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Progressive Foreign Policy, Again

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I have a piece, “Toward a Neo-Progressive Foreign Policy: The Case for an Internationalist Left,” at Foreign Affairs. It synthesizes some of my thoughts about what progressive foreign policy should look like. While I do provide a few illustrative specifics, the more general point is that we need to start from principles rather than simply laying out a laundry list of policy preferences. A taste:

Indeed, the coalition seems divided between two depressingly familiar alternatives: liberal internationalists of the kind associated with the Democratic establishment, and anti-hegemonists, who want to see the United States drastically reduce its pretensions to global leadership. The latter question the desirability of so-called liberal order, which they see as, at best, serving the interests of global capital at the expense of democratic economic governance, and, at worst, a fig leaf for imperialism.

During the 2016 primary and general election, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often appeared to represent a Democratic foreign policy establishment whose views might have been ripped from 2003, when the United States could still claim to be, in the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “the indispensable nation”; and a number of luminaries released a blueprint for “progressive internationalism” that staked out a position between the “neo-imperialist right” and the “non-interventionist left.” Clinton, of course, voted for the 2003 Iraq War and supported the 2011 intervention in Libya. But her primary challenger from the left, Senator Bernie Sanders, delayed articulating such an alternative foreign policy agenda until his 2017 speech at Westminster College.

All of this is particularly unfortunate. The new gilded age—of corporate power, concentrated wealth, environmental dangers, corruption—demands a strong progressive movement. But that movement also faces challenges reminiscent of the era of New Deal liberalism: a rising tide of right-wing extremism, post-fascism, and neofascism, at home and abroad. These threats are simultaneously national and transnational in character. Their solutions require a combination of domestic and multilateral efforts, none of which will be possible without U.S. leadership harnessed to progressive goals. Abandoning the infrastructure of U.S. international influence because of its many misuses and abuses will hamstring progressives for decades to come.

The title is a deliberate play on one of the foundational texts of neo-conservative foreign policy, William Kristol’s and Robert Kagan’s “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.” Kristol and Kagan wrestle with two progressive luminaries, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. So I’d been looking at their article closely while I drafted my own piece. The editor recognized some of the broad structural similarities, and recommended that I less subtweet it than explicitly troll it.

After all, Kristol’s and Kagan’s ideas didn’t build a new American century; they likely ensured its demise in the deserts of Iraq. Now, the Republican party just continues to  slash taxes while borrowing enormous sums of money to spend on the military—in the ridiculous hope that large defense budgets will deter other countries, such as China, from expanding their own capabilities. Given the dismal tack record of the tax-cuts-and-big-military-budgets approach in securing American peace and prosperity in the post-Cold War era, it’s hard to treat it as anything other than a way of shoveling money into the pockets of wealthy people in general, and defense contractors in particular.

Whether or not anyone agrees with my vision for US foreign policy, I hope at least to convince some people that our “task is to develop a progressive internationalism for today” and “to do that, American progressives need to ask themselves two questions: what do they want the international order to look like, and what are the best ways to nudge world politics in that direction?”

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