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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Towards a Post-Iraq Foreign Policy

E.J. Dionne’s Washington Post column today takes stock of the effect of the Iraq disaster on the general drift of U.S. foreign policy:

To understand how much the Iraq war has transformed the way most Americans think about foreign policy, consider what passed for shrewd analysis four years ago.

The words on the “in” list included “unilateral,” “bold,” “robust,” “transformative” and “sole remaining superpower.” The words on the “out” list included “multilateral,” “nuance,” “patience,” “diplomacy,” “allies,” “history” and “prudence.”Today, the “in” and “out” lists would be almost exactly reversed. The new “out” list includes such additions as “reckless,” “arrogant” and “incompetent.”

That’s all true, and salutory, but it just scratches the surface of the reevaluation that will ultimately play out as the Iraq engagement winds down. And that reevaluation will go well beyond the long-running debate (mainly on the Left but increasingly on the Right) as to whether the Iraq War was fundamentally and inherently misbegotten, or a theoretically justifiable action that was misplanned and misexecuted to an epic degree. Within the “inherently misbegotten” camp, there are those who stress the irrelevance of Iraq to the real security threats posed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, and those who consider the Iraq invasion a reflection of the hubristic and imperial mentality that suffuses the whole idea of the war on terror. A good if somewhat extreme example of the latter tendency appeared in the Outlook section of the Post on March 11, in a piece by Tony Smith of Tufts University that lumped together liberal internationalists and neocons as indistinguishable imperialists, while less forthrightly forging an alliance with conservative “realists” who argue for restraint in foreign policy commitments while rejecting trifles like human rights concerns or collective security arrangements.Smith’s article caught my attention because it fingered Will Marshall and the Progressive Policy Institute as Ground Zero for the “neoliberal” foreign policy thinking he luridly describes as identical to neoconservatism, and as dominating the Democratic Party. I found his breathless and alarmed revelation that many Democrats are “Wilsonians” in foreign policy a bit hilarious. And Smith’s dismissal of the vast differences between neocons and “neoliberals” on such small subjects as the significance of international organizations, the equality of nations, civil liberties, and the self-imposition of common rules of behavior by the United States, is simply disingenuous. But Smith does illustrate the kind of broader questions that we must all get used to when this dreadful war finally ends, and should get used to right now.

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