25 April, 2008

Matthew Yglesias and the progressive national security vision

I went to an event today featuring Matt Yglesias at the Center for American Progress, a pretty new liberal think tank here in DC, which turned out to be really interesting. Yglesias just came out with a new book on foreign policy, Heads in the Sand: How Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats, which explains and explores the "security gap" that exists between Democrats and Republicans -- simply put, how a Republican majority can recklessly engage in ill-advised and woefully mismanaged military adventures that hurt our basic interests and weaken our military capacity and still receive the confidence of most Americans when it comes to national security issues. He argues that in the face of aggressive Republican militarism, the Democrats have opted for a defensive strategy of trying to "defuse" the issue by moving to the right on national security, and then hoping to win elections on the basis of domestic policy. This leads to an atmosphere in which the American people see the Democrats basically deferring to the Republicans on foreign policy, and it becomes ingrained that Republicans are the natural authorities on the subject.

This strategy, which worked pretty well for Clinton, basically implodes during times of war, when national security becomes transcendent. And once things go to shit, as they are wont to do, it becomes nearly impossible for Democrats to effectively critique the foreign policy that they have been playing along with. They are easy to paint as weak, indecisive, opportunistic, and untrustworthy -- can anyone say Kerry (who supported the war before he opposed it...) in 2004? The solution, of course, is for Democrats to regain the offensive by attacking Republicans where they are "strongest" and by presenting a positive alternative vision for US foreign policy. The vision that Yglesias suggests is a revamped liberal internationalism combined with the aggressive, targeted destruction of Al Qaeda. Which is, interestingly enough, very similar to what has been called the Obama Doctrine. Certainly a good portion of my enthusiasm for Obama stems from his ability to attack, to mock even, the failed Republican security paradigm with a self-confidence that most Democrats lack.

Yglesias was amicably critiqued by foreign policy experts Rand Beers and Kurt Campbell, and the discussion ranged over all sorts of interesting topics, from the primary campaign to the options for withdrawal from Iraq. For a complete rundown of the discussion, see Spencer Ackerman (who was sitting in front of me, furiously live-blogging the debate) here and here.


spencer said...

Elliot, you are so near the center of power. Spencer Ackerman!

Elliot said...

Indeed. We're I a more ambitious man, I would have gone so far as to introduce myself...