30 September 2007

Foreign Policy 2008

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

When I wrote my ten point list of domestic policy priorities a few weeks ago, it originally included foreign policy issues because they seemed so prominent within the context of 2008 election politics. In the end, I pulled them out because of the volume of domestic issues – and the need to recognize that foreign policy needs are, in some ways, just different facets of the same issues.

1. The last item on my domestic agenda was the need for a more realistic embrace of globalization and a facing-up to environmental issues. These remain the lead points among foreign policy priorities because we aren’t doing enough on either one. On globalization, we simply must keep developing new trade agreements and doing as much as we can to extend the scope of our multi-lateral investments and our openness to the free exchange of goods and services internationally. In the near-term, protectionism is alluring in the face of challenge, but the global economy is already too interconnected to back out. We must also do what we can to protect the rights of workers in the U.S. and abroad. And if saving our planet isn’t a foreign policy challenge, I don’t know what is.

2. Given the terrible Mess O’Potamia, it’s tempting to put “fix Iraq” in the #2 slot. But there are two more critical Middle East issues, the first of which is to fix the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. While we cannot force peace, we can push both sides to negotiate more firmly than we do or have. We give Israel more than $3 billion in “aid” each year; we should use the influence this provides to help resolve this conflict, rapidly. (We have also provided aid to the Palestinians – and have influence there, too.) The U.S. should send a clear message that compromise is necessary: both parties will not get everything they want, whether that is the return of all Palestinian refugees from 1948 or unilateral control over Jerusalem.

3. The second major Middle East challenge is to do a better job supporting the stable government of Lebanon. The rationale is simple: Lebanon was once a major business center for the region, and it is a (semi-stable) democracy. Supporting greater (economic) stability there will improve the Middle East as a whole, and might put the generally more moderate (if religiously mixed) Lebanon in the role of leading light for Arab democracies – a position it should be proud to have. Long-term, a three-part free trade zone of Lebanon, Israel, and the yet-unborn Palestinian state might become an economic powerhouse.

4. Going further east ... to Iraq. Unfortunately for the Democrats, pulling out is not a realistic option: the chaos would be worse than the war. Unfortunately for the Republicans, staying in likely won’t make much difference either. The best we can do is a modified pull-out: withdraw to the borders, and let the chaos within sort itself out, while we protect against more disruption than the region can handle. We should plan on at least two more years of Iraqi border control – and assume that we will have to create some kind of war reparations fund to help Iraqis rebuild once the dust clears. As for segmenting Iraq into three distinct mini-states, the rationale behind this seems self-evident given the civil war taking place.

5. Senator Barrack Obama is right when he says that we need to do a better job engaging with the world, including with the nations and people we may not like. But Teddy Roosevelt was also right: do it quietly, intelligently, say only what you mean – and mean what you say. Under the George W. Bush regime, we have not been very successful at that: our credibility is low, and vague threats against Iran (however dangerous it is) don't bolster it. Ditto North Korea. Or Cuba. One major foreign policy priority should be to re-engage and invigorate our diplomatic relationships, even with Tehran and Havana, and try to create as many opportunities for cross-population dialogue as we can. It is a too-easily-overlooked element of our successful strategy with the Soviet Union that (in addition to the arms race) we made great efforts to bring our culture to theirs, to show the people under Soviet dominion what we were like and, implicitly, what they were missing. Whether strictly academic or more widely cultural, we need to get Americans involved in the process of engaging with the broader world.

6. The last foreign policy issues are to re-evaluate and realign our relationships with China and Russia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been too much talk of America as the sole superpower. That may have been true for a narrow slice of time, but looks less and less true each day. It is in our national interest to create a greater global security balance by empowering both Russia and China more effectively. This is not about selling them weapons or literally encouraging their (even-greater) militarization. Rather it is a psychological shift: better recognizing the power they do hold, regionally; accepting that both could be allies as much as competitors; and recognizing that their development into vibrant and stable societies is better than the alternative (as has been too much the case with Russia in recent years). It may be difficult to admit, but at some level we need a strong and stable China and Russia to help deal with the belligerents that threaten all of us.

Again, as with the domestic policy issues... doesn’t this all sound easy once you put it in words? Unfortunately for us, the people, our candidates seem to believe these issues are either so easy that they are glib – or so complicated that they are better off unmentioned. It is definitely our loss, but we can take our own revenge at the polls.


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