. Obviously, the fear among our leaders is that rogue regimes will target U.S. politicians and servicemen and women for political theater and retribution, but this is more reason for the U.S. to be engaged in the process instead of trying to undermine it. The ICC is run in Europe and our allies have an incentive for the Court to be viewed as legitimate by the U.S.. They know as well as anyone that if push came to shove, the U.S. would never sit back and let one of our own be chastised by Cuba or Syria on trumped up charges. That being said, if one of our own does actually engage in crimes against humanity we should not be afraid to prove to the world that we are willing to see them punished in an international forum. And if we are actually worried about the possibility that members of our military or political establishment would engage in such conduct then perhaps we need to change our policies, not fight against the ICC.

In summary, I believe that the themes I have outlined above would go a long way towards alleviating the distrust many Americans feel towards our political leaders and also help to mend our relations with people around the world. While not a comprehensive foreign policy platform, both of these goals are clearly in our national interest.

J.S.

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