A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We Democrats Need a New Foreign Policy Playbook--Now!

Let's start with a categorical statement. The Democratic Party was beaten in the 2004 election by the issue of terrorism, and by our inadequate response to that issue.

Before you contradict me, hear me out, and ask yourself the question: On what issue BUT terrorism does a full 51% of the electorate agree strongly enough with George W. Bush to have voted for him, no matter what?

None that I can see, can you?

Now by "terrorism" I mean something broader. I mean foreign policy. Terrorism is merely the part of foreign policy that most voters are really interested in at the moment, and are likely to continue to be interested in for the foreseeable future. But it is clear that what America finally does about terrorism is equivalent to what foreign policy it makes. Two things have happened in recent weeks which have defined the official views of the Bush Administration on foreign policy: the nomination hearings of Condi Rice and Bush's Inaugural Address.

Never mind that the practical foreign policy actually made by them so far bears only a mild family resemblance, at best, to the high rhetoric of that address. Never mind that Condi Rice was one of the major architects of some very spectacular failures in practical foreign policy, like the unchecked development of the Iraqi insurgency. For the purposes of winning elections those things really don't matter. We just had an election tell us so.

The Bush Administration has a clear philosophical view of foreign policy focused on fighting terrorism. All the other rhetoric, "supporting democracy", "fighting tyranny", and so on is tied to this basic concept of how the world is ordered: Us against the Terrorists. It may not be a view of the entire world that we like, it may not be a view that we agree with, but they do have a view. We don't.

It's time we faced that fact. A majority of Americans want terrorism fixed, they want it badly, and they insist on having the best chance of it whatever happens on any other issues. George Bush had a view, we didn't, so, therefore, we lost.

So who is our first team now on the issue of terrorism? Well, there is the team general management, the DNC, with the new General Manager shaping up to be Howard Dean at the moment. Then there are the coaches, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Finally there are the key players--the six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Senators Biden, Sarbanes, Dodd, Kerry, Feingold, Nelson, Boxer, and Obama. These are the people from whom our foreign policy ideas will come for the next four years.

I wanted the best look I could get at the team, and its playbook on foreign policy. So I went to the Congressional Websites, and the DNC website--and this is what I found.

First of all, the DNC doesn't seem to have any new ideas about foreign policy or terrorism at the moment. On its Special Reports page is only all the ammunition it shot at George Bush back before the election, there is the Platform on which John Kerry ran unsuccessfully, and there is one press release about a 30 second television ad that aired on Inauguration day, where Terry McAullife had this to say, "And we'll demand an honest foreign policy."

That's it at the DNC. No foreign policy or terrorism playbook whatever. It's as if the issue didn't exist. Unfortunately, it does.

So how about Coach Pelosi? Well, she doesn't have a category for foreign policy on her issues list, but under Homeland Security she at least has the following statements about the Bush policy in Iraq:

"Bush Administration: Failed to Plan for the War and Aftermath.....Sent Inadequate Numbers of Troops.....Did Not Adequately Protect or Train our Troops.....Severely Misjudged How a U.S. Occupation Would be Received.....Severely Misjudged the Cost.....Doesn't Know Who the Enemy Is, Misjudged Its 'Friends'"

Maybe this is all true as gospel and certainly it is good stirring stuff. But its also merely the ammunition we shot in October and missed the target with.

So how about Coach Reid? Well, he has just published a new playbook, The American Promise: A Future of Security, Opportunity and Responsibility. This is what it has to say about terrorism:

"Democrats will work to increase our Special Operations forces by 2,000 to attack the terrorists where they are and to protect our freedoms here at home. We will further enhance our efforts against enemies by targeting the institutions that spawn new terrorists. Democrats are also united to ensure that the world's most dangerous weapons stay out of the hands of terrorists."

Not very much about foreign policy there, nothing else at all in the playbook about it, and no issue category for foreign policy, or any significant comments about it, on his personal Senate website, either.

How about the team? The Ranking Member is Senator Joseph Biden. He did make the most serious and comprehensive statement on Democratic foreign policy that I have found, on September 9, 2004 in the Wall Street Journal. An extracted quotation does not do it justice, read it in full at the link. But it is still the statement of what John Kerry would do if elected. He wasn't.

Moreover, the most serious foreign policy decision of Biden's committee for the next four years, the hearings on Condi Rice, has absolutely no presence on his website. None. Nor, surprisingly, is there really a lot about foreign policy there, either.

Senator Dodd also mentions absolutely nothing about the Rice hearings on his website. On the other hand, he has a list of his accomplishments in foreign affairs. All of them are laudable, nice nuts and bolts stuff, actually, but neither individually nor collectively do they suggest a coherent vision to oppose to that of George W. Bush. Senator Sarbanes has an equivalent amount of practical work, and an equivalent silence about Condi Rice. Not much help is available, so far, from these two, I think. Senator Russ Feingold scores a little better, not on the practical side so much, but a more coherent overall vision, and he does, to his great credit, step up to the plate about the Rice nomination.

Turning to John Kerry, first and foremost, he stood up and voted against Condi Rice and tells us so on his website, which is good. But this is all he has to say about it and foreign policy in general:

"Dr. Rice is a principal architect, implementer, and defender of a series of administration policies that have not made our country as secure as we should be and have alienated much-needed allies in our common cause of winning the war against terrorism. Regrettably, I did not see in Dr. Rice's testimony any acknowledgment of the need to change course or of a new vision for America's role in the world."

Senator Kerry, I'm afraid, needs to acknowledge, at least to himself, that he didn't have that new vision either, and that we need it, far more than they do, since their old vision just won them an election.

I gather from the press reports that Kerry still considers himself a potential contender for 2008. If he gets that vision, maybe we can look at him again--but I can't see any other reason to at the moment.

Unfortunately, matters go further downhill from Senator Kerry. As far as I can see, Senator Bill Nelson has nothing to say whatever about the Rice hearings on his website, and, as near as I can find, the last major statement the Senator made on foreign policy is an undated statement, which is at least over a year and half old: "Why Force Is Necessary To Disarm Saddam Hussein." Not very helpful for our Democratic future, really.

Now if all this is beginning to depress you, you are not alone. It was beginning to depress me, too. So I saved the best news for last.

First there is the website of Senator Barbara Boxer. Boxer was returned to Congress with more total votes than anyone but George Bush & John Kerry. She has her constituents more strongly behind her than anyone else in the Senate. Period. This has already emboldened her to step forward into a greater role of Democratic advocacy.

Right on top of the website is her proactive engagement with the confirmation hearing of Condi Rice. A good start. But the problem remains that there is nothing else whatsoever on her website about foreign policy--not in the "issues" section and not in the press releases. The overall sense one gets is that her legislative interests have been exclusively domestic up until the Rice hearings.

This must change. As our Senator with the strongest constituent support, Boxer has become the Blue States Senator-At-Large. She needs to step up and take head-on the issue which beat us in 2004. She needs to contribute to a coherent new Democratic vision of foreign policy and combating terrorism. She has the capacity and the electoral space to do it, and she deserves every Democrat's encouragement and support, both written and financial, to do so.

Finally, and most hopeful for the future, there is the new website of Senator Barack Obama. There is very little in the way of policy statements there yet, as one would expect since he has just taken office. But the mere fact that the man who was, hands down, the brightest Democratic star of 2004 is on the Foreign Relations Committee can only be called a superb coaching decision on the part of the leadership.

We need him up to speed on the issue which beat us ASAP. And the promising rookie of the team already has made the most important immediate contribution he can make--an e-mail newsletter sign-up. He's come ready to play.

Now I can't pretend to have answers to the problems that the issue of foreign policy and terrorism present to us Democrats. But I do have some real questions that might lead there, and a properly asked question is at least half the answer:

Terrorism spreads as an idea before it becomes a lethal reality. How should we address the spread of terrorist ideas, so we won't always have to chase down hundreds of trans-national, amorphous, insurgents?

America's economic future is largely in the hands of four foreign countries: China, India, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. What do we want to do about this?

America's geopolitical future is largely in the hands of four foreign countries: Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Taiwan. What do we want to do about this?

Do we really want to renew the vision of, and America's commitment to, the ideal of the United Nations as a body contributing to world cooperation and world peace? How do we do it, if we do?

I'll be doing some thinking about these questions, and, when I've finished, I'll get back to you.


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