Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, July 28, 2003  

The DLC is right about one thing: the Democrats need to get their foreign policy ducks in a row if they expect to win the Presidency. They may not win the election on foreign policy, but it's the one issue that could cause them to lose it. And, sad to say, but no matter how good a policy they develop, one year isn't enough time to supplant the neo-conservative strategy of the Bush administration. They can only hope to start turning that massive ship around and win enough votes in process to take the Oval Office.

Even if the Iraq situation degrades and even if a scandal about lying does emerge, there's nothing to suggest that Americans have any doubts about the President's overall approach. He floated pre-emption, and the only howls were from academics and the international community. He argued Iraq invasion, and despite all the lame reasons, all the faulty data, and the mixed results, the impetus for the move squared with Americans' based fears: violent Arabs are scary and we should strike them before they strike us.

So, what does a Democrat offer in lieu of a policy of aggressive hawkishness? This one's tough. When people are scared, they're even less inclined to be swayed by logic that involves complex relationships or long-term goals. People respond to quick, obvious gestures. So what's the answer?

A strong leader inspires confidence more than a strong military. I expect this is going to be a controversial position, but I have a pretty good example to offer: George W. Bush. He's a guy who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, never worked an honest day in his life, used family connections to avoid fighting in Vietnam, and yet people thought he was the ass-kicker. His opponent, an actual warrior, came off as effete. His father, also a war hero, was labeled a "wimp." And don't even get me started on Ronald Reagan. Look tough, they'll think you're tough.

International cooperation. If the Bush administration has a military achilles heel, this is it. Even people distantly connected with geopolitics intuitively sense that the war on terror is the war of cooperation. If we expect to stop unaffiliated fanatics from attacking us, Americans are going to have to go the cooperation route. But interestingly, Bush showed me something vital on this front: most countries desperately want to follow the US's lead. As long as its plans are not totally half-cocked, the US is in a position to create an enormously powerful international coalition over which it will have full leadership.

Get Americans involved. Americans have systematically been made victims since 9/11. They're scared by vague warnings about terrorist attacks, threats on their personal liberty, and bogeymen from abroad. Furthermore, Bush has done everything he can to conceal relevant facts about the international situation. (How often did we hear that Shia Muslims formed a majority in Iraq and that many of their leaders were in Iranian exile in the lead-up to the war?) When Roosevelt asked Americans to conserve fuel for the war, it had the additional benefit of giving them something to do. Ask them to do some of those things now. And create and promote arenas in which Americans can engage the global community (like a cultural Peace Corps).

Play the military card. Bush is no friend of the enlisted man. He's repeatedly shown that he's willing to risk his own troops to advance an ideological agenda. Worse, he cuts their wages and fails to consider their lives outside the military. And during the Iraq war, we saw how little support Bush had among military leaders, either. If a Democrat wants to get some traction, getting the support of the military is a great place to start.

These are a few top-of-my head thoughts, and I'm sure there are more and better ones. The Democrats absolutely need to have some strategy to counter the neo-conservative vision of foreign policy. If they don't, they've both misunderstood the nature of a liberal democracy as well as handing Bush all the ammo he'll need to shoot them dead in the election.

posted by Jeff | 12:40 PM |
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