The Quartermaster’s Tools and the Quartermaster’s House

When the next executive term is inaugurated on January 21st, 2021, it will have been 19 years, 3 months, and 15 days since the start of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Not since 2008 has the left in the United States had such an opportunity to re-imagine foreign policy from the executive branch. Should a Sanders or a Warren or another left-curious candidate assume the presidency in 2021, they will inherit a massive American security bureaucracy, with key positions waiting to be staffed by political appointees. 

To the extent that there is a bench for foreign policy within the big tent of the Democratic party, it is a bench that is almost exclusively aligned with the pro-intervention sides of both the Obama and Clinton camps, leaving few people of an anti-intervention bent for a president to call on. To better understand how this situation came to be and how it might be mitigated, I spoke over email with Daniel Bessner, a historian of American defense intellectual culture.

Kelsey D. Atherton: Let’s start with the most immediate question: should we get a Sanders or a Warren presidency, and a foreign policy to match, where would those administrations look to hire people into the administration to manage the national security apparatus? 

Daniel Bessner: I think this will be one of the foremost problems confronting a future progressive president. There is simply not a bench for left wing foreign policy thinkers, analysts, and bureaucrats in the same way that there is for conservatives or liberals. This is, in fact, my biggest gripe with the previous generation of left wing thinkers: though they were mostly correct in their moral condemnations of US foreign policy–its imperialism, its brutality, its feigned innocence– they fundamentally misunderstood how power works, at least in the foreign-policymaking realm.

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Political Science

Science diplomacy is part of the basic blocking and tackling of American foreign policy. The State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, for example, manages a US Science Envoy Program and an Embassy Science Fellows Program in an effort to “build relationships and partnerships that advance American foreign policy and scientific priorities”. Yet it is rare to hear any real debate about the role of science in America’s work abroad, or about how science came to be incorporated into the core functions of American foreign policy. Enter Audra Wolfe, a historian whose recent book, Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science covers the rise and consequences of science diplomacy as a tool of the American state and the rationalizations scientists made along the way. I spoke with Dr. Wolfe over e-mail about how the Cold War shaped American science in the 20th century and how effects are still felt today.

Sam Ratner: Your work centers around the idea of “scientific exceptionalism”, which isn’t a concept that we hear a lot in foreign policy discourse. What exactly is scientific exceptionalism, and why does in matter to broader questions of diplomacy?

Audra Wolfe: Scientific exceptionalism is the claim that science — and scientists — somehow exist beyond the reach of politics, and especially international politics. It’s a claim that obviously isn’t true, and yet it is also a core belief among many American scientists. I wanted to figure out why that is, so I dug into the history of American science. What I found kept bringing me back to Cold War propaganda. 

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Fear of a Black Atlantic World Order

Review of Adom Getachew’s Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).

By Alden Young

As the century drew to a close, elites believed themselves to be at the end of history. Many American foreign policy elites had taken for granted the United States’ commitment to economic globalization. From the Clinton era onwards, Democratic Party elites frequently suggested that globalization was an inevitable, irreversible, and ultimately beneficial process. According to Bill Clinton, the championing of globalization was one of the United States’ greatest achievements during the decades since 1945, and while a few rough edges remained, globalization was an unambiguous good for the United States and for the developing world. These narratives about the success of the American project help to explain the shock and outrage that policy wonks expressed when President Trump abruptly reversed course and suggested that globalization was a scam, a project crafted by corrupt elites and designed to rob hard-working Americans of their livelihoods. 

Perhaps Trump’s greatest heresy, in the eyes of the liberal orthodoxy of globalization, was his suggestion that the United States adopt industrial policy in the name of national security and unilaterally use tariffs to seek to preserve and expand America’s economic advantages while arguing that the international market was something that an American president could seek to shape rather than prepare his country’s workforce to adjust to. Crude as his articulation was, it made an explicit claim that markets did not naturally stand apart from politics, but were actively created and shaped by political action.

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A Trade Policy for the Workers Begins from Within

By Yong Kwon

After decades of pushing back against free trade agreements that advanced corporate interests, labor advocates in the United States have developed a reflexive disdain for treaties that expand commercial ties with other countries. As a consequence, the left has shied away from criticizing the Trump administration’s imposition of trade barriers.

This is a mistake. Privileged classes throughout history have employed protectionism and trade liberalization interchangeably to safeguard their economic dominance. Labor must be similarly flexible to counter the malign influence of capital.

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The United States Must Support a Non-American World Bank President

By Daniel Remler

After seven years at the helm of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim announced in January that he would be resigning as president. Since the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were first established after World War II, the United States and Europe have had an informal agreement whereby an American would run the World Bank and a European would run the IMF. True to this pact, President Donald Trump announced the nomination of Treasury official David Malpass as the US nominee. As happened when President Obama nominated Kim in 2012, there were calls for the US to abandon its stranglehold on the World Bank’s top job.

Though Malpass managed to gain enough support from other stakeholders to become president, progressive policymakers can take the opportunity of this transition to make clear that ending the US monopoly on World Bank leadership and supporting leadership for the organization from the developing world must be a priority for the next progressive US president. This policy shift would not only recognize fundamental shifts in the global economy toward developing countries, but also begin to address the institution’s significant shortcomings and help advance progressive economic policy.

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No Universal Prescription for the Universal Condition

By Caleb Weaver

For many viewers, a photograph of Venezuelan protesters preparing to hand out flowers during the February confrontation on the Tienditas Bridge likely evoked the iconic photographs taken during the 1967 March on the Pentagon. For students of social movements, it also provided unmistakable confirmation of the scholarly literature and political playbook from which the Venezuelan opposition is drawing. The eternal return of the flower gesture speaks to the influence that Gene Sharp, Erica Chenoweth, and other political scientists studying civil resistance have gained in the human rights, democracy-promotion, and foreign policy fields. Drawing upon a seemingly bottomless reserve of case studies on Serbia’s Otpor movement, civil resistance literature emphasizes activist strategies and civil society organizations rather than armed struggle or class dynamics as the driver of political change.

Backed by an impressive dataset, Chenoweth and Maria Stephan find that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent ones to achieve independence, regime change, or an end to occupation. The core argument of their 2011 book Why Civil Resistance Works is that nonviolent resistance efforts present lower barriers to entry than do armed struggles and can therefore generate much higher levels of mass participation. This mass mobilization offers protestors a variety of levers with which to force capitulation. Civil resistance scholars argue that whatever benefits movements derive from violence tend to be outweighed by the repression and public disapproval that it invites. They push back, therefore, against studies such as This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed and We Will Shoot Back which argue the presence of an armed wing or violent flank can increase a movement’s chance of success

While leftists energized by the examples of the Russian Revolution, the Black Panther Party, or the Zapatista uprising may bristle at its rejection of ‘violent flanks,’ civil resistance scholarship often overlaps with leftist analysis. To give one example, Sharp, Chenoweth, and others correct the hagiographies that credit mass movements with appealing to their opponents’ conscience or forging moral consensus. Participation is valuable, they argue, for the coercive power that it lends protestors. This conclusion should resonate with leftist observers of the labor movement, who know from the tradition of dockworker militancy that a small group exercising control over a chokepoint in production has a clearer path to success than a universalist effort to convert class antagonists into friends.

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A Dream of Spring

Yanis Varoufakis and the DiEM25 movement are making headlines with their call for a more democratic and just European Union. Varoufakis brings his experience dealing with the EU as the former finance minister of Greece to the table for the European Spring, a European Parliament electoral slate that includes an ambitious and audacious vision for Europe. Their recently-released manifesto can be found here. I spoke with DiEM25’s policy director, David Adler, over email.

Emma Steiner: Tell us a little more about the European Spring.

David Adler: The premise of European Spring is that Europe is ripe for a grassroots transnational movement. The financial crisis of 2008 not only revealed the interconnections between European economies — bound together by a Single Market and, in the case of the Eurozone, a single currency — but also between European democracies. These political dynamics were not pretty, pitting core against periphery, and most memorably, Germans against Greeks. But in the process, they illustrated the extent to which every European country is, for better or worse, bound to every other. In other words, this crisis had the effect of giving birth to a European demos: a single public that — despite differences in class or country — is beginning to understand the role that institutions at the European level play in shaping life at the local level.

All of this to say: our movement has grown out of Europe not because of some sense of European exceptionalism, but because the conditions for transnational politics were most favorable, and most urgent.

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