History and Drift in Foreign Policy
In 1940 the Democratic Party would not even rally to support France and Britain against Hitler. FDR had to suggest very small incremental support for Britain after France fell to Nazi occupation. And that US hesitancy to enter a foreign war, while hard on our allies, meant the US entered the war at the most advantageous moment.
But today in order to be part of the Resistance to President Trump, the Democratic Party advocates maximum participation in the UN, accommodation with Iran, support for Hamas and the PLO against Israel, open borders, free trade without enforcement, the EU over British voters, and everything else reflexively anti-Trump. That is falling into his trap. He can run against Resistance.
We need to make him run against a coherent Democratic foreign policy.
US foreign policy under Wilson, FDR, and Clinton mixed ideals with reality. The US was engaged yet cautious. These presidents often spent years making the moral case for overseas action, while also preparing the military and economic resources for intervention.
There was a certain cynicism about the use of power in foreign cultures. And an even greater humbleness about the willingness of the US public to take large numbers of casualties. But they did eventually act to solve the great challenges of their time.
President Obama was famously dismissive of Richard Holbrooke’s attempt to use lessons from Vietnam in Afghanistan. Holbrooke, the architect of peace in the Balkans and Americas’s greatest diplomat since George Keenan, was ignored. Ignored because the type of comprehensive diplomatic, political, military engagement that brought victory in Bosnia was too risky politically for President Obama. The absence of defeat was the supreme value.
By the end of President Obama’s term I could no longer identify any Democratic foreign policy beyond reaction to events.
A Modern Foreign Policy
Democrats should become the modern voice of timeless foreign policy values.
The protection of US interests at home and abroad through the cautious advance of freedom and trade around the world.
What does that mean? Apply it to trade as an example:
President Trump speaks of free trade in elitists terms: trade deficits, tariffs, intellectual property theft. We should describe trade in terms of freedom. We should speak of trade as FDR spoke of the third of his four great universal freedoms – the “freedom from want all around the world”.
It is not free trade if the primary basis of a products importation into the US is the wage differential between a US worker and an exploited worker in a foreign land. We must be the great catalyst for the freedom to earn a fair wage and live without open sewers all around the world. You have to eliminate injustice not offshore it.
A modern Democratic foreign policy should focus not on the hurt feelings of allies, Davos, Israel bashing, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. It should focus on the people who pay for overseas engagement – the middle and working classes whose sons and daughters are the ultimate guarantors of that engagement.
The Mechanics of Value Based Foreign Policy
Run every foreign policy issue through the same values test – the protection of US interests at home and abroad through the cautious advance of freedom and trade around the world.
And be confident yet humble in using the test:
- Speak of America’s greatness and generosity, not just its failings. Stop falling into President Carter’s greatest trap – dressing in a cardigan to speak about decline;
- If a dollar is spent overseas on diplomacy, aid, or the military it should generate in plain sight more than a dollar of freedom or trade in Topeka, Kansas;
- Unless required by treaty use military force late after combatants have exhausted themselves. If the natives will not fight evil to a standstill, they are not worth our sons and daughters. That was the test FDR demanded of Britain in 1940 – before aid it had to stand alone;
- Per Keenan, not every bush war matters. In fact almost none of them matter to US interests or freedom. Most replace one regime with another;
- We should speak out on injustice everywhere and realize that may be the end of our involvement. We should recognize that sanctions, proxy wars, and intervention often only deliver unintended consequences;
- Enforce deadlines, redlines, or threats with maximum force; and
- The use of force must always result in absolute strategic or tactical victory or we must not act.
It is a messy world. Our values are the viewing lens for the world’s challenges. It is time we defined those values practically as FDR did and run on them.