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The Democratic Challenge

The Democratic ChallengeWhile the Democrats are quick to criticize U.S. President George W. Bush for his handling of the war in Iraq, one Tufts political science professor says they have yet to present a true alternative to the president’s current global strategy.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.26.07] As the United States marks the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, Democratic politicians—looking ahead to next year’s election—are quick to criticize U.S. President George W. Bush for his handling of the conflict. But while the Democrats have positioned themselves as an alternative to Bush, one Tufts political science expert wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed that they have yet to define a global strategy that sets them apart from the country’s current leadership.

“Iraq had flustered the congressional Democrats because Democrats don't have an agreed position on what America's role in the world should be,” Tony Smith, the Cornelia M. Jackson professor of political science at Tufts, wrote in the Post. “They want to change the Bush administration's policy in Iraq without discussing the underlying ideas that produced it.”

According to Smith, the Democrats are riding high on their recent victory in the mid-term election, which propelled them to a majority status in Congress. But without a solid global affairs plan for the United States, he warned that they may not be able to prevail in 2008. If they do, he wrote in the Post, “They could remain staked to a vision of a Pax Americana strikingly reminiscent of Bush's.”

That outcome wouldn’t surprise Smith, who pointed out in his op-ed that if you scratch beneath the surface, there are similarities between “prevailing Democratic doctrine” and the beliefs of the Bush Administration.

“Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, embraced the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since,” Smith wrote. “Even those who have shifted against the war have avoided doctrinal questions.”

Smith explained that, in the past 15 years, many of the dominant Democratic voices on foreign policy issues have been tied to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)—a nonprofit that seeks to “ promote public debate within the Democratic Party and the public at large about national and international policy and political issues,” according to its website. He added that the DLC’s think tank—the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI)—has attacked Bush’s handling of the war, but stopped short of denouncing the invasion itself.

“It has criticized Bush's failure to achieve U.S. domination of the Middle East, arguing that Democrats could do it better,” Smith wrote in the Post. Several prominent Democrats, including 2008 presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, are “PPI stalwarts,” he added.

This breed of Democrat—the neoliberals, as Smith referred to them in his op-ed— emerged after the end of the Cold War with a belief in Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s goal “to make the world safe for democracy.”

In fact, Smith pointed out in the Post, there are traces of neoliberal thought in the Bush doctrine. “These neolibs advocated the global expansion of ‘market democracy,’” he wrote in the Post. “They presented empirical, theoretical, even philosophical arguments to support the idea of the United States as the indispensable nation.”

According to Smith, over time, neoliberals have become “nearly indistinguishable” from neoconservatives. By the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he added, the two schools of thought had “converged into a single ideological family.”

“They agreed that American nationalism was best expressed in world affairs as a progressive imperialism,” he wrote in the Post. “The rallying call for armed action would be promoting human rights and democratic government among peoples who resisted American hegemony.”

It may be difficult for the Democrats to develop a global strategy that is different from Bush’s, according to Smith.

“The challenges to world order are many, as are the influential special interests in this country that want an aggressive policy,” he wrote in the Post. “The nationalist conviction that we are indeed ‘the indispensable nation’ will continue to tempt our leaders to overplay their hand.”

But Smith urged Democrats to remain focused on defining a new global strategy for the United States.

“The danger lies in believing that our power is beyond challenge, that the righteousness of our goals is beyond question and that the real task is not to reformulate our role in the world so much as to assert more effectively a global American peace,” he wrote in the newspaper.

 

 

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