Monday, February 24, 2003
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Spring training for Democratic foreign policy advisors
Josh Marshall and Heather Hurlburt have pointed out the gravitas gap in foreign policy expertise among Democrats. This matters because foreign policy will be a critical factor in the 2004 presidential campaign.
Now, thanks to Foreign Policy, we have a chance to rate the main candidates (Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry, Lieberman) foreign policy platforms. How do they stack up so far? Here are my provisional grades, which are based on originality, coherence, and the ability to target Bush's vulnerabilities:
JOHN EDWARDS: I've liked Edwards' previous speeches on foreign policy, so I had high expectations. They weren't met, but there's some interesting stuff here.
He starts off well, explaining the need for a "comprehensive strategy for domestic security." This point manages to underscore his policy emphasis and attack Bush. However, he then goes on to note: "the administration stubbornly clings to permanent tax cuts that will benefit mainly the top 1 percent of Americans while arguing that the government can’t afford vital measures to protect the American people." Note to Edwards staff: I understand what you're going for here, but try to avoid having your candidate sound like Al Gore.
The rest of the essay is too generic. It's not that there's anything wrong with what's being said, it's just lacking in specifics [Be fair, Edwards has given two major foreign policy speeches, and they do have more specifics--ed. Fair point]. I liked the line, "We’ve proved that we have firepower. Now we must show the world that we have staying power." But there's nothing about how exactly an Edwards administration would do this.
The essay does end well: "Getting serious about political reform and human rights in the Middle East will require specific strategies in specific countries, but it will also depend on achieving energy security. Presidents of both parties have tolerated and even supported authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, in part because the United States depends on them for oil. A real commitment to energy independence—which the Bush administration clearly lacks—would not only strengthen the U.S. economy but free the United States to promote American values." The linking of these two issues is both smart politics and smart policy. Overall, Edwards did the best job of linking foreign policy to domestic policy issues, which one would expect of a good Democrat.
Overall grade: B A good start, but room for improvement.
RICHARD GEPHARDT: There's a passage in Primary Colors about the difference between legislators as compared to politicians in the executive branch: "Legislators were a different, somewhat less interesting species." The point was that legislators may be steeped in policy minutae, but leaders have the capacity and the curiosity to innovate.
Gephardt's problem is that he is the quintissential legislator.
This shows up in his essay, which manages to be both bland and wrong, a unique combination. There's an interesting undercurrent about using private sector and civil society forces as a way of generating goodwill abroad, but it's not developed at all. However, he does say, "I am determined to further this tradition of committed leadership and have pursued such a course in international affairs throughout my career."
BWAH HAH HAH HAH !!! Oh, wait, he's trying to be serious. Sorry, I was just flashing back to his 1988 presidential campaign, you know, the one that stressed trade protectionism for one and all.
Beyond that, Gephardt's essay seems blissfully unaware or current events. He attacks the administration for not being pro-Israel enough (?!!). Then he blasts Bush for not doing enough to fight AIDS in Africa. He must have submitted this in early January. Whoops.
Overall grade: F Not ready for prime time.
JOHN KERRY: A pleasant surprise. He starts off by blasting Democrats who believe that foreign policy matters won't be pivotal in the next campaign:
"Democrats must resist a new orthodoxy within our party—a politically stagnating shift that does a disservice to more than 75 years of history. That is the new conventional wisdom of consultants, pollsters, and strategists who argue that Democrats should be the party of domestic issues alone.
They are wrong. As a party, Democrats need to talk about all the things that strengthen and protect the United States. We need to have a vision that extends to the world around us, and we should remember that this vision is as old as our party.... It’s our turn again to talk about things that are hard."
He then does a nice job of advocating more resources for the intelligence services, with specific anecdotes to highlight why such increases are necessary. He muddles through on Iraq, but then gives the best partisan spin on North Korea of all four of the candidates:
"the Bush administration has offered only a merry-go-round policy: Bush and his advisers got up on their high horse, whooped and hollered, rode around in circles, and ended up right back where they’d started. By suspending the talks initiated by the Clinton administration, asking for talks but with new conditions, refusing to talk under the threat of nuclear blackmail, and then reversing that refusal as North Korea’s master of brinkmanship upped the ante, the administration sowed confusion and put the despot Kim Jong Il in the driver’s seat. By publicly taking military force, negotiations, and sanctions off the table, the administration tied its own hands behind its back.
Now, finally, the Bush administration is rightly working with allies in the region—acting multilaterally—to pressure Pyongyang. It’s gotten off the merry-go-round; the question is why one would ever want to be so driven by unilateralist dogma to get on in the first place."
This is a harsh assessment, but I admire the tactics.
Like Gephardt, he stresses the role of non-state actors in assisting U.S. foreign policy. Unlike Gephardt, he actually devotes more than one sentence to it. Ending with a Teddy Roosevelt quote was a nice touch.
Overall grade: A- He's got the chops
JOE LIEBERMAN: The 6th grade English teacher in me liked the crisp and coherent organization of this essay. The foreign policy wonk was either bored or uncertain whether Lieberman knew what he was talking about. Beyond the usual platitudes, his suggestion to "refocus NATO, the world’s greatest military alliance, to apply its might to uproot terrorism." sounds good, but when you think about it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Exactly how is the Belgian Army going to be of use in fighting Al Qaeda?
Then there's this goal: "maintaining the global balance of power must be as high a priority as countering threats from terrorists and rogue nations." Now, surely he doesn't mean that the U.S. should become weaker so that an actual balance exist?
Lieberman deserves some credit for discussing his legislative proposals on democracy promotion and economic liberalization. He seems to get the fact that foreign policy isn't just about guns and bombs. He's unclear on the environment -- read the essay and see if he's advocating rejoining the Kyoto Protocol or not, because I'm still not sure.
Overall grade: C+ An OK first draft, but not fully thought out. Revise and resubmit.posted by Dan on 02.24.03 at 10:25 AM