Archive for February, 2019

The Democrats and the need for an anti-interventionist foreign policy – posted 2/17/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/28/2019

February 17, 2019 1 comment

With more Democrats announcing their candidacy for President everyday, one central policy question emerges: will the Democrats in 2020 pursue a foreign policy that is different than the Republicans?

A strong argument can be made that unlike on domestic policy, where there are stark differences, the two parties have a one-party foreign policy. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, it was not apparent that there was any difference between Trump and Clinton. As a supporter of the Iraq War and as a foreign policy hawk, Clinton was in a weak position to offer an alternative to Trump.

In 2018, when Republicans pushed increasing the military budget $165 billion over two years, hardly any Democrats opposed it.

The Democrats need to go a different route in 2020. Instead of mimicking Republicans, Democrats should pursue a fundamentally different, less interventionist foreign policy. The Democrats must act to cut the military budget. The world has dramatically changed since the end off the Cold War but both parties continue to act like the same circumstances are at play.

Instead of learning from historical experience, neither party has integrated lessons that should have been learned from our disastrous military interventions of the last sixty years. With our web of military bases all over the world, we prepare to intervene in every hotspot worldwide, immediately, if any threat is perceived.

Both our experiences in Vietnam and Iraq should dictate a more modest and strategically smart foreign policy. America cannot be the world’s policeman. We should have learned that lesson but we haven’t. There is a mystifying lack of discussion about strategy in what we are trying to accomplish internationally.

No clear goals are articulated. Confusion reigns as to where our national security faces a real threat. Trump’s foreign policy of cozying up to Putin and dictators everywhere while shredding old alliances stands in opposition to any notion of democratic values. It appears to be Steve Bannon’s dream of a Fascist International.

At the same time, American empire bumps up against so many nation’s rights to self-determination. Politicians throw money at the Pentagon, not wanting to be perceived as weak on defense. The end result is a senseless muddle, leading to a continuation of endless Middle Eastern wars and kneejerk imperialism.

I would submit that learning from the Vietnam and Iraq experiences would move us in a different direction. In both wars, Americans were lied into quagmires, with horrendous unforeseen consequences. Over 58,000 Americans and several million Vietnamese died and for what? The Iraq war has taken and continues to take its own brutal toll. The alleged reason for our intervention was a fraud: there were no weapons of mass destruction.

In both situations, Congress took a back seat to White Houses that lied without compunction. Yet, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress – not the President – the responsibility to declare war.

You might think the harm caused would have led to a deep reassessment but it has not. We continue to act like it is a Cold War world with threats everywhere. Mention the word “terrorism” and the U.S. military will have an expeditionary force waiting in the wings.

This is not learning from experience. Our real national security threat is climate change. It is not another national state rival or terrorism. The spread of fascist and authoritarian governments around the world is a threat to America but it is not a threat we should be militarily engaging. Protecting human rights, the rule of law and democratic government can best be exported by the power of its practice at home.

Part of what makes the anti-interventionist transition so hard is the economic strength of our military-industrial complex. The weapons industries that feed off war want their gravy train to continue. They lobby hard.

A major challenge is demonstrating how a bloated and overfunded military budget leads to underfunding domestic infrastructure and priorities. There is a direct relationship there. Absurdly, the U.S. government spends more on the military than the next ten nations combined, with minimal public discussion about whether such a level of funding is even reasonable. Hint: it is not.

For anti-interventionists, a great place to begin is challenging current priorities such as U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Here is one summary of that war written by Robert Worth:

“Yemen now has the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history and among the highest rate of child malnutrition. An estimated 16 million people, more than half the country’s population are threatened by starvation.”

Unconscionably, America has contributed to the death toll by selling huge quantities of arms to the Saudis which they have used in Yemen. Notably, we have sold fighter planes and the F-15. Saudi Arabia is our number one weapons customer.. The Saudis have earned a reputation for indiscriminate bombing of civilians, using our bombs and cluster munitions. These airstrikes are war crimes. Over the last four years, 10,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000 more have been wounded.

Between April 2015 and October 2018, 84,701 children have died from severe acute malnutrition. Reporters describe skeletal, starving children filling already overcrowded hospitals with huge numbers begging for help everywhere.

The Senate has advanced a resolution to remove most U.S. troops in Yemen and to rescind all U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia related to its war in Yemen. Democrats unanimously voted in favor as did some prominent Republicans. The bill passed 56 to 41. The bill is a major step in wresting back some war powers from the executive branch. If the bill passes the House, it will very likely face a veto from President Trump.

Still, for the Democrats, staking out independent stands, like on Yemen, will be most important. The Democrats’ best chance in 2020 is to pose dramatic alternatives to the moral collapse and corruption represented by Trump. It will be interesting to see who will stand for something new and who will represent the same old, same old.

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