Take Back American Foreign Policy

Posted January 2, 2007

Categories: Articles

At the Take Back America conference last week in Washington, DC, the Bush foreign policy was clearly unpopular. References to the Iraq War debacle, to extraordinary renditions and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, were sure-fire applause lines. Indeed, Bush’s foreign policy has been so obviously unpopular, as revealed in last November’s elections, that the conference organizers from the Campaign for America’s Future departed from their previous focus on domestic issues to showcase several discussions on the Iraq War, terrorism, and the military budget.

The Democratic presidential candidates who showed up to woo the progressive audience—Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and Bill Richardson—all nodded in the direction of foreign policy as well. But the leading presidential contenders have confined their bold new foreign policy approaches to the Iraq War, vying with one another to see who can leave the fewest troops behind. The unpopularity of the Bush approach to global affairs has opened up a golden opportunity for challengers—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—to offer a completely new way for the United States to relate to the world. So far, the Democrats haven’t risen to the occasion. The party’s Real Security alternative is not much different from the Bush approach, minus the human rights violations. It’s the same emphasis on projecting hard power and fighting a war on terrorism.

There’s a real nostalgia in the Democratic Party for the Cold War, for Harry Truman and containment, for the days when the party leaders supposedly stood tall and took no guff from Republicans at home or Communists abroad. Sure, compared to the military evangelism of the Bush administration, the relatively prudent containment approach looks pretty good. In their brief for a new bipartisan consensus around such a revived containment strategy, Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz describe in the latest Foreign Affairs a “judicious retrenchment” that combines hard power with restraining adversaries through engagement. It’s the usual balance-of-power stuff, around which Kissinger reshaped American foreign policy. Two cheers for Henry Kissinger. He might be a war criminal but he looks like a genius next to Wolfowitz.

But warmed-over Cold War is just not good enough.

Just Security

Also at the Take Back America conference, Foreign Policy In Focus and the Institute for Policy Studies unveiled a new alternative foreign policy framework: Just Security. We take aim not only at the Bush administration’s foreign policy but also what we identify as a disturbing bipartisan consensus on preserving and projecting U.S. military power in the world.

The U.S. military budget is now over $600 billion. Have any of the leading presidential contenders called for a freeze much less a reduction? The United States is demanding that other countries dismantle their nuclear programs while we embark on a program to build new nukes—where’s the justice in that? And should the costs of addressing global warming fall on the backs of the poor? Can we continue to push forward with global economic policies that further widen the gap between rich and poor? An unjust foreign policy is both an unpopular and an ineffective foreign policy that traps us in a cycle of fear, hostility, and decline. We will not feel secure until we all feel secure, at home and abroad.

The Just Security framework calls for a reduction of $213 billion in U.S. military spending, dramatic cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals as a first step toward nuclear disarmament, an international process under the auspices of the UN to secure a viable peace between Israel and Palestine, a global carbon fee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate funds to help countries transition to sustainable sources of energy, and a large scale, global plan to train four million new health workers.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt transformed U.S. foreign policy with his big picture Good Neighbor policy of the 1930s. When they dramatically reoriented the U.S. approach to the world, neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush (post-September 11) approached the matter piecemeal. They offered a large-scale, comprehensive foreign policy vision (Peace Through Strength, Global War on Terror). Those who oppose the current administration’s foreign policy should take this lesson to heart. We should be thinking not just about Iraq or about cutting one or two old Cold War weapons systems. Judicious retrenchment, judging from the elections and the polls, is not what Americans want. We should be aiming high. We should be aiming for a Just Security program.

To read more about the Just Security plan, check out these excerpts in AlterNet and TomPaine.com. And here’s a link to the entire document in PDF version.

Perils of Militarism

The Iraq War has been a disaster in many ways. One often-overlooked drawback has been the Bush administration’s discrediting of civilian control over the military. The neocon war planners, many of whom had never served in the military, completely blew it. The harshest criticisms have come from the military itself. In the short term, these military critiques of the war may help end the war sooner. But there is another danger, warns FPIF contributor Adam Elkus in The End of Supreme Command.

“The legitimacy of civilian control over the military will take decades to recover from the disaster of Iraq,” Elkus writes. “Military activism in the political process could become increasingly commonplace, with politicians unable to convince the public of their ability to decide security matters without the public endorsement of retired or active military figures. And whoever sits in the White House in 2009 will have to deal with the fact that their authority over the military has been diminished. The militarization of U.S. foreign policy—as well as border policy and even domestic affairs—has accelerated during the Bush years. Without a civilian check, this dangerous process could have even more drastic consequences.”

In Colombia, meanwhile, the Bush administration is still supporting arms sales despite the evidence of corruption, human rights violations, and the counter-narcotics failures of Plan Colombia. Congress, however, is using the human rights angle to challenge military aid.

“The rationale for prohibiting military assistance to nations with poor human rights records is simple,” writes FPIF contributor Stephen Heidt in Keep the Freeze on Colombia. “It does not serve U.S. interests to materially support organizations in cahoots with foreign terrorists, even if those organizations are bosom buddies of the current administration in Washington. Moreover, dangling military assistance can be a tool to motivate foreign nations to clean up their human rights records, assuming that tool is actually utilized. By freezing the funds, Congress is making a clear foreign policy statement that President George W. Bush is unwilling to support: Colombia must clean up the corruption in the military or forgo further assistance.”

The terrible loss of life in Darfur has prompted many to call for a military intervention. Some have called for a U.S. military strike against Sudan. Grassroots movements have backed UN intervention. But FPIF contributors Steve Fake and Kevin Funk are skeptical even of UN intervention. In Saving Darfur or Salvation Delusion, they argue that “Even if well-intentioned, it is entirely possible that an intervening force would cause more harm than it could potentially alleviate, especially given Khartoum’s disapproval of its deployment, and the possibility of an insurgent movement rising against it. Crowds of Sudanese have demonstrated against a UN presence, and the contention that UN forces would turn Sudan into ‘another Iraq’ resonates strongly in the region.”

Green Market Hustlers

Everyone from Al Gore to the Google billionaires to the backers of the Kyoto Protocol have a solution to global warming. It’s called cap-and-trade, which sets a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions and then sets up a market for trading permits to pollute.

FPIF contributor M.K. Dorsey picks up a theme from our Just Security report by debunking the shell game of cap-and-trade. In Green Market Hustlers, he writes, “On a global scale, carbon trading is little more than an untested economic experiment that may not avert climate catastrophe in time. Moreover, carbon trading aids and abets climate injustice. In the main, trading is designed to parcel, privatize, and sell the right to pollute carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The very same petroleum, natural gas, and electricity concerns disproportionately responsible for carbon dioxide emissions and climate change—who denied the existence of climate change and are now urging gradual steps to address it—all stand to make windfall profits on untested and perhaps unverifiable cap-and-trade schemes.”

Also this week at Foreign Policy In Focus, we have a strategic dialogue on the question of microcredit. Are these very small loans to the world’s poor the solution to global poverty or are they an over-hyped finger in the dyke? FPIF asked economist Robert Pollin and the folks at the Microcredit Summit Campaign to address this question.

Pollin argues that microcredit is a tool but not the tool. It all depends on the context. “For large numbers of micro enterprises to be successful, they also need access to decent roads and affordable means of moving their products to markets,” he writes in Microcredit: False Hopes and Real Possibilities. “They need marketing support to reach customers. They need a vibrant, well-functioning domestic market itself that encompasses enough people with enough money to buy what these enterprises have to sell. Finally, micro businesses benefit greatly from an expanding supply of decent wage-paying jobs in their local economies. This is the single best way of maintaining a vibrant domestic market.”

In response, Sam Daley-Harris agrees that microfinance is one tool of many. But, he argues, we cannot always wait for the larger development program. “Perhaps the cruelest charge is that real lending should go to small and medium businesses capable of creating jobs and not to microbusiness and the subsistence activities in the informal sector,” he writes in Debate on Microcredit. “Certainly financial services should be made available to small and medium businesses, but to say that they should not go to microbusinesses is to sentence the poorest to a cruel life of waiting: waiting for the wage employment and economic growth that may never come or the charity that may bring momentary relief, but without dignity or empowerment.”

Going to Atlanta?

This week, a different effort to take back America will happen in Atlanta: the U.S. Social Forum. It’s the first time that the World Social Forum will have a North American version. (For more on the WSF, check out our Strategic Focus, which included this piece by Walden Bello on The Forum at the Crossroads).

FPIF contributor Sameer Dossani is heading down to Atlanta (along with several FPIF staffers). He wants you to join him. Here’s why: the time is right, it’s necessary to strengthen resistance, and we owe it to the world.

On this last point, Dossani writes in Three Reasons I’m Going to the Social Forum, “We must be honest and say that the U.S. government has played a terrible role in undermining efforts toward meaningful democracy and equality. If we who live in the United States do not stand up to this force that has been so powerful around the world, who will? We owe it to those in the Global South and around the world to come together and demand another United States, one based on principles of solidarity and democracy, and with it another world altogether, where systems and institutions are built by the people and remain responsive to human rights and human interests.”

FPIF, June 25, 2007

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