I apologize for inflicting this on you all, but I’ve found that blogging helps me think through ideas and questions—especially given the Duck’s readership. So, without further introduction, here are some half-baked notes on Progressive foreign policy.
The 2016 primary contest highlighted the general atrophy of progressive foreign-policy thought and infrastructure.
- Virtually the entire left and liberal foreign-policy apparatus lined up behind Clinton, whether because of affinity, hope for employment and fear of retaliation, or out of the calculation that she was the only viable game in town.
- Sanders never articulated a coherent foreign-policy paradigm, although you can find it in skeletal terms: multilateralism in most issue areas, a much higher threshold for military force, the rejection of ‘regime change’ as a legitimate basis for war, a rejection of the ‘neoliberal’ trading order, the pursuit of human rights and human security, lower defense spending, and a moderate position with respect to rival—and potentially rival—great powers.
- After Sanders, the Greens attempted to claim the mantle of progressive foreign policy. Too often, this took the form of caricature: the old saw that American foreign policy is essentially imperialist and a tool of large corporations, and therefore anyone who opposes US foreign policy should either be embraced—or, at least, flirted with.
The Trump Administration, on the other hand, is a crucible for progressive foreign policy. It forces us to ask basic questions about what we stand for—independent of specific policies.
- Some of the policies Trump espoused on security—criticism of the Iraq War and the Libyan intervention—and international political economy—opposition to the TPP and to ‘neoliberal’ trade deals—resonated with the progressive left. Both in terms of their own policy priorities—less war, more protectionism—and in terms of their overall distrust of neoliberal variants of internationalism.
- What is neoliberal internationalism? It combines, in brief, a disposition to use force for liberal ends with the ‘Third Way’ consensus. The progressive left often sees it as indistinguishable for neoconservative foreign policy—a view reinforced in 2016 by Clinton’s votes for the Iraq War, history of support for trade agreements, and Bill Clinton’s role in passing NAFTA.
- But this is not quite right. As I’ve argued elsewhere—in the context of liberal internationalism—both approaches embrace activist foreign policy and the promotion of liberal order, neoliberal internationalists see multilateralism and multilateral institutions as intrinsic goods. Neoconservatives do not. The neoliberal institutionalists are correct. One reason: a great many of the challenges we face—such as climate change, global disease, and transnational terrorism— require collective action. That depends on multilateral cooperation.
- Trumpism highlights not only how neoconservatives and neoliberal internationalists are in the same family, but that progressive foreign policy also belongs to that family. This is not to downplay the significance of our differences. For instance, the Iraq War, targeted killings, and the like are matters of life and death. But we are arguing on similar terms. Trumpism, however, represents a stream of thought about the American role in the world that was, until now, marginal—and marginalized—in the post-war era.
- Progressive foreign policy is a variant of liberal internationalism. In 2003, the Progressive Policy Institute released a report calling for “Progressive Internationalism.” I can’t find the full report, but it looks pretty much like centrist democratic foreign policy. But I think “Progressive Internationalism” is the right term for the variant of liberal internationalism that progressives ought to champion.