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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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Monday, August 20, 2007


Very Serious Policy

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, August 20, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
Atrios has been on a snark roll recently lampooning what he calls the club of "very serious people" aka the VSP who dominate foreign policy debate. Glenn Greenwald recently alluded to the same, arguing that the sacred cow of American foreign policy is that America has a right to intervene around the world in its own interests. He casts this as a "rigid pro-war ideology" but frankly, this is a perfectly reasonable prime motivator for any nation's self-interest; given that America has the most power of all nations in the world (and more than the rest combined), a truly liberal and moral foreign policy demands not that we have the right to intervene, but rather that we have the obligation to intervene. Pragmatic and liberal intervention, of course - and always firmly within the bounds of international law. (It bears repeating that the Iraq war was perfectly legal and bore UN sanction).

I kind of like the acronym, VSP. Might as well adopt it - as Very Serious Policy rather than very serious people. The irony is that the VSP was ignored in the runup to the Iraq war because political agendas trumped the value of their advice; now the same thing is happening, since the VSP is largely measured in its critiques and simply not on the same page (as far as any consensus can be described) about total withdrawal from Iraq as the leftist blogger camp is (Atrios, et al). For example, Anthony Cordesman's report this month from Iraq is titled, "The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq". That's hardly a full-throated cry for yanking the troops out now; like most VSP analyses, it is a balanced, measured look at the pros and cons of the policy in question and provides no clear cut rallying cry.

We don't live in a technocracy; the loudest voices with the simplest messages are the ones who gain a following and have the most influence. So no matter who is in power, the VSP is going to have an uphill battle and face critiques.

The important thing is to articulate a consistent foreign policy philosophy. I am of course a pragmatic liberal interventionist; that's a better policy I think most lefties would agree than the neoconservative creed of pure political self-interest couched in moral principle for appearances' sake only. Unfortunately the alternative offered up by the extreme left is a neo-isolationist reactionary position. In that regard I don't see it as any better than what the neocons have to offer, in terms of offering genuine opportunity for furthering freedom abroad and security at home.

Ilan at Democracy Arsenal provides a very serious proposal to Atrios and other critics:

There is a use for expertise. Experts’ opinions should not be the absolute be all and end all, but people should have an opportunity to listen to someone who reads the Arabic press every morning, has spent years living in the region, devotes their career to these issues and for the most part has been right on important questions like the war in Iraq.

So, here’s my proposal. You can have some people in the blogosphere make the decoding easier for everyone. People who pay attention to this stuff regularly (Like some of the more notable bloggers and their readerships.) could work to come up with a list of good experts on various issues. This expert list should include people who really know what they are talking about, but don’t get enough attention.

Will the top lefty blogs take Ilan up on this? They certainly have the mindshare to get these ideas out into the mainstream.

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About Nation-Building

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.