Foreign Policy panel:
Chaudhry, Ari Veltman, Alex Rossmiller, Arianna Huffington
Chaudhry: I'm here because I edited the foreign policy section of These Times. We bloggers are very good at critiquing policies and advocating specific actions, and we're very good at that. But we strongly feel that there's a need for us to go beyond that and think in terms of a middle east policy, which requires us to think about what the U.S. is, and what our role is in that region. What we wanted to do is something I think is really important: to think in concrete and pragmatic terms--I mean, rooted in reality on the ground about what is possible--to see our options clearly. At the same time, within the context of a broader vision, we need to go beyond advocating policy actions in the next six months without having a plan 5 to 10 years from now. So what we did was, we put together a round table and usually the tradition is to just have Americans. But we had two Americans. We also had someone from King's college and another think tank in Britain. Because to talk about what US foreign policy is, we need to talk to the people on the other side of that policy. Basically, what comes out of it is a series of policy recommendations. Some predictable: a more balanced approach to Israel/Palestine, understanding the nuances of Islamic fundamentalism, that Hamas isn't Hezbollah, isn't Al-Qaeda, isn't the Taliban. But what was valuable was, it outlines how difficult the situation is. Even as we speak the situation is deteriorating to the point at which we have to accept that we can't do as much.
I think the idea isn't beyond leaving Iraq, but the idea that we may have two failed states--Iraq and Palestine--by the time Bush leaves in 2008. So we need to start the conversation now about how we deal with this as progressives, because the Republicans won’t deal with it--so it's our job. Thank you.
VELTMAN: The last state department report showed a tripling of terror under Bush. Osama is on the loose, and the U.S. has lost its moral authority. Whoever wins is going to inherit all of these problems. What I want to focus on is what is most likely to continue and that is the concept of the global war on terror. That is a sweeping formulation that has been so widely embraced in US politics that it's hard to imagine any challenge to it--but that's what we have to do. So what exactly is the GWOT? It is an endless war to eradicate all terrorism everywhere. As Bush said in 2001, "the war will not end until every terrorist group anywhere is found and defeated." That policy is fatally flawed, because it's like declaring a war on a tactic--it's like declaring a war on war. This system has served Bush's politics. Everything gets fit back into this paradigm. This isn't just talking points. It's in the policy, in the legal authority they have in mind. Here are some examples.
In August 2002 A. Gonzales said they could invade Iraq without congressional authorization. Condi said the same thing about Syria. How do they handle domestic spying? Same way--as part of the war on terror. So where's the opposition? Well, Democrats are actually reinforcing the GWOT paradigm and framing their arguments within it. But we need better strategic thinking. People are asking why we're still in Iraq and why Osama is still loose. Those failures start to distill alternatives. We must focus on defeating enemies and not a tactic. We need a focus war on Al-Qaeda, Osama and the Jihadists that are fighting. Our objective should be to defeat the enemies that attacked us and that pose a credible threat. It should not be defeating terrorism, or imposing democracy across the globe. At the macro level, this gives us choices. It means international cooperation, fighting Al-Qaeda, and restoring Ameican values--human rights and the rule of law, while enhancing our global standing. All of you know that these ideas aren't new, but we don't outline these as a uniting tissue. Holbrook said that we need to replace the war on terror with a war on Al-Qaeda. Chris Bowers called for Democrats to abandon the war on terror. He argued that it was a frame invented by Bush’s speechwriters to pin down the foreign policy debate.
Many people don't remember the Graham proposal and the Senate tabled it on the eve of the Iraq war vote. I read the Congressional Record. After Graham's speech that terrorists were a greater threat than Saddam Hussein, Senators Lieberman and McCain responded. McCain said that Al-Qaeda and Iraq were two faces of the same coin. History has shown that they were both embarrassingly wrong. Graham said that he felt that we would rue this day, and said that our top targets should be the groups that could repeat what happened on Sept. 11th--that the statesman must realize that once the war bell is sounded, he is no longer the master of events.
In general--and this may sound obvious--we still work with the media and pro-war politicians, even when their arguments deny reality. They say that any opposition to the war on terror will show weakness. But we need to show the value of our foreign policy, and I think that we activists can help do that.
ROSSMILLER: I’m a former intelligence officer for the DoD. I left because I felt that the policies of this administration harm American security. We've heard about how Democrats can work to expose this administration's efforts. I'd like to express a democratic alternative. The central foreign policy issue is the war in Iraq. I spent 6 months there, and it's simply beyond my comprehension how anyone could think it's made us anything but less safe. (lists all the reasons we all know). Stay the course is ridiculous when the course is wrong. All Democrats can embrace a simple message: change the course. Iraq resonates loudly, and the foreign policy campaign is a simple one. We can't trust them on Iraq, or N. Korea, or trade, or intelligence or defense. In 2006 we can establish oversight in Congress.
We need to advance American interests in the US.
(okay, this guy talks too fast. Summation). Democracy promotion against transnational terrorists was betrayed by Bush pursuing bad policy. They've treated a tactic like an ideology. The best way to defeat an ideology is to offer a better alternative. Self-determination and democracy are a better alternative. In terms of security, mature democracies do not attack us and we don't attack them. They foster trade. Encouraging and supporting democracy is a basic idea.
Wars are good for toppling governments, but bad for institutions and infrastructure. Democrats largely agree on foreign policy. The vast majority of us believe that democracy is good but using force to implement it is bad. This administration grossly misunderstands what it takes to establish a democratic society. You can't hinder democracy at home and support it abroad.
It's all about infrastructure. I don't believe that Democratic strategies need to be revised, and I don't think we have message problems. America knows that Democrats can be trusted on foreign policy. For congressional elections, no more rubber stamp congress.
To those who have lost faith in internationalism, isolationism is not the solution. And to those who believe the party is at risk of being taken over by fringe elements, I'd ask that you stop going on TV to say that. Just kidding.
The netroots aren't radical with regard to foreign policy. The real problem is republicans. Foreign policy rarely wins elections, but it can certainly lose them. Foreign policy is done best by democrats, not in spite of our patriotism, but because of it. This is an issue that we should own. Thanks.
HUFFINGTON: It's great to be here, and inspiring to walk through the halls and meet so many people, and know that they're incredibly tall or are 50 when I thought they were 22. I'm delighted to be participating with people who say things that are more important and useful than what our elected officials say. I've been blogging for a long time, and I've said that it's time that democrats put foreign policy on the front burner. It's not 1992, and it's not the economy, stupid. John Kerry did extremely well after that speech in the New School, where he categorically called Iraq the wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. So what happened? The "smart people" running the campaign said that he needed not to do that, and he should stick to domestic issues. This country is full of fear, and you can't win unless you convince the American people that you'll keep them safe.
Haditha, the continuing ongoing atrocities, have lost us the war to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic people, and we're much less safe now than before Sept 11th and that's because of the invasion of Iraq. That's a simple message, but the Democrats haven't adopted it. We cannot endorse any Democratic candidate who does not have a clear, unequivocal position on Iraq. There will be a tremendous effort to court you--court the bloggers, the netroots. To make them think that this is the way to win. Any candidate who cannot say that we need to bring the troops home should not be the Democratic nominee. Bloggers are going to be courted with attention, job offers, money, everything you can imagine, because Democratic elected officials have recognized our power. Do not succumb. We should start a hotline or something. The offers are coming already. But do not go and do that. Do not run a netroots campaign for a candidate who feels we need to stay in Iraq. There is no "they stand up so we can stand down." More and more Democratic candidates are telling you that now that we're there, we have to finish the job. And that's absolute idiocy. We need an elevator message response. #1: withdrawing from it doesn't mean abandoning it. Let's put money, resources and brainpower into it. #2. There's no question that there's a huge difference between being in Iraq and losing the war for their hearts and minds, which is key to winning the war on terror--which is why the Jack Murtha position is the clear and unequivocal position, and I'm happy to hear he'll run for majority leader. Jack Murtha supported going into Iraq, but we are extremely forgiving. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. I used to be a Republican. When I was, Saddam Hussein was Dick Cheney's good friend, Enron was a good company, and Michael Jackson was still black.
But it's about where you are now. The end of triangulation when it comes to war and peace and life and death. There's a false distinction about Iraq when it comes to left and right. There are opponents of the war on the conservative side. And if we want to make inroads, there is no better message than bringing the troops home. In the American DNA is a clear understanding that we must not pursue what the founding fathers called imperial adventures abroad. So why not make those red states purple if not blue on this foreign policy issue.
I got an email about the results of the latest poll. They start by saying that the reason people have soured on Bush is the Iraq war. But it’s #5 on what Democrats need to do, and on the list, they put it after congressional pay raises. The problem is that they don't get it. They're mired in the 1990’s mindset, and they can't get their mind around the idea of making the war in Iraq the central issue. But if they don't get it, they need to get out of the way.
We have a great opportunity to take back Congress. We started out with the defeat of Francine Busby. Her campaign kept urging her not to focus on Iraq, but rather on the corruption in Congress. She listened, and she lost. And I don't want to hear from Rahm Emmanuel that she only lost by 5%. I don’t care. We need to stop losing.
We need to stand up on this and be the leaders, instead of following those who say they know best. It's time for people to follow US. It's time to see the leader in the mirror. Not because we're purists, but because we’re fed up of losing. Thanks.
Q: There's this notion that the GWOT is part of a notion to spread democracy--and it's been hard to argue against because it's been engaged in the American consciousness. They've been called Kantians with cruise missiles, which is almost Bolshevik thinking. It's been hard for me to argue against it, the spread of democracy by force of arms.
Q: This is a question to Arianna. I'm Eric Massa, running in New York’s 29th CD. There are over 70 veterans running for Congress and we collectively fear whatever it is in October labeled as a national security surprise. I think we need to make this a pre-emptive national issue. We need to say that whatever they want to pull, there will be some announcement to rally people back to George W. Bush. I want to turn this idea to you further, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.
A from ARIANNA: The way to pre-emptively deal with it is to keep on talking every day about how this administration has not kept us safe. This is the key message. To win the war on terror, the first step is getting out of Iraq. While we are there as an occupying force, we will be the issue. In terms of the earlier question about democracy, first of all, we need to remind ourselves that this was reason number 5 about why we invaded Iraq. It was done because of the WMD, which was completely disproved. Democracy was a default position. Beyond that it is absurd to think you can bring democracy with military power. It has never happened before and it won't happen now. We need to communicate that to the American people.
VELTMAN: I don't want American soldiers dying for politics in another country. I want our soldiers only risking their lives to protect American interests. We'll pay for a hospital in Africa, but we won’t put US troops to build it.
ROSSMILLER: For the second question: if something happens, it just proves they failed somewhere in the world.
CHAUDHRY: Also for democracy, you can't pick which democracies you like if you want to spread democracy. You have to deal with Hamas too.
Q: How do we articulate our beliefs in a way to convince the military that we're on their side? It's a little bit different from articulating this to the man on the street. People who may see this as a complex issue, we need to articulate that.
Q: Right now we're dealing with the Iraq war and current crises, but assuming that there's a fundamental change in 2008, we need to address longer term events. There had to be a circumstance that caused 9/11, for them to be willing to commit suicide, and for a lot of people to applaud the fact that they did. I think we need a peace corps instead of the marine corps.
A: from ROSSMILLER: Regarding the first question, it's a silly debate. Nobody not named Cheney wants to stay there forever. The question isn't whether we should leave, the question only is when. The CAP has a paper on re-prioritizing. But as far as your neighbor, just ask them whether we should keep 130,000 troops there forever. If the answer is no, the debate becomes how to withdraw. In terms of how it's represented in Iraq, there’s a huge media disappointment there. They call it Sharks and Missing White Women because that's all we heard about. But they don't need to be part of that debate all the time. It's about strategic and executive leadership.
A: from ARIANNA: The longer we stay there the more terrorists will be recruited and the less safe America will be. It staggers me that our elected people haven't said that. That's where the debate needs to be. The majority of the American public used to believe that Saddam was linked to 9/11. Cheney and the rest of them kept repeating that line. Why don't we keep repeating the truth! It doesn't matter what happens that makes them forget Abramoff or Katrina, what matters that we're less safe. I talked to a lot of neuroscientists about this idea of fear. We're not voting with a rational brain. If we were, he would have lost in a landslide. We remember Abu Ghraib. We said that because of that there would be no way he would be re-elected because he was campaigning on the John Wayne archetype. People want someone who will tell them the truth, and I'm terrified that we're missing this opportunity. The message that the Democats came up with--"together we can do better"-- is simply pathetic.