Magazine article The American Prospect

The Real Foreign-Policy Debate; It's Not Just Democrats vs. Republicans. It's Locke vs. Hobbes. (below the Beltway)

Magazine article The American Prospect

The Real Foreign-Policy Debate; It's Not Just Democrats vs. Republicans. It's Locke vs. Hobbes. (below the Beltway)

Article excerpt

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION is on the verge of making momentous decisions in foreign policy that will shape the country's role in the world for the next quarter-century. Nonetheless, there is an astonishing lack of public discussion of these decisions, particularly among Democrats. Most Democratic senators and House members, intimidated by Bush's popularity, are afraid to discuss, let alone criticize, administration foreign policy. Even Democratic organizations are silent on many issues. Try to find out whether the United States should invade Iraq from the Web sites sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the Campaign for America's Future, or the Progressive Caucus.

The Democratic presidential candidates are no help either. Former Vice President Al Gore's address in February to the Council on Foreign Relations was a model of equivocation. And Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is desperately trying to position himself to Bush's right without committing himself to any substantive proposal. In a recent interview, Kerry descended into parody by admonishing Bush for allowing General Tommy Franks to conduct the war in Afghanistan from Tampa, Florida. "I think that's only one issue of a whole number that have made the next steps much more complicated than they necessarily have to be," Kerry said.

The person who has most tried to articulate a distinctly Democratic foreign policy is Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Some smart-ass Washington journalists dismiss Biden as a lightweight and a blowhard, but he is an earnest man who has been more willing than any other elected Democrat to engage the Bush administration in debate. He has been joined periodically by Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former President Bill Clinton, and some former Clinton administration officials. Their statements have not produced a clear and unambiguous doctrine. But underlying what seem like purely tactical disagreements with specific Bush policies is a dramatically different way of understanding foreign policy.

ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS. Bush's policy toward Israel has been a welter of confusion--on one hand, declaring support for a Palestinian state; on the other, giving assent to the Israeli army's invasion of the West Bank and destruction of the Palestinian Authority, which would govern a new state. A few Democrats, such as New York Senator Charles Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, want the United States to treat Yasir Arafat as a terrorist and throw its entire weight behind Ariel Sharon's attempt to undermine his authority. But most Democrats, including Biden and former Clinton officials, argue that the United States should resume the mediating role it played during the Clinton years. They say it should intervene forcefully on behalf of a plan that combines a cease-fire with concrete steps toward a Palestinian state. And, they contend, it should do so with the active participation of Arab and European states.

What has bothered all of these Democrats has been Bush's refusal to throw America's weight behind a solution. Before September 11, Bush appeared to regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a morass from which the United States should keep its distance. Since then, he has subordinated its resolution to the war against terrorism and the mobilization against Iraq--and only sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region when the conflict threatened to plunge the Arab world into turmoil. Democrats have always believed this conflict's resolution was vital to the United States. A cynic might attribute this belief to the power that Jews wield within the Democratic Party; but it has much more to do with how Democrats envisage America's responsibility in the world than it does with narrow political concerns.

INVADING IRAQ. A few Democrats, including Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, have advocated ousting Saddam Hussein as part of the "first phase" of the war against terrorism. …

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