Another "typical" reflection over at America Abroad - this time by Ivo Daalder - on the need to come up with a Democratic "credible alternative" to Bush's foreign policy. I've been hearing various arguments on this topic from Democrats for a long time and it is tiresome.
For one thing, we need to be precise about why we need a "credible alternative." Daalder writes,
For the most part, Democrats have been good at criticizing the administration for its multiple failures -- ignoring intelligence that suggested the WMD threat was much less dire than officially depicted, botching the diplomacy in the lead-up to the war, failing to plan for its aftermath, refusing to send enough troops to secure the country after the war, and refusing to bring in the rest of the world to help rebuild Iraq. All these were and are valid criticisms. But as John Kerry found out, they never added up to a credible alternative to Bush's policies.Daalder then proceeds to vet some arguments about which options in Iraq will be succesful on the ground.
I think it is quite a stretch of the imaginagtion to say that Kerry lost because his criticisms did not amound to a "credible alternative." This is not nitpicking; rather, this goes to the heart of the reason why Democrats need to formulate a credible alternative. There are two reasons. The first is electoral; the second is intellectual.
It might be argued that electorally, the Democrats need a catchphrase or a grand vision they can communicate to the voters. This is how Daalder justifies his essay; but then, after his initial justification, he completely forgets the election politics and begins to consider whether this or that strategy would be succesful on the ground. But this, of course, is irrelevant. If you are interested in selling a set of strategies to your typical apathetic voter, it is more or less irrelevant whether they would work in practice. Presidents rarely take flack for deviating from their campaign rhetoric on foreign policy.
On the other hand, intellectually, there is no need for Democrats to come up with a grand vision. In reality, there is little disagreement for the moment between Democrats and Republicans on how to proceed. Any president would do well to defer military policies in Iraq to the commanders on the ground. Beyond that, there is little to say: exit strategy good, early withdrawal bad, training Iraqis good, elections good, insurgents bad. That pretty much covers it.
The point is, there is nothing intellectually wrong with saying Democrats support Bush's current foreign policy, minus the lying, minus the fuckups, with a slightly more idealistic mix of democracy promotion vs. realism, and a greater desire to cooperate with other nations.
Now this may not play well with the voters and if you'd like to spend your days figuring out how to be a salesman for a "Democratic foreign policy," be my guest. But its simply confused to use electoral politics to justify the need for a new approach, as Daalder does, and then proceed to give a purely intellectual analysis without bothering to think at how it will play with the voters.