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Progressive Internationalism or Partisan Opportunism?

Trying to grab the "vital center between the neo-imperial right and the non-interventionist left."

4:45 PM, Nov 3, 2003 • By RANDY SCHEUNEMANN
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I WENT LAST THURSDAY with some anticipation to the unveiling of "Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy," a 19-page manifesto issued by a group of mostly centrist, mostly former Clinton administration officials. Many of them are colleagues from successful bipartisan endeavors like the U.S. Committee on NATO and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Their goal is to grab the "vital center between the neo-imperial right and the non-interventionist left" by reclaiming the mantle of "tough-minded" Democrats like Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, presidents who led America into wars both cold and hot.

Some of the PI manifesto is sound. Immodestly ascribed solely to "the Democratic party's tradition of tough-minded internationalism," who would disagree with the goals of National Strength, Liberal Democracy, Free Enterprise and Open Trade, or World Leadership? (Who, that is, other than Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and a large number of Democratic primary voters?)

Alas, in an attempt to disparage the Bush administration, the PI Democrats go over the top. While taking some good slaps at the pacifist and protectionist left that controls so much of the Democratic party, the PI authors lapse into blame-America-first mode: "Today many of our long-time allies and friends are deeply estranged from U.S. policy," as if German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's poll-driven about-face was George Bush's fault. Perhaps they forget that even during the Clinton years, Madeleine Albright's French counterpart decided America was a blustering "hyperpower."

NOT SURPRISINGLY, there is no reflection on the dismal Clinton foreign policy legacy bequeathed to Bush: Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda unchallenged and untouched; a Mideast peace process in tatters and dependent on Yasser Arafat; an unenforceable and unverifiable deal with North Korea born of appeasement; the Iraqi people consigned to Saddam Hussein's savagery; Iran's nuclear program unchecked.

In building their critique, the PI'ers range from the odd (the Mideast peace process has broken down because the Bush team did not "pressure Israel" enough) to the factually wrong (they claim a "disdain for diplomacy" led the Bushies to "shortchange investments" in foreign aid despite increases in this area) to the silly (it was the Bush administration's "initial rejection of NATO support" which enabled Osama bin Laden to get away in Afghanistan). The PI'ers decry an "overreliance on military force" but, oddly, claim to support the exercise of military power in the two places President Bush ordered it (Afghanistan and Iraq).

Most brazen is the assertion that the Bush administration has turned foreign policy "into a partisan wedge issue." If Democrats have repeatedly failed to make foreign policy a wedge issue, it isn't for lack of trying (see Vietnam in 1972; the nuclear freeze and Central America in the 1980s). At a time when Democratic presidential candidates are outbidding each other in daily denunciations of Bush's Iraq policy, the charge of politicization rings more than a little hollow.

I ALMOST FELT SORRY for the PI authors when it came time for questions. What would you do different in North Korea? Well, there are "no good options," China is becoming more cooperative but Pyongyang may never give up its nukes. Hmmm . . . sounds like the Bush administration. The same question on Iraq--after a visible reluctance to answer--was met with solemn affirmations that America cannot cut and run. But it was okay, one PI author volunteered, to vote against the $87 billion for our troops and Iraqi reconstruction to "express opposition" to poor prewar planning. Hardly a Kennedy-esque bearing of burden.