avatar
The Best Security is a New Foreign Policy


The Grand Old Party’s puppeteers sigh with relief. Their marionettes can be put back in the trunks, and repaired for a renewed assault on the political stage. They took the U. S. to war in Iraq, and fell into a trap. The word “quagmire” could not be uttered for fear of association with Vietnam, but the manipulators know that this is just what has happened. The U. S., if it is to maintain its illusion of primacy, cannot suffer defeat in Mesopotamia. “Lose” can only appear in quotes. They have no solutions, no strategy. “Send more troops” is a feint without enthusiasm. There are few of them to send. Equipment is in bad shape. Money is short. But it has the advantage of seeming muscular. That’s all that counts. John “Straight Talk From Both Sides of His Mouth” McCain is the proponent of more boots on the ground. That’s fine. But there are not enough feet to fit those boots. The Iraq War is not happening. It is a made-for-television movie.

The election is a godsend. It hands off a thankless parcel to the Democrats. The people want out. They hoped that the end to a one-party state would do the trick. Not that they have faith in the Democrats. In that camp, as in any camp on the issue, there are deep divisions. Some want to leave now, others to set a timetable, and yet others to create some mechanism to shift responsibility to some third or fourth party. All these ideas reappeared in the startlingly monotonous Iraq Study Group report. Nothing new there. Just the old ideas.

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the GOP’s satellite campus in the Democratic Party, produced a monograph length account to help guide the troops. “With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty.” The word “progressive” in the title is a misnomer. Unless they mean it in the sense of “progressive paralysis,” which in Pathology indicates that a condition has become more severe. The intellectual rot is deeper; the ideas are desiccated. The essays go in two directions, some call for soft power, some for hard. Most of it is a nostalgic glance at the era of the Truman Doctrine (not détente with those who disagree with U. S. power, but containment and roll-back of those forces through an enormous military apparatus ­ as outlined in the famous N. S. C. 68). The DLC also looks back longingly at the Democratic forward policy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who reared Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.

The soft power stuff is easy to take because it is so nauseatingly utopian. Reza Aslan, who wrote a very interesting book about Islam, calls for an engagement with moderate Muslims who share the basic liberal values with the DLC’s Al From and Bruce Reed. Ken “I Took the Liberals To War in Iraq” Pollack pronounces the need for a “grand strategy” of liberal ideological intervention into the Middle East. All this is milquetoast, at best, and deceitful, at worst. These kinds of arguments neglect at least a few basic facts: (1) U. S. policy, as endorsed by the DLC, has marginalized these very moderate Muslim voices; (2) Empire has given liberal values a bad name; (3) There is no acknowledgement (apart from Edward Gresser’s “Greater Middle East Prosperity Plan,” a phrase used without irony, and a program with no teeth) that the neo-liberal economic policies have impoverished the vast masses of the region, and that as of now the only forces that speak for those who feel powerless are either the plebeian Shiite groups (Hezbollah, Muqtada al-Sadr) or the weakened Left (Worker Communist Party of Iraq and its ilk). These groups are not interested in an arid discussion about moderation and liberal pieties.

The lack of genuine commitment to the soft power route takes the DLC into territory it likes: a fascination with military strategy. Two senior fellows of the DLC’s Progressive Policy Institute, James Blaker and Steven Nider, take us down this road (“Fighting Unconventional Wars”). Reading the essay felt like being inside Donald Rumsfeld’s head. Prevention, for these writers, is rendered in military terms. Pre-emptive or precautionary strikes against terrorists in other countries, assaults on nuclear facilities of rogue states, and of course, the centerpiece, “preempting aggression against an ally or area of great economic importance to the United States” (which cannot mean China, but must mean IsraelÅ .although “economic importance”?). Guns, more and better: that’s the strategy.

One of Al From’s commentaries makes clear why the DLC won’t be articulate a way forward. “How,” he asks, “do we keep our people secure in a world where evil Islamic extremists wake up every day thinking of new ways to kill, maim or terrorize Americans and others throughout the civilized world?” So, we have the basic imperial dichotomy imported intact: civilized versus barbaric. And From adopts the Bush view that the problem in the world is the “evil Islamic terrorists” who acts with malice and for no good reason. The politics of their actions are irrelevant, so that they can be rendered evil, and then, thanks to Blaker and Nider’s better military, killed. We get no sense of how U. S. power over the past fifty years has taken the rug from under many of the people in the Middle East and joined with the local dominant classes to shape a dispensation for profit and against people. The war against Nasserism and Communism in the Arab lands is one example, and another is the breakdown of the social wage state in countries like Pakistan (where the Islamist civil society emerged to assemble a coalition of those abandoned by the state and reviled by imperialism). Without these basic historical facts, any attempt to reconstruct a national security doctrine for the U. S. will need to emphasize a military response. One cannot build soft power by neglecting the grievances of those who have been trampled by a combination of U. S. power and the intransigent domestic classes.

From complains, “Our noisy gaggle of anti-war activists makes life uncomfortable for Democrats who try to talk sense on national security, so most choose to change the subject.” But, the DLC position sounds like sense only within a very narrow framework that presumes that the problem is the crazy, evil terrorist, who has no worthwhile political grievances. But we, that noisy gaggle, have a few suggests for the Pelosi-Reid Congress. Obviously we don’t expect them to renounce neo-liberalism and to forgo their “trade agenda.” If we set aside the impossible under these conditions, there are a few modest steps that the Democrats, pressured by the Sanders-Kucinich bloc, could take:

(1) Renounce the isolation of the Bush agenda on multilateral treaties and institutions: Kyoto on climate change, Rome on the international court, and indeed, take a more democratic approach to the United Nations. An end to isolationism on global institutions is a first step to a new foreign policy.The progressive Democrats need to use this as a cudgel against the Right.

(2) Draw up a plan to close down at least a third of the military bases around the world. Given the anti-U. S. tenor, these bases are already under threat. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa has pledged to eject the U. S. from Manta’s Eloy Alfaro Air Base. Why wait, get out before hand. And, while they’re at it, don’t substitute “cooperative security locations” for bases, because these new devices allow for a leaner base structure. The point is not economic cost, which is how the Global Defense Posture Review saw it, but the point is the political cost of the military footprint.

(3) Close down all U. S. operated training facilities for the ruthless militaries of the world. This training policy came from the “military modernization” policy of the 1950s. It needs to be stopped: not just at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, but also the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.

(4) Ensure more public accountability for the U. S. Special Operations Forces. We need to know where they are, and what they are doing. In many cases, such as in the Philippines, they operate against rebels who oppose their own government’s policies that are indefensible ideologically.

(5) Publicly renounce the use of assassinations against sitting world leaders. The latest variant is Florida Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehtinen’s casual remarks about an attempt on the life of Fidel Castro. The State Department’s Western Hemisphere bureau cleaned house with the removal of Otto Reich and Roger Noreiga, to bring in career diplomat Thomas Shannon.

The new Congressional leadership should ask Shannon to meet with Venezuela’s ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, who has been given the cold shoulder thus far.

The DLC is ready to go. Sander-Kucinich better have a plan to counter their Bush Lite nonsense.

South End Press has just released Dispatches from Latin America: On the Frontlines Against Neoliberalism, co-edited by Vijay Prashad and NACLA’s Teo Ballve.

Leave a comment