Ronald Asmus, a former advisor to Bill Clinton writes that the Democrats seem to have lost sight of their own foreign policy ideals:
Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy must be turning in their graves. Using U.S. power to promote freedom and democracy was central to their foreign policies and legacies. Even Jimmy Carter, a far less successful Democratic president, can be proud of making human rights a major U.S. foreign policy objective. And Bill Clinton’s interventions in the Balkans and drive to expand NATO were all about consolidating democracy in Europe’s eastern half. There was a time, not too long ago, when Democrats were proud of their track record on democracy promotion — and rightly so.
Is the party of Wilson abandoning Wilsonianism? Why have we gone mum on an issue that is so central to our own foreign policy heritage and past triumphs?
As usual, Asmus blames Bush — but this time rightly so. Because Bush has taken up the cause of democratic advancement, the Democrats don’t want anything to do with — despite the fact that it was supposedly one of the core values of the Democratic Party.
I’m more cynical than Asmus is — I believe that the Democrats have absolutely no principles anymore other than the naked exercise of power. They’d sell their mothers to take the White House in 2008 and expand their power in Congress — and given the meltdown of the Republican Party, they probably won’t have to. This hyperpoliticized climate is the reason why not only is democracy in Iraq in grave peril, but our own democracy is in serious trouble.
If all that remains is the will for temporal political power, we’re really no better than the Sunnis and the Shi’ites in Iraq — just with words rather than guns. How can we profess to value democracy when we’re entirely unwilling to defend it in Iraq? How can we honestly say we believe in a pluralistic society when we’re doing nothing to establish those values in the places where they are needed the most? The legacy of the Bush era will be the exposure of the fact that even when America is attacked, we’re too self-absorbed to manage but a few year’s efforts. The Democratic foreign policy has become nothing more than withdrawal for the sake of damaging a President (who is already politically irrelevant) regardless of the consequences. The true tragedy is that even if the Democrats get exactly what they want, the situation is only going to get worse. Only the most deluded of fools would think that absent the stabilizing force of the US and coalition military presence the situation would improve. Instead, Iraq truly would enter a period of bloody civil war that would quickly spread across its borders and consume the entire Middle East. We would have gone from an unstable “quagmire” to a regional war that would very likely end with a nuclear exchange.
Our mission in the post-September 11 world was to use the power of democracy to combat the authoritarianism that fuels terrorism. Now, that agenda lays in ruins. One can argue that Iraq was handled poorly — and certainly be right — but the way in which the promotion of democracy has been turned into part of some sinister “neocon” agenda shows that the United States has lost its values and lost its way. If we don’t believe in the promotion of democracy abroad, we abrogate our rights to have it here. Asmus is right in pointing out that the Democrats, once the party of Kennedy and Wilson, are no longer. Asmus points out that there is a better way:
Democracy promotion is often messy and hard. You need to work with authoritarian governments even as you try to encourage change in their societies; aid sent to democrats abroad can be wasted; elections don’t always produce the results we’d like. Still, the long-term benefits — as we see in Europe today — are worth it. The answer to Bush’s mistakes must be to develop a more realistic and credible democracy-promotion strategy, not to abandon the goal.
The Democrats have no stomach for anything messy or hard — they want to win, and if they can play to the new isolationism in American culture, that’s precisely what they will do. They can worry about foreign policy the day the first major American city falls to terrorist attack — a prospect which sadly had been growing fainter with time, but now once again becomes less of a probability than an inevitability.