Saturday, October 22, 2005

Liberal Intervention

Senator Russ Feingold asks, "Is there an adequately robust and thoughtful debate underway in the country about our foreign policy choices? What issues are being overlooked?"

No, Senator, the foreign policy debate sucks. It's not you. Your criticisms of Condoleezza Rice have consistently exemplified what and how we ought to be debating. The Civilian Linguists Reserve Corps was long overdue. Your statement of policy on Africa was right on target. The Northern Ugandan Crisis Response Act expressed the right attitude to take towards that deplorable situation; I only hope that the sense of Congress in some way informs administration policy. After all, you have signed on as a cosponsor to the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act as well as the Darfur Accountably Act, and just look at what's happened. As the African specialist on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you have an obligation to ensure that the important provisions contained in these bills do not languish in committee. They must be put before the Congress, debated and enacted into law.

Senator, recently you have initiated a discussion of withdrawing United States armed forces from Iraq. Your approach to the issue strikes me as sensible, highminded, and fair. Your proposals ought to be the perfect place to begin having a public discussion of this issue. Unfortunately, that's not the way things work. As you well know, Senator, the debate over withdrawing US troops had already been joined, sides had been taken, and the rhetoric had become polarized. The need for sensible debate is apparent, but the current political climate mitigates against being (or remaining) sensible. It just sucks.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice--well, Senator Lugar, Senator Biden and you heard her testimony. The others appeared to be too busy to show up for the opening statements and testimony, though quite a few Senators did saunter in in time to castigate the Secretary for not finding the time to meet with the Committee, or else to praise her for coming to tell it like is. And so on. Political soap opera.

Senator, I beleive the problem goes deeper than the fact that politicians thrive on mugging for the cameras. Perhaps over the course of decades, campaign finance reform will ameliorate the unbearable stupidness of the present situation. But I have doubts. Today's leading politicians are tailoring their messages to appeal to their base, the most ideologically and emotionally overwrought segments of the polity. Just where are these leading politicians leading us?

I listened to Wes Clark's Democratic radio address on Iraq. General Clark spoke against the idea of expedited withdrawal, and while I don't feel he made a strong case in that short address, he did sound a note that resonated with me: "There is no alternative to success in Iraq," he said. For that he was ridiculed in the echo chambers of the left. In the echo chambers of the right, General Clark was ridiculed for criticizing the President. So I can see why some politicians would want to avoid sounding like rational people the majority of Americans would want to vote for, but I can't say that I condone it.

Senator, I appreciated the statement you gave at the hearing before you began your questioning of Secretary Rice.

The title of this hearing is “Iraq in U.S. Foreign Policy” and that strikes me as a good start, because we need to make sure that our Iraq policy is advancing our foreign policy and national security goals – not obstructing them, as seems to be the case currently. The Administration continues to speak about “staying the course” in Iraq, with the apparent end-goal being elimination of the current insurgency and establishment of a peaceful, democratic state. That is a laudable ambition, but it is not – it cannot be -- the basis for our foreign policy or our national security strategy. Our current largely single-minded and somewhat self-defeating focus on Iraq is causing us to overlook what should be our most fundamental goal – combating the global terrorist networks that continue to threaten the United States.

A question, Senator: Do you see any alternative to the "elimination of the current insurgency and establishment of a peaceful, democratic state" in Iraq? Well, we can unpack any of those terms. That's what the hearing was for, ideally. But let's just say that as a matter of realism you're willing to entertain the possibility of not defeating the current insurgency and establishing a peaceful, democratic Iraq. Could it possibly be in our national interests not to pursue these goals? That doesn't appear to be what you're saying in the main, and yet by your choice of the words "laudable ambition," you suggest that you might not share that ambition, laudable as it may be.

Senator, you are probably familiar with the publication American Prospect. Lately its writers have been positioning you for the 2008 presidential race. You will be running as an "anti-war" candidate, pitted against leading "pro-war" candidates. You may be perfectly comfortable being in that position, Senator, but I feel I must express a word of caution about the way the debate is being framed, and what that framing could entail for the prospects of Democratic leadership, and the future direction of United States foreign policy. By way of illustration, the November Issue of American Prospect features an article lambasting the "liberal hawks" who supported the invasion of Iraq. (See also Armed Liberal's response.) The article's central argument, the critique of the "incompetence dodge," seems fair enough to me. But I have to raise an objection, which is a matter of tone and framing and really a question of who is being addressed and for what purposes: I do not see the value of rehashing the debate over the Iraq War Resolution. Not in this way. I fear that this debate is for idiots and opportunists. It cannot be left at that, for as the article points out, the idea of "humanitarian intervention" has come under attack, and this has dire consequence for the world we would want to inhabit. So I agree with the authors, Rosenfeld and Yglesias, that the lessons of the Iraq War are more profound than the case against President Bush's handling of the war. The credibility of a liberal foreign policy is at stake. That I find unacceptable.

What I want, Senator, is for people to understand the principles behind your opposition to the Iraq War Resolution. In your floor statements, you passed quickly over the issue of the Bush administration's expanding doctrine of preemption. I want you to revisit that issue, not necessarily as a counterpoint to the current administration, but definitely as an affirmative statement of national defense policy. Under what circumstances is military force to be used? To what ends? How should we approach threat assessment in the wake of the September 11th attacks? Finally, Senator, I want to urge an openness to new facts and disclosures. It may be etched in stone somewhere that the Bush administration will never, ever admit to having made a mistake, or having been misinformed. So? It's not as if the administration has never corrected its course, tacitly. If the administration's attitude is a defensive posture against gotcha journalism and partisan bickering, then what's the rational alternative? What's the expression, "Be the change you want to see in the world"? Yeah, that's it.

Thank you.

posted by Fido the Yak at 5:03 AM.


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