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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Saturday, January 03, 2004


Winning the Foreign Policy Debate

posted by Dana at Saturday, January 03, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
The New York Times Magazine has an important story today on the Democratic Party's foreign policy, focusing on Governor Dean.

Here is what I would call the "money quote." It's from Governor Dean:

''The line of attack is not Iraq, though there'll be some of that. The line of attack will be more, 'What have you done to make us feel safer?' I'm going to outflank him to the right on homeland security, on weapons of mass destruction and on the Saudis,'' whom Dean promises to publicly flay as a major source of terrorism. ''Our model is to get around the president's right, as John Kennedy did to Nixon.''

This is important stuff. Bush has not made us safer. By ignoring treaties, foreign aid, and our allies, we have split the alliances necessary to beat Al Qaeda and prevent its re-emergence.

Read the whole piece. It's important to note that, despite Dean's anti-war stance on Iraq, a consensus has emerged in the party. On crucial isues of "what do we do next," the article indicates Dean is slightly to Clark's right.

While the article takes a negative slant at the end, claiming "strong and wrong beats weak and right," the real question is whether the following -- a clear, coherent criticism combined with a healthy, viable alternative -- is salable:

The underlying critique offered by Democratic policy experts is that the Bush administration, for all its bluster about how 9/11 ''changed everything,'' has in fact not adapted to the transformed world into which it has been catapulted and is still chasing after the bad guys of an earlier era. The administration understands war, but not the new kind of multifaceted, globalized war that must be fought against a stateless entity. As Ashton B. Carter, a Defense Department official in the Clinton administration, puts it, ''We've done one thing in one place'' -- or two, counting Afghanistan. What about the other things in the other places? What about diplomacy, for example? Do we have some means beyond threats of military action to induce Iran and Syria to stop sponsoring terrorists? Do we have some means of persuading the European allies to toughen judicial processes so that terrorism suspects can't walk away -- a United Nations treaty, for example?

It may very well be true, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is fond of saying, that ''weakness is provocative,'' but so is belligerence. The administration's Hobbesian worldview is well suited to the task of fighting enemies, but not to the task of winning over the far greater number of skeptics and fence-sitters. The State Department asked a nonpartisan group to study American public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world; the report, issued in October, concluded that ''a process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety.'' These were weapons we wielded boldly during the cold war; we allowed them to lapse in the 90's, when the only instrument that seemed to matter was the marketplace. The study found that the State Department has all of 54 genuine Arabic speakers, that outreach efforts rarely reach beyond capitals, that the American-studies centers that were once ubiquitous around the globe scarcely exist in the Arab and Muslim world.

The exact same case may be made in the matter of foreign aid, which has also dwindled away since the 60's. Not only does the United States spend far too little; the funds are not directed to the areas Americans are most worried about. The administration's Millennium Challenge Account program, which offers additional aid to democratizing countries, has been widely praised, but Robert Orr, another Clinton administration official, who now makes his home at the Kennedy School, says, ''The Millennium Challenge grant is only for high-end countries, none of which are involved with terrorism.'' What are we offering to countries like Pakistan or even Somalia? It turns out that we have allowed our aid capacity to shrink as drastically as our public diplomacy mechanisms have. ''We only have 2,000 people left with A.I.D.,'' Orr says, referring to the Agency for International Development. ''That's why we have to subcontract everything to the World Bank and the I.M.F. But they don't share our priorities about terrorism; we can't get them to invest in Afghanistan or Pakistan.''

I think it is. Here is my formulation: We can't beat the world, but we can lead it. We can't beat both the world and Al Qaeda. We can lead the world toward beating Al Qaeda.

The question is, what's your formulation?


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.