Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Taking Back America, Part 4--Foreign Policy

One of the problems that we have on the left is the Democratic Party's inability or unwillingness since Vietnam to develop a real foreign policy platform. Generally, the left has avoided any real thought of the correct circumstances to use our military. This has left a vacuum on the subject that the Republicans have taken advantage of. Kerry epitomized this. Like most Vietnam-era liberals, he was uncomfortable (until he became a candidate) with the use of the military overseas except with UN approval. Thus he voted against the Gulf War in 1991 when it was clear that Saddam Hussein had no right to just take over another country. If we weren't going to use our military then, when would we? In a New Yorker article on Joe Biden, back in the late spring I believe, Biden tells a story of the discussion to give Bush the right to use the military against Iraq. The real liberal senators, led by Paul Wellstone and Barbara Boxer, simply would refuse to even entertain the idea that we could ever have a reason to invade Iraq or any other country and thus would not consider some kind of Democratic alternative to what was eventually passed.

Although I respect Wellstone and Boxer, this is wrong. We need to retake ground on foreign policy debates. We need to define what our self-interests are and what we will do to defend them. We need to give a message to the American people that we are willing to use our military and tell them when and how we will. John Kerry began to do this in his campaign but the message was not particularly clear, in part because of W's slanders on him, in part because Kerry wasn't always effective at delivering this message, and in part because the Democrats are still trying to figure out what that message is.

Here's what I think the message should be.

1. We will always use our military to protect our citizens when attacked.
2. We will never use our military to invade countries without a clear reason and with an exit strategy.
3. We will always work to build alliances with other nations.
4. It is our duty as the most powerful nation in the world to protect people from genocide.
5. We will keep the interests of the nation's soldiers as an extremely high priority.

Let me expand on a couple of these. #4 would give us the justification to invade the Sudan. We would have to work on a reasonable exit strategy and hope like hell another Somalia didn't happen. But nonetheless, it's clear that the American people are generally willing to accept the rhetoric of giving freedom to the people of the world. Where is that more necessary than in the Sudan? It would be easy to demonize the government of the Sudan and get the public support to invade. We could save hundreds of thousands of lives, work to build a democratic ally in the region, and thus advance our national interests in a humanitarian way. We could do this with an international alliance and hopefully even UN approval. At the same time, we would make it clear that our primary mission was to protect the people of the Sudan from their own government and that we had no interest in controlling whatever resources the nation has (Do they have any?) or to establish military bases or a puppet government in that nation. It could be the kind of mission that Afghanistan should have been.

We could really hammer the Republicans on #5. Not only is there the issue of the National Guard and now the recall of the discharged soldiers, but also the poor treatment that US soldiers receive. I think that if the public knew that our soldiers had to buy their own uniforms, that they had to pay for their meals when they are wounded, and that their medical services and other benefits are being reduced by the Republicans, they would be outraged. We can use this to our advantage if we come out with a pro-soldier platform, as opposed to a pro-military platform.

I clearly don't have all the answers here and I welcome discussion on these points. I think it's an important discussion that we need to start having. But in general, we do need to come up with a real policy of military intervention and engagement with the rest of the world. We need to show America that we are strong on foreign policy and the military and that we will act more in the interests of the United States and more responsibly worldwide. I think that if we can come up with a coherent policy encompassing these points, we can go a long way in taking back America.

Next, Part 5--Economic Issues