Afghanistan, America First, Democratic Party, Democratic platform, Democrats, forever wars, globalism, Immigration, Iraq, Middle East, nation-building, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, p, terrorism, Vietnam War
Longstanding conventional wisdom holds that political party platforms are usually either meaningless, just for show, or exercises in pandering various constituencies. And when I finished reading the Democrats’ latest version, I thought to myself, “Let’s hope so!”
My main concerns don’t revolve around those planks that have received the most attention – notably surrounding the treatment of Medicare for All and healthcare for illegal aliens and violent crime/police defunding) and climate change and the Green New Deal. (Actually, as I read it, the document generally was less far Left on these issues than presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, were during the primary campaign.) To be sure, they’re still concerns. My main concern, though, has to do with a lower profile, but still crucial issue, and one that was widely ignored both during the primaries and at last week’s convention: foreign policy.
Specifically, in contrast to the tightrope walking evident when it came to the hot button topics, the platform went all-in on nation-building.
To some extent, this was no surprise. For whether they belong to the party’s center or its progressive wing, nearly all Democrats are globalists. They have, and will continue, to disagree strongly about specific ways to conduct globalist foreign policies – e.g., whether to intervene militarily or not in certain foreign conflicts or crises, or the related issue of whether generally to rely more on the military or on diplomacy or on foreign aid as the tool of first resort. But nearly all accept the central tenet of globalism, which is the belief that the United States can never be acceptably free, secure and prosperous unless the rest of the world is acceptably free, secure, and prosperous. And this approach inevitably involves nation-building – trying to turn unsuccessful countries and even entire regions into something they have never been, or have not been for centuries: successful countries and regions..
So what, you might ask? Here’s what. As logical as nation-building sounds, it’s been responsible for three of the most damaging foreign policy disasters in recent American history – the Vietnam War, the second Iraq War, and an Afghanistan operation that began as a needed anti-terrorism campaign and steadily expanded into a sweeping effort not only to build a nation but to create one where none had ever existed. And let’s not forget minor blunders like ill-starred peace-keeping efforts in Haiti and Somalia.
In fact, nation-building has been so discredited that even many globalists have been pouring cold water on it lately. (See, e.g., here and here.)
But not the Democrats this year – at least judging from their platform. The phrase isn’t used – a sign that the term has become toxic. But it’s there, all the same – and in spades. For example:
p. 64: “Democrats will address the root causes of [international] migration—violence and insecurity, poverty, pervasive corruption, lack of educational and economic opportunity, and the impacts of climate change. Disciplined American leadership and well-designed assistance programs can help prevent and mitigate the effects of migration crises around the world, from Southeast Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa to Central America.”
p. 76: “Rather than occupy countries and overthrow regimes to prevent terrorist attacks, Democrats will prioritize more effective and less costly diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement tools….And we will mobilize our partners to make sustained investments that can prevent conflict and help extinguish the flames on which extremists feed.”
p. 82: “Democrats will sustain the global effort to defeat ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates. We will ensure that the world is equally committed to the difficult task that follows military success: dealing with the underlying conditions that allowed violent extremism to flourish in the first place.”
p. 87: “Rather than coerce our neighbors into supporting cruel migration policies, we will work with our regional and international partners to address the root causes of migration—violence and insecurity, weak rule of law, lack of educational and economic opportunity, pervasive corruption, and environmental degradation.”
p. 90: “Turning the page on two decades of large-scale military deployments and open-ended wars in the Middle East does not mean the United States will abandon a region where we and our partners still have enduring interests. Democrats believe it’s past time, however, to rebalance our tools, engagement, and relationships in the Middle East away from military intervention—leading with pragmatic diplomacy to lay the groundwork for a more peaceful, stable, and free region.”
p. 90: “Democrats…believe we need to reset our relations with our Gulf partners to better advance our interests and values. The United States has an interest in helping our partners contend with legitimate security threats; we will support their political and economic modernization and encourage efforts to reduce regional tensions.”
Especially striking about this Democratic faith in nation-building is its strength as a viable strategy for the Middle East, and the confidence that it can substitute effectively for the “forever wars” they have pledged to end (p. 72). As has usually been the case with believers that ploughshares always work better than swords in protecting national security, they have focused on means rather than the overarching matter of ends, and defined out of existence the challenge of promoting or defending interests that they, too, view as vital when their preferred tactics prove inadequate.
There’s really only one way out of this dilemma – adopting the kind of priority-setting America First foreign policies that not even President Trump has fully embraced (as I described at length in the National Interest piece linked above). What a tragedy that the Democrats’ party-wide case of Trump Derangement Syndrome will surely prevent them from even considering this recipe for pragmatism, either.