A War Plan for the Democrats

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats when it comes to foreign policy. In a presentation sponsored by The National Interest, “What a Post-Bush Foreign Policy Might Look Like” on Thursday, Progressive Policy Institute president and founder Will Marshall offered the party a six-part plan for regaining voters’ confidence.

“Unilateralism, military domination and pre-emption seem to fan the flames of jihadism, and people have come to doubt the Bush approach to the War on Terror,” said Marshall, editor of the recent book With All our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihad and Defending Liberty. “Our party needs to show it can take on the job of defeating Islamic extremists if we want to win the next election.”

Importantly, though, Marshall did not advance anti-war sentiment or hopes for disengagement. “We need to fight for liberal principles abroad as vigorously as we fight for them at home,” he said.

As goals for the Democratic Party, Marshall proposed:

(1) Growing the American military by 40,000 troops. The Bush Administration has declined to expand the military it relies on as a major policy instrument, and a bigger force could better meet the demands of current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(2) A political strategy for strengthening Muslim moderates. By getting away from a good-vs.-evil or West-vs.-Islam framing of the issue, and by using Americanized Muslims as envoys to the Middle East, the United States could make significant gains in the ideological War on Terror.

(3) Improving the “machinery of collective security.” The United Nations now represents a “toothless multilateralism,” which does not bode well for U.S.interests. “The UN has to be made effective; otherwise, every crisis will be dumped on our laps,” Marshall said, pointing to Darfur as an example.

(4) Accepting that American values are important, and that they have universal appeal. “We don’t want to over-learn the lessons of Bush’s democratization plans in Iraq”, Marshall said. “Democrats shouldn’t abandon democracy as a goal.”

(5) Focusing on economic and societal strength, particularly in the area of oil dependence. “We got to have a chuckle over Hugo Chavez calling Bush the devil in front of the UN, but we paid for that spectacle”, he said. “We paid $28 billion toVenezuela’s state-owned oil company last year, and this year it will likely be $34 billion.”

(6) Invoking a spirit of shared sacrifice, required not only for reducing oil consumption but also for raising taxes to pay for increased expenses.

Several meeting attendees took issue with Marshall’s proposals. During the question-and-answer session, one went so far as to say, “If the first item on the Democrats’ plan for foreign policy is making the military bigger, color me Republican.”

Stefan Halper of Cambridge University’s Centre of International Studies, who has worked in Republican presidential administrations and was the meeting’s other featured guest, also opposed military expansion.

“I don’t see a situation where we’d have continuous redeployment,” he said.

And The Nixon Center’s Alexis Debat expressed doubts that Marshall’s suggestions answered all the important questions Democrats would face. For example, whether to work with the powerful but anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood.

Marshall responded that theUnited States should not support the organization but should promote elections in which Brotherhood members might win.

Robert VerBruggen is an Apprentice Editor at The National Interest and can be reached at [email protected]

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