The Muscular Wilsonians: What do They Believe?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

I keep thinking, listening to how Republicans support the use of force in the service of freedom, about the Dayton Agreement, the conference in 1995 that determined the shape and security of what used to be Yugoslavia. Clearly the Democrats don’t shy away from the use of force, and they don’t shy away from nation-building (wasn’t that an issue during the 2000 election?), yet now the GOP has grabbed the idea of championing freedom.

So the question is, how do we definine a Democratic foreign policy? Do we have to wait another year and a half for Kerry to say something definitive? Is there an ism? Or does there have to be an ism, when the Democratic party is leaning on the legacies of Wilson, Kennedy and Clinton? Where are you, Richard Holbrooke?

Extra Credit Reading

Peter Beinart, Can the Democrats Fight? Cold War Lessons for Reclaiming Trust on National Security The Washington Post, December 2004

Marshall Wittman, Calling Scoop, Bull Moose Blog, October 2004

Scoop Jackson, Wikipedia article

The Dayton Agreement, Wikipedia article

Ari Berman, The Strategic Class, The Nation, August 2005

The Democratic Party, a list of press releases on foreign policy that seem only to respond to Republican actions

(via RichardNash) Paul Berman, Power and the Idealists: Or, the Passion of Joschka Fischer and Its Aftermath

Update, 11/02 2:03 pm

Forget the Republicans. Peter Beinart writes about Democrats, ‘To the contrary, key organizations, echoing Wallace, see liberalism’s enemies almost exclusively on the right.’ And the posts so far bear him out. … So, here is my challenge: carry on the discussion without once referring to the Republicans. Answer instead the questions: What is the threat? What should be done? And why?

Raymond, from a comment on this post

David Rieff

Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute, The New School

Contributing Editor, The New Republic

See TPMCafe‘s America Abroad for his dissent on Wilsonianism

Steve Clemons

Senior Fellow, The New America Foundation

Writes The Washington Note


Samantha Power

Professor of Practice in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

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  • I’d also suggest Paul Berman’s Power and the Idealists…

  • plaintext

    Is there a pacifist element to the right at all? It seems to me that if one is pacifist or at minimum detentist, one’s only choice is the left. Not isolationism but engagement with an optimistic end in mind and the moral integrity to see it through without bloodshed. Is that so gawdawful bad that it can’t win an election? Robert Kennedy was onto it, the train was rolling into town when it was stopped bloodily.

    Here’s a tilting point: the draft. It’s the democrats that want to spead out the blood evenly among the classes – at the same time putting arms in the hands of those whose loyalties may be questionable. The republicans have resisted this as bad media for their imperialist tendencies not to mention the danger of friendly fire or worse the reintroduction of democratic values into the military.

    The draft engages the man or more likely the kid on the street by bringing the reality of death into brilliant focus in one’s consciousness. The democrats will never get anywhere without that flood of emotional connection to a cause. Environmentalism, conversely, is intellectual. If we all die from global warming then at least we all died.

  • dubois

    Please don’t omit George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics” (or the executive summary, “Don’t Think of an Elephant”) and his concept of family as a metaphor for morality, and of that morality as a basis for international relations (nation as family, US as “father” and developing nations as “children”). He says the two sides view family differently, which shapes their view of what kind of father the US should be… a strict father, or a nurturant parent.

  • wellbasically

    re plaintext

    The pacifist element to the right would have been the businessguys who would sell to you whatever you were. They might hate you because you were black or an Arab or a homo, but if your money was green it was better to keep you alive and do some deals with you.

    The Dems are slightly more likely to make internationalism work because they have the pacifist left as a backstop.

    None of this works if you kill people off for their own good. Wilsonians always claim that people would be happier starving and free than eating well under a dictatorship. They ought to be required to prove that Iraqis were living a life worse than death under Saddam before we can kill them for their benefit. This is why they exaggerated the humanitarian angle in both Kosovo and Iraq, probably by 100 times.

  • Raymond

    So the question is, how do we definine a Democratic foreign policy?

    After reading the posts, I always feel like the question needs to be restated. Here is my suggestion: Forget the republicans.

    Peter Beinart writes, about democrats, “To the contrary, key organizations, echoing Wallace, see liberalism’s enemies almost exclusively on the right.”

    And the posts so far bear him out.

    To take and contort a phrase from Glenn Loury: They (liberals) are more interested in scoring points about conervatives being wrong than they are in actually protecting the people from whatever the threat might be.

    So, here is my challenge: carry on the discussion without once referring to the republicans. Answer instead the questions: What is the threat? What should be done? And why?

  • Andy Vance

    I think Beinart and his ilk are more interested in how foreign policy plays politically (and finding excuses for their pre-war positions than in the best course to take.

    I’m also curious why people think Beinart and “Bull Moose” are carrying the Wilsonian banner, and not John Ikenberry, Charles Kupchan et al.

  • Andy Vance
  • wellbasically

    re Raymond: So we just assume that the USA is going to be leader of the world. The Democrats are better suited to deal with the world by listening to the world, in a legislative manner. The Republicans (not pointing out their flaws, just comparing) are more likely to have an executive manner.

    The obvious weak point of the Dems is their easy liberal fixations, like gun control or human rights. If I want the Dems to take somebody out, I just get people to make up stories about that person having bad guns or being a genocider.

    If the Dems cannot verify these things they will always be drawn into supporting simple wars of conquest by playing up the mushy liberal goals. The war side would parachute abortionists into Afghanistan and a gay pride parade if they thought it would get the NY Times on their side. It’s the easiest thing in the world.

  • bloggeddown

    The biggest differences between the two parties.

    Democrats develop policy and strategy from dealing with reality and facts; they openly discuss and debate – which is a more truthful way to have a ‘democracy’. It’s not a pretty process, but it is a more human and natural way to work with the rest of the world.

    Republicans try to impose their pre-conceived ideas and policies from hidden agendas, decisions made in secret and made for ulterior motives that have nothing to do with democracy or even protection of the United States or the poeple in it.

  • Potter

    Bumper sticker: America Leading By Example

  • Steven

    Let’s hammer away at Bush for blowing it in Afghanistan the way the Republicans hammered at Carter for the hostages.


    George: Where’s Osama?

  • LeeJudt

    Someone just said that you can’t create democracy at the point of a gun.

    What do they call the American Revolution?

    There are other places in the world where democracy was created by revolution which is to say at the point of a gun.

    btw: didn’t the allies bring democracy to Germany and Italy at the point of a gun?

  • bloggeddown

    Let’s attack North Korea, Cuba, Uzbekistan – right now. Brilliant logic.

  • aarrott

    Unfortunately for the Democrats, tonight’s program could be replayed as a potent Republican political ad. That’s because it exposes so clearly the incoherence of the Democrat’s proposed program for governance. One is left with the impression that a Democratic victory would lead not to bold or humble action but rather to endless deliberation and inaction.

    Until the Democrats have the internal slugfest that settles what they actually stand for, the Presidency & both houses of Congress are safe for the GOP.

    Victory will be possible only when the Democrats formulate their 2006 version of the Republican’s 1994 Contract with America. Here’s why this is crucial: About 50% of the 1994 electorate favored and 50% opposed the Contract with America. About 80% of the 1994 electorate took seriuos issue with at least one item in the Contract with America. But, and here’s the rub, whether for or against it, about 80% of the 1994 electorate agreed that the Contract with America was a coherent, achievable program. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about the Democrats suggests they have a coherent, acheivable program for governance.

    Forget bumper stickers, in order to project the image of a viable coherent alternative the Dems must first actually be a viable coherent alternative. The American electorate is telling the Democrats: fight it out among yourselves, settle on a viable, coherent program, and then we will consider letting you try to implement it – we are not interested in being governed by an endless argument.

  • LeeJudt

    “Let’s attack North Korea, Cuba, Uzbekistan – right now. Brilliant logic.”

    You surely are not denying that our own democracy was created at the point of a gun? Are you saying that we didn’t bring democracy to Germany and Italy at the point of a gun?

    As for attacking these other countries it doesn’t follow. IN 1945 we didn’t attack the Soviet Union although many there were ready for us to liberate them from Soviet tyranny.

    You spread democracy little by little and not in one fell swoop.

  • Perhaps the Democratic Party message is no longer relevant partly because the Republican party espouses unlimited greed and unlimited Corporate power, and that is in fact the message that Americans are mostly keyed into at this stage in our history. We are living in a bloated, secular, consumerist, materalistic state, and there is a large enough percentage of people who have bought into this vision that those who have not bought in, or can’t buy in, or have been rolled-over, do not have enough numbers or power for their voice to be heard anymore. For example, The Dems used to be the party for the working classes, labor unions, etc. Now the labor unions have been eviserated. The Democrats can’t form a message because there are not enough people left for them to pitch a message to that can be distinguished from the Republican message. The poor are voiceless, the rich are floating in their largess, and the middle is asleep in a trance.

  • wellbasically

    LeeJudt, I see your point, doesn’t it look more like the Iraqis are creating their democracy at the point of a gun. Pointed at us, that is.

  • LeeJudt

    “LeeJudt, I see your point, doesn’t it look more like the Iraqis are creating their democracy at the point of a gun. Pointed at us, that is.”

    I am not entirely happy with the way things are going in Iraq.

    I believe the Shiite majority support “democracy” because they think it will give them power. The Kurds because it will give them autonomy. The Sunnis hate us because we took away their big guns.

    I am glad Saddam is gone, though. I supported his overthrow but Bush has a talent for screwing up everything he touches.

  • Potter

    aarott: I’d rather be governed by an endless argument (or discussion), as exasperating as that can be, than suffer with this ill-considered hubristic unilateral foreign policy, and worse, the incompetence of cronies, the divisiveness, the deceptions, outright lies, trail of disastrous consequences that weaken us and make us more vulnerable.

    ZenDog; The polls give some hope that perhaps people are sticking their heads out from all the “getting and spending”. I disagree that there are not enough people left to pitch a different message to. First the real news has to sink in more about how they have been misled. This has to marinate a little more.

    Have you read Frank Rich’s Sunday piece in the New York Times “One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada”?

    How much easier could the Republicans make it for the Democrats to come up with a message?

  • Potter

    How nice! Here is a link

    “One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada” by Frank Rich

  • aarrott

    Potter: No amount of Bush-bungling will relieve the Democrats of the requirement to get their act together and present a genuine coherent program for governance. Even in the immediate post-Watergate election of 1976, when various regular Democrats thought they could just win by default, it was little-known Jimmy Carter, with a clear, coherent program, who swept to power. Americans are good at “throwing the rascals out”, but they do it by voting in a viable alternative.

    ZenDog: forget the whining and handwringing about the condition of the moderate middle and offer them an alternative that you can close the deal on. Politics is always restricted to the realm of realistic possibility.

  • Nikos

    bloggeddown, at 8:26 pm, really nailed it, imho.

  • Potter

    Nikos- you know you are right, he did!

  • wellbasically

    LeeJudt anyway the saying is “you can’t EXPORT democracy at the point of a gun” — so you see, if the Iraqis want a democracy they do it themselves.

    If the USA makes up a democracy for Iraq it will by definition report first to the USA, and maybe second to the people of Iraq. Recipe for failure.

    The second Iraq had a real democracy they would vote us out of there and order up a batch of WMD to keep us from coming back.

  • Potter, thanks for the link. aarrott, I’m guilty of whining and handwringing, as charged. It’s a character flaw exacerbated by a combination of the things outlined in Rich’s piece and my gobsmacked . . .uh . . .incredulosity . . .at, A: the lack of an outraged uprising amongst the masses regarding these things, and B: The as of yet uninspiring Democrat response.

    It will be very interesting to see if something coheres for the Dems in the next year or so.


    From a recent “No Exit” (by Andy Singer) cartoon I saw in the local freebie events newspaper:

    Try the new LIBERAL ANXIETY DIET PLAN: Anxiously ponder one of many hair-raising questions and watch unwanted pounds melt away! Questions like:

    -Is Bush crazy enough to invade Iran?

    -Will he draft and kill my child in Iraq?

    -Will we do something about global warming before it’s too late?

    -Will huge republican deficits trigger an economic collapse?

    -Can our decaying public health system handle a bio-terror attack?

  • Potter

    aarott: I don’t think people vote for a “genuine coherent program for governance”. Nor do I think they voted for Jimmy Carter because of such a program. They saw in Jimmy Carter a decent man who was intelligent and could lead. Who reads programs? Democrats, most recently Gore and Kerry had plenty of programs and plans. In fact Kerry was ridiculed for saying “I have a plan” about every issue. But what people did pay attention to was ( apparently) the swiftboat lies and tacking from one side to another in the windsurfing ads. Remember Kerry won the debates on substance and still he lost the election, it was so close.

    Paul Krugman makes a good point in ” Questions of Character”

    “The 2000 election would have ended in a chad-proof victory for Al Gore if many reporters hadn’t taken a dislike to Mr. Gore, while portraying Mr. Bush as an honest, likable guy. The 2004 election was largely decided by the image of Mr. Bush as a strong, effective leader.”

    So one problem for Democrats is the more well endowed and effective propaganda machine that Republicans have. Krugman points the effective use and rewarding the news media to acheive Republican goals. This also goes to Zendog’s Nov 2 10:52 post ie people are too busy with their own lives to focus on plans- so they take the shortcuts and depend on the media to portray, and thereby judge, character for them. Republicans are way ahead of Democrats in their ability to understand and use this apparent truth.

    Now, after so much damage, people are beginning to see a different picture. And this has nothing to do with programs. I would bet that if you ran program against program in ’00 and ’04 Democrats would have won handily, especially if you threw in an argument/education about nominations to the Supreme Court.

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  • That was a outstanding article. I don’t agree with every single single thing that you said but still excellent nonetheless. On a side note, I am so thrilled that the NFL is back. It seems like I been patiently waiting forever. This has to be my favorite time of the year. Sorry, I’m rambling. lol