The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, June 11, 2004

Marshall on Kerry's foreign policy

I mentioned on June 9 an article by Josh Marshall in Atlantic Monthly looking at the likely drift of a Kerry Administration's foreign policy.

He starts talking to
Dan Feldman, who is helping to organize Senator John Kerry's foreign-policy team.

emphasized the need for skilled diplomatic management and a willingness to use force abroad, but also an essential caution.

Marshall suggests an affinity between that line and the policy of George Bush I, as represented now by the views of 41's National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. Both Feldman and, separately,
Kerry's chief foreign-policy adviser, Rand Beers
agreed that there would be
a lot of similarities.

There is no policy at the moment; what there are lists of possible candidates for foreign policy-related posts in that putative Kerry Administration: the MO is to infer the policy from the mix of candidates towards the top of the list.

Marshall says that
Democratic foreign-policy hands tend to be less ideologically driven than Republican ones. Their strengths lean toward technocratic expertise and procedural competence rather than theories and grand visions.

And, if true, wouldn't that come as a relief!

Marshall calls it
a lack of partisan edge.

Now, technocratic government is one of those counterfactuals - like government of businessmen - that never actually come to exist, in countries like the US, at least. Government with the sordid business of politics filtered out is ipso facto impossible. I'm suspicious of any pretensions in this area.

Marshall cites the fact that Beers was
senior director for counterterrorism
in the current Administration as a Good Thing, tending to negative partisanship. The fact - June 2 - that Beers was involved in the War on Drugs in South America - a policy as bipartisan as it is futile - illustrates the limited benefit of being a technocrat.

The fact (if it is one) that
Kerry's team is the embodiment of the nation's professional national-security apparatus
is meant to give us comfort. Setting up associations - resonances, perhaps, is the better word - between Kerry's team and the great names of foreign policy people in Democratic administrations of the Cold War [1] is part of the same process.

Of course, it was a number of these same stalwarts that let the US get entangled in Vietnam through a lack of expertise and competence - driven by an ideology that was so non-partisan that it was supposed at the time not to exist.

Marshall asks us to take comfort from the fact that, amongst office-seekers, it's the Secretary of State's chair, not that of Secretary of Defense, which is top of wish-lists. Richard Holbrooke and Joe Biden are canvassed:
Both men are stars in the somewhat gray firmament of Democratic foreign policy; both boast outsize personalities and loyal followings; and the two scarcely differ in their approach to the major foreign-policy issues of the moment.

Is that the same Scowcroftian vision as Feldman's and Beers'? What am I being sold here: gray firmament sounds like librarian-dull (no grandiose schemes of world domination), outsize personalities sounds like an antidote rushed in to reassure us they're guys you could enjoy a beer with.

He then runs through some other names as possibles for other jobs; Beers as NSA, for instance, others most of whom I haven't heard of.

Then we get a crunching of gears, and suddenly I don't think we're in Scowcroftia any more:
these veterans [3] tend to take a more hawkish approach to foreign policy than most professional Democrats of the post-Vietnam generation and even many current Democratic voters.

Kenneth Pollack, for instance,
is the author of The Threatening Storm, an influential book that argued for regime change in Iraq and was frequently cited by Republicans during the build-up to the invasion.

And Pollack, Ron Asmus and Greg Craig all signed the Democratic equivalent of the PNAC prospectus, Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy (October 30 2003). On page 3 of this document, one reads:
In times of danger, Americans put aside partisanship and unite in the defense of our country. That is why, as Democrats, we supported the Bush administration's toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. We also backed the goal of ousting Saddam Hussein's malignant regime in Iraq, because the previous policy of containment was failing, because Saddam posed a grave danger to America as well as his own brutalized people, and because his blatant defiance of more than a decade's worth of United Nations Security Council resolutions was undermining both collective security and international law. We believed then, and we believe now, that this threat was less imminent than the administration claimed and that the United States should have done much more to win international backing and better prepare for post-war reconstruction. Nonetheless, we are convinced that the Iraqi people, the region and the world are better off now that this barbaric dictator is gone.

Pre-emption with politeness: Bush Junior without the spittoons.

Marshall says these guys agree with Bush on
exporting democracy and political liberalization
though he comforts us with the qualification that
they differ significantly on how they would pursue them.

Not by much, where Iraq is concerned, evidently.

However, Marshall does discern
a fundamental difference in world view between Democrats and Republicans

Bush & Co are fixated on rogue states, for what they do themselves, and for being the essential support for terrorism.

The Dems, with their experience of Clinton era crises in the Balkans and Rwanda, amongst other places, are much more concerned about failed states.

And (emphasis mine)
A key assumption shared by almost all Democratic foreign-policy hands is that by themselves the violent overthrow of a government and the initiation of radical change from above almost never foster democracy, an expanded civil society, or greater openness.

Specifically, on Afghanistan,
because Kerry is on record as saying he would increase the number of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, it's probably the clearest measure of how a Kerry Administration would differ from Bush's. Afghanistan is a subject that Kerry's advisers and other senior Democrats turn to again and again...Bush officials like Rice, who believe that if a rogue state has been rid of its hostile government (in this case the Taliban), its threat has therefore been neutralized..[The Democratic view is that] [o]verthrowing regimes like that is at best only the first step in denying safe haven to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Equally important is creating the institutional bases of stability and liberalization that will prevent another descent into lawlessness and terror-in a word, nation-building.

There is no objection, it seems, to US invasions, pre-emptive or not, so long as the US stays behind and rebuilds what it has destroyed.

The pelt of Scowcroft is the sheep's clothing in which these Dem wolves hide, until November 2, at least:
Out of political caution Kerry's campaign advisers still tend to seek the safety of a Scowcroftian middle ground, but the foreign-policy advisers who would serve President Kerry have quite a different vision-much more ambitious and expansive than anything pursued by the first Bush Administration.

Marshall finishes with warm words from the Dem advisers on Israel/Palestine - they insist on that a settlement is a precondition to Middle East progress - though he gives no clue as to how a President Kerry might assist in achieving this miracle. And, on North Korea and Iran, a negotiated settlement is the Dem way.

But no hint as to Kerry's invasion priority list.

I suspect that, if Kerry wins, we may be looking at a version - an inexact analogy, but aren't they all? - of 1960: the Republicans, tired and battered, having lost the appetite for confrontation (a stance exemplified way back when in Eisenhower's broadcast Farewell Address of January 17 1961 - the military-industrial complex speech); and the Democrats, eager to carry out their mandate (and mindful of the coincidence of initials!) with forward policies, à la Mr Pay Any Price.

Early days, of course. I've heard one or liberals, unhappy with Kerry's caution on various issues, talking on Air America about FDR running in 1932 as a deficit hawk - a potent variety of Kool Aid liable to result in a series of increasingly more violent hangovers after November 2.

If the only difference between Kerry and Bush: the Sequel were their lists of countries ripe for invasion, the Plawg's tentative kinda-sorta Kerry endorsement would have seriously to be reconsidered.

  1. A practice I discussed on June 8.

  2. In my June 2 piece, I referred to a page of goodies on Holbrooke and Sandy Berger.

  3. I'm not sure whether he is talking about all the folks he mentions, or just those in the graf starting
    A number of former Clinton officials
    Because, for instance, Jonathan Winer - namechecked in the previous graf - is also a former Clinton official. If veterans means just those mentioned in that graf starting as quoted, Marshall is suggesting a split in the ranks of Kerry advisers, presumably.

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