Thursday, November 09, 2006

What is a Progressive Foreign Policy?

Given the failures of pseudo-conservative foreign policies lately, e.g., the war in Iraq, not talking to the North Koreans and Iranians, ignoring the Arab-Israeli conflict until it becomes impossible to ignore, etc., there have been a number of statements lately about what a “progressive” foreign policy should look like, that is, what alternative foreign policy vision should animate the Democratic Party? Two recent papers by Ernest Wilson and Shadi Hamid have opined on this and the latter also cites other recent efforts.

Hamid suggests “democracy promotion” as the basis for a progressive foreign policy. Wilson proposes that “a progressive foreign policy should be intimately linked to progressive domestic policies…. [That is it] should begin with the concerns of working class and middle class Americans; it should articulate norms of fairness, security, participation and opportunity.” This is a very, very important debate and what I write here is certainly not going to be my last thought on this issue; however, I do want to make a couple of points. Although it is impossible to unequivocally define what American foreign “interests” are, it seems clear that any debate about foreign policy must try to work toward a clarification and approximation of those “interests”.

I believe that in today’s world America’s top priority interests are fairly obvious. The primary threat from overseas today is the threat of terrorism. Is this controversial? If not, then the primary interest we have today is to do what we can to lessen the threat of terrorism. We can do so in at least four ways: 1) lessen the likelihood that terrorists can obtain weapons which could kill many more Americans than were killed on 9/11; 2) reduce the motivation for people to become anti-American terrorists; 3) combat the already existing terrorists; and, 4) take actions recommended by the 9/11 Commission to increase our safety at home. This would certainly be in the interests of “working class and middle class Americans”.

I don’t say that there are not other foreign policy issues we must address but I do think it’s essential to take first things first. Issues such as international trade and its affects upon American jobs would also be a high priority. A progressive foreign policy should pragmatically define a list of priorities and pursue especially energetically those with the highest priority. The life or death of potentially tens of thousands of Americans from a nuclear device set off in New York City or Washington, D.C., certainly takes precedence.

But even if we agree that terrorism against Americans is our highest priority we have to describe a distinctively “progressive” set of policies to combat it. What would these be? I propose the following be pursued simultaneously: 1) begin to bring American troops home from Iraq while doing everything possible to stabilize that area of the Middle East; 2) talk to the North Koreans and Iranians in any venue that will help us limit their nuclear programs and thus the proliferation of nuclear weapons; 3) work actively and aggressively to achieve a just and peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict; and 4) do what the 9/11 Commission recommended to protect us here at home.

IRAQ. Why get our troops out of Iraq? I’m not sure why this is but Americans are apparently largely ignoring the single most careful and exhaustive academic study on the origins of suicide terrorism (see my "Why Haven’t Robert Pape’s Results Received More Attention?", “Pseudo-Conservative Ideology Does Strange Things to Rationality”, and “Why Pseudo-Conservatives Can't Do Foreign Policy, Part 2”. Pape’s results show that the single most important cause of suicide terrorism is the stationing of foreign combat troops on another country’s soil. The primary cause, contrary to what you hear repeatedly in the media, is NOT Islamic fundamentalism! Unless you take Pape’s study seriously and can honestly (not ideologically) find fatal flaws in his research (not opinion, research), then getting our combat troops out of the Middle East is of the highest priority. Obviously, now that the Bush 43 administration has created a civil war in Iraq, this will not be easy, but we must pursue any new ideas that come from the Baker Commission or Senate Foreign Relations Committeee Hearings on how to do this while also doing our level best to stabilize Iraq and its impact on surrounding countries.

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION. As I’ve repeatedly argued (”Foreign Policy via the Silent Treatment”, “Responsibility for North Korea's Nuclear Test” and in several other posts if you search under Korea) stopping nuclear proliferation is absolutely essential to protecting American lives and talking to North Korea and Iran is thus of the highest priority to protecting the American people. Terrorists are seeking to obtain a nuclear device. The use of such a device against a large American city would make 9/11 look like a picnic. Doing whatever we can to stop the proliferation of nuclear technology is absolutely essential to our safety. This is not rocket science.

ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT. As I have pointed out in “Why are Pseudo-Conservatives Addicted to ‘Toughness’?” the Bush 43 administration decided at its very first National Security Committee meeting to just allow the Arab-Israeli conflict to take its own course: “In Ron Suskind's book on Paul O'Neill's experience as the first of Bush's Secretaries of the Treasury, The Price of Loyalty, there is a report of the very first meeting of the National Security Council occurring just 10 days after Bush's first inauguration (pp. 70-75): the meeting was to be about "Mideast Policy" and there was a brief discussion of how to approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bush said his policy would be to disengage and let the combatants "work it out on their own." Secretary of State Powell said such a move "would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army. 'The consequences of that could be dire [said Powell]... especially for the Palestinians.' Bush shrugged. 'Maybe that's the best way to get things back in balance.' Powell seemed startled. 'Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,' Bush said."

Like nearly all of Bush 43’s foreign policy decisions this was an absolutely awful way to protect the American people from terrorism. For those who refuse to believe that anti-American terrorists are strongly motivated by the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian arabs all I can say is they are not listening to what these people say about why they hate America. Let’s look at University of Chicago researcher Robert Pape's Dying to Win again (pp. 58): “The 1996 and 1998 statements in which bin Laden justified attacks on the United States also accuse Israel: ‘If the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all of the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival….’”

The above is from bin Laden of al Qaeda but applies to Hizballah as well. To the degree that Hizballah has engaged in anti-American terrorism this is also due to the Arab-Israeli conflict: here’s what former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told Fox News July 26, 2006. In the interview pseudo-conservative Sean Hannity asked Barak “Has [the Israeli pullout from Lebanon six years ago and the recent pullout from Gaza] basically just resulted in the enemies of Israel allowed them to get closer (sic)? Does this prove once and for all that land for peace can never work with an enemy that is sworn to the destruction of the State of Israel?” In his answer Barak stated: “I think that, in the short term, many people tend to believe, oh, there is a closer link between our pullouts and the next eruption of violence. I think the opposite. Hezbollah has not been created and sharpened because we left Lebanon, but because we stayed there for too long. They were not there when we entered Lebanon 20 years ago. And Hamas was not there when we took over the Judean Samarian (sic?). They were created as a result of our staying.” And to further underline the point, the incredulous Hannity returned to clarify: “Mr. Prime Minister, did I hear you correctly a few moments ago when you said that when Israel was in Lebanon and perhaps stayed too long, that aided or contributed to the proliferation of Hezbollah?” Barak answered: “Of course, our very presence there produced the Hezbollah.” Hello! Ehud Barak said Israel's occupations created both Hizballah and Hamas.

Or, let’s look at Robert Pape’s research again(p. 129-30): “Hezbollah, the loose federation of militant Shia groups that sprang up in Lebanon in the early 1980s, is the first modern suicide terrorist organization…. What caused the emergence of suicide terrorism in Lebanon? The most common explanation is Islamic fundamentalism…. The tendency of most news stories at the time to stress the Islamic identity of the attackers encouraged the perception that Islamic fundamentalism is the root cause of suicide terrorism in Lebanon. However, this is not the case…. I spent a year leading a team of researchers who collected detailed evidence on the ideological and other demographic characteristics of suicide terrorists. The results show that at least thirty of the forty-one attackers do not fit the description of Islamic fundamentalism. Twenty-seven were communists or socialists with no commitment to religious extremism; three were Christians…. Moreover, although Iran did provide money and other support to the Lebanese resistance fighters, the rise of Hezbollah and large popular support for the movement were directly caused by a clear external event, Israel’s massive occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982.(emphasis added)”

This is information that Americans seem very much not to get: Bush has neglected the Arab-Israeli conflict, a conflict that has contributed hugely to the creation of terrorism. When it comes to being an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have a very serious problem which very few Americans are willing to acknowledge even though its commonly acknowledged within Israel’s media: there is a very powerful Israel Lobby in this country which has been very successful in attacking any suggestion that the U.S. be more evenhanded in this dispute (see Mearsheimer and Walt for a carefully reasoned academic account). The very reaction to the Mearsheimer and Walt paper displays ample evidence of the swift and aggressive activity of the Israel Lobby (see Philip Weiss and Michael Massing.) Along with the lobby there is also the fact that the House of Representatives and Senate are also very biased toward what right-wing Israeli leaders say they need and the American people as a whole tend to be far more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. I believe these are emotional biases that are against our interests in limiting anti-American terrorism. A progressive foreign policy would have to aim to be an honest (unbiased) broker in seeking a two-state settlement that is fair to both parties if we are really serious about stopping terrorism.

I assume doing what the 9/11 Commission recommended we do to protect the homeland is also pretty obvious, even though the Bush 43 administration has done only a small part of that.

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