My review of Jim Geraghty’s book “Voting to Kill” is up at the Examiner site.
I had to edit it pretty brutally for length, and as a consequence it reads, I think, a little more harshly about the book than I feel.
Outside the blogosphere, of course, we have the actual Democratic establishment, the one that wields genuine influence. Some of them are in Congress and make floor speeches â€” about both Iraq and national security more broadly. Some of them run for president and lay out detailed position papers about how best to conduct foreign policy in an age of jihad. Others host symposia at think tanks or write lengthy articles in places like Foreign Affairs and Democracy. Still others write books covering practically every nuance of liberal foreign policy you could ever hope for.
Some of these liberals think we ought to withdraw from Iraq and some don’t. I think it’s safe to say that virtually all of them believe that a less militaristic and more internationalist foreign policy would be a net benefit. But it’s also safe to say that none of them â€” not one â€” believes this is all it will take to put a stop to militant jihadism. And yet, after five years of speeches, articles, symposia, and books by Democrats on national security, that’s what Arkin writes.
Kevin, I read most of that stuff, and I’ve got to tell you first that I don’t see a clear Democratic line of reasoning beyond the kind of thing that Martin has in his post here:
More profound success in this endeavor will ultimately require, as praktike and Matt Yglesias pointed out, a fundamental rethinking of many of the tenets that have guided our foreign policy decisions in that region for over a century. These tectonic shifts will be difficult to set in motion, slow developing once undertaken, and hardly aided by a noted lack of political will in many respects. These are the hard steps.
But there are easier ones too. For one, by focusing on the real costs of Iraq, and placing Iraq in its appropriately important context as one hindrance among a handful currently undermining our efforts in the war on terror, we can seek to avoid making a similarly counterproductive blunder in Syria, Iran or wherever else it is that the neoconservative wander/bloodlust would take us. Not invading yet another Muslim country in the span of a few years would be, you know, a positive first step even if that simple abstention wouldn’t solve all our problems overnight.
Further, rehabilitating our image and fortifying our influence by aspiring to back-up Bush’s soaring rhetoric with actual corresponding policies (ie, respecting habeas corpus, banning torture, etc.) – while not creating a solution “voila!” – will redound to our benefit in other areas crucial to our success. We would, among other things, decrease support for extremists, increase the likelihood of recruiting and maintaining valuable human intelligence assets, and help to secure the vital cooperation of a wide array of foreign governments and their respective intelligence agencies, on which we rely.
The use of human and signal intelligence, surgical military operations, marginalizing extremist organizations through the application of soft power in its myriad manifestations and fostering a more robust relationship with potentially helpful foreign national interests would all be attainable steps that would serve us well while we go about the larger, paradigm shifting overhaul cited above.
The praktike post he cites is the one that I commented on earlier – the one in which solving Israel/Palestine on terms acceptable to the Arab world, and not involving ourselves in any more invasions is pretty much the core prescription. I know that prak has made other suggestions…
But the part I emphasized is the part that the Democrats keep coming back to…better intelligence, surgical military operations, using ‘soft power to marginalize extremists’, and getting allies…and there are more than a few problems with that.
The first one is that the same Democrats are the ones who keep kneecapping intelligence programs like SWIFT and they are the ones who led the charge to get the ‘icky people’ out of the humint business. They don’t have a lot of credibility there.
The second is the classic Clinton ‘ninjas from helicopters’ fantasy. I’ve blogged my criticism of it several times in the past, but I’ll lay out the three core objections here: a) it probably won’t work (because we need huge networks within the target country to make such an attack work, and we can’t and won’t assemble intel networks in that depth everywhere in the world); b) it’s immoral – we’re talking a covert war of assassination here. Think the film Munich times 2,356; c) it consists of our committing acts of war in a number of foreign countries – something they may have a say about and a response to.
I’m all for using soft power – the attractive nature of our society and the value it has as an attractor – and I’ll fully agree that Bush hasn’t done a very good job of this. But it’s a feature of a strategy, not a strategy in and of itself.
And as to allies, you mean like the UNFIL troops in South Lebanon? The ones who won’t forcibly disarm Hizbollah, even though that’s what the UN resolution calls for? Or like the French, German, and Russian response to Iraq – the one that was certainly influenced by tens of millions in bribes paid to influential businessman and leaders in those countries?
Look, there’s nothing wrong with any of these proposals – but even as an intermediate term response while we’re getting the Arab world to stop educating its children that killing Jews is the highest calling (which makes the while ‘solving the Israel/Palestine’ thing problematic) – it’s obvious that the Democrats don’t have significant credibility here, either through stated policy or through their party history.
The Democratic presidents during my adult lifetime have been Carter and Clinton – and based on what I know of their administrations’ history (which is pretty well demonstrated by Geraghty), and which was just pretty closely confirmed to me by what I saw Tuesday night – and so here’s the problem.
The Democrats clearly have a perception problem – even within our own ranks. Is it perception, or is it reality?
Now I’m at a point where I’m disagreeing with Kevin and Martin (and all the folks standing behind them), as they’re telling me that I’m just flat wrong. Which is, as always, possible…
So here’s my proposal.
One thing that would be damn useful in deciding this issue would be to assemble a repository of links to core democratic positions on defense so that we could all go to primary sources. Right now the debate (including this part of it) consists of “yes they do” and “no they don’t” – which ought to be resolvable relatively easily, and seems like a perfect thing for blogs to do. I’m going to reach out to Kevin, praktike, and Phil Carter – and am open to suggestions on who else – and ask for links to top Democratic cites, papers, quotes, etc. on the subject of defense. I’ll keep a post live with the links we get, and offer to let them crosspost it as well and see what grows.
So folks, comment here with links central to understanding Democratic policy on defense.
This isn’t meant as a joke, and I’m not looking for people to do anything but contribute pointers to things we can use to do the best map possible of mainstream Democratic positions on defense. Let’s settle this debate with some facts – we can argue about what they mean once we have them.