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July 19, 2006

Progressive Realsim: squaring the circle and winning elections

-- by Patrick O'Heffernan

cross-posted at dailykos
Robert Wright at the New America Foundation published a very important essay for Progressives.....

in this Sunday's New York Times Week in Review (requires subscription for online access). He posits a way to profit from the bankruptcy of the neocon foreign policy by fashioning one that combines the idealism of liberals with the realism that used to be owned by the Conservatives, but which they have squandered in Iraq and many, many other places. He calls it Progressive realism and it deserves some thought both for 06 and 08....and for the long term growth of progressive politics in America.

In a nushell, Progressive Realism "reconciles the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists." It begins with the seminal assumption of conservative realists: that the purpose of American foreign policy, and the domestic politics it impacts and which impact it, is to serve American interests.

"Serving American interests", he notes, used to mean supporting governments, no matter how cruel and despotic, if they did not endanger us and/or cooperated with us in our foeign and military policy. We did not care what they did internally to their own people as long as they "were on our side". This doctrine led us to support the likes of Osama Ben Laden and Sadim Hussein, among others. But, Wright points out, that in a world in which poverty can be a recruiting tool for jihadists, we can be threatned with overseas-made bioweapons; we can also be threatened with bird flu from Vietnam, or pollution from Chinese coal, or counterfit dollars from Burma or global warming from everywhere. So this policy no longer works. We need to be humanistic idealists.

We must, for our own security, involve ourselves in the living standards and internal matters of other nations. And we must allow them access to ours to demonstrate our leadership. Investing in poor countries, removing trade barriers, forgiving loans, providing technical assistance, training and money may enhance our security more than another Army division. Protecting, not trampling human rights, could have a greater impact on the people in countries that hate us than military action, or even bribery in the form of aid.

Practicing what we preach will also help. Sometimes constraints on American power can serve our interests, although the neocons hate the idea. To encourage nuclear disarmament, the US should open its nuclear establishment to IAEA inspectors, just as we ask others to do. We should use economic development and free markets to build a middle class before we invade to force elections, because if we do, the people will demand their own elections and we will be heros, not occupiers (and won't have to invade).

Can we do this? Is this the policy framwork that Democrats can use to fashion a message Americans understand? I think so. Foreign policy is now driving domestic politics and the American people know it. That is why Iraq and the so-called war on terror tops the findings of virtually every poll asking what is important to you in this election. But, neither party has given the people a coherrent message: the Republicans have lied so much even their base is losing trust; the Democrats speak with many voices and offer many solutions, which confuses and frustrates their supporters and independents. No one running for office can afford being called soft on terror on soft on whaever glorious war Bush has gotten us into. Yet the people know Iran is very dangerous and North Korea has the bomb and we must be real about those threats.

Progressive Realism allows the Democrats to stop the confusion and get behind a simple message: hard-headed realism now belongs to us Democrats, and we have the strategy to protect America, now and in the future. We understand the dangers of the world and have a short and long term plan to make it less so. It plays to our values as generous abroad, but relies on our strength to defend us from the bad guys.

Sounds like walk softly and carry a big stick. Or, trust but verify. How about "loved abroad to be safe at home"?

Posted by Patrick O'Heffernan at July 19, 2006 12:20 PM

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