Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Democrat Dilemmas

President Bush has approval ratings in the low 30s--there is a rising sense of frustration with the Republican-controlled Congress--and Democrats are poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Democrats still have not solved their foreign policy chasm, and as a result they cannot forge an effective campaign for the 2006 midterms. No Gingrichesque figure has emerged to distill a new agreement with America.

The problem? A Democratic foreign policy establishment in DC where many agreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq and have critiqued the management, rather than the underlying assumptions, about the war; a Democratic activist base that is anti-war (or of the opinion that Darfur rather than Iraq is where U.S. forces ought to be deployed); and a country which in mood seems more receptive to the pragmatic realism of a Senator Hagel or an ethical realism being described by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman.

How the Lamont-Lieberman race will play out at the Connecticut Democratic party convention and how these rifts can be patched up will illuminate how the party plans to do this on the national level.

MyDDhas a post and extensive commentary on HRC endorsing Lieberman and what this means for the Party.
WAPO is reporting in its style section that Nancy Pelosi was having lunch with Zbig Brzezinski. Perhaps hashing out a Democratic approach to foreign policy?
Republicans came to the conclusion in early 2003 that the rest of the world would stop short of the measures necessary to deal with urgent threats. Consequently, Republicans concluded that the United States would have to act unilaterally, and I think this is still the position that most Republicans would take in the face of new threats today.

Democrats are less certain of their approach to the world but two themes underpinned their 2004 campaign. One was that the principal threats to the United States required an emphasis on working with existing governments, not changing them. The other was that the United States needed to use force more effectively in those cases where force needed to be used. The Democratic position did not repudiate unilateralism but was less unilateralist in its inclination. Republicans may now be moving to this position themselves.

A third approach, taken by neither party, would be to transfer more U.S. policy and power to a multilateral framework, in return for the partners in the framework making important concessions to the United States on rogue uses of national sovereignty and on the use of force. Of course, prospective partners might not be ready to make such an exchange, and too many voters in the United States might not be ready either. It is also possible that the international situation doesn't yet warrant such an exchange. But if a new direction in debate is needed, I would think something along these lines would move beyond the reiteration of present positions.

Democratic policy thinkers have spoken of multilateralism in a positive way but have tended to emphasize the principle of collegiality more than how it should work out in practice. Whether that is as far as the party needs to go, or wants to go, to articulate a foreign policy right now is unclear.
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