Reactionary Misinterpretations of the Venezuela Crisis

By Yong Kwon

The UN Refugee Agency chief recently characterized the ongoing migration out of Venezuela as a “monumental” humanitarian crisis. This is all the more tragic as the suffering is completely unnecessary, triggered by government mismanagement. But the situation in Venezuela has been passed off by many in the United States as evidence of socialism’s failure – the consequence of welfare spending and redistribution run amok. In fact, socialism is no more the cause of Venezuela’s disintegration than capitalism was the root of South Vietnam’s collapse.   

The dire situation in Venezuela today is the byproduct of a political system that relies on redirecting public resources to elite stakeholders who support the incumbent government. Blaming the poverty relief programs and subsidies for the poor also fails to take into consideration the long-term structural weaknesses of the Venezuelan state that predate Hugo Chavez.    Continue reading “Reactionary Misinterpretations of the Venezuela Crisis”

Policy from the People, Part 2

By Caleb Weaver

This is the second of a two-part series on foreign policy development in social movements. Part One lays out the case for social movements as the natural home for left foreign policymaking, and Part Two traces the history of foreign policy development in the American labor movement since the end of the Cold War.

After decades of the AFL-CIO pursuing a corporation-friendly foreign policy of “business unionism,” John Sweeney’s election as federation president in 1995 marked a radical change in the way the US labor movement thought about its relationship to the outside world. Richard Trumka, Sweeney’s running mate, announced shortly after their election that “for too many years, ideology has been the chief export of the AFL-CIO…now the chief export and import will be a far more precious and relevant commodity, one called international solidarity.” The move toward international solidarity had a rocky start, but it eventually became the basis of a solidly progressive foreign policy at the AFL-CIO. The federation’s development of the infrastructure for international solidarity points the way for other social movements as they build their own foreign policy apparatuses.

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Hijacking the Pipeline

By Sam Ratner

In January 2017, I was one of four students who founded the Progressive Security Working Group (PSWG) at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. PSWG is a student group that serves as an institutional home for students interested in approaching international security policy from the left of the “Beltway consensus,” connecting them with each other, with professors, and with an external network of professionals who wish to see a new, progressive approach to security policy. Nearly two years on, PSWG is in the hands of a new cohort of students and is only getting stronger. This Wednesday PSWG will host its first conference, entitled “Towards a Progressive US Security Strategy”, bringing students together with leaders in the field like Matt Duss and Heather Hurlburt to discuss the future of left security thought in the wake of the midterm elections. PSWG’s success underlines the large, mostly untapped potential for left-wing organizing at the institutions that train most of America’s foreign policy practitioners: policy schools.

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“Women and Children” Never

A review of Erin Baines’ Buried in the Heart: Women, Complex Victimhood and the War in Northern Uganda (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

By Gretchen Baldwin

Too often, lives touched by violent conflict are neatly divided into binaries—victims and perpetrators, guilty and innocent, state and non-state, and so on. In the policy world, women in conflict are frequently placed in one side of those binaries–understood as innocent victims, inherently inclined toward peace. Those reductive assumptions show through in the oft-repeated phrase “women and children”–the UN Women program in Nigeria, for example, uses a single line of effort to “improve protection for women and children in conflict settings.” The conflation of women and children simultaneously infantilizes women and negates the complexity of children’s issues, and neither the phrase nor the sexist logic that underpins it should have any place in policy discussions. Instead, scholars and policymakers must work to disaggregate these categories and confront the multi-faceted realities of people embroiled in political violence.

A movement to understand conflict outside of the standard victim-perpetrator binary has emerged recently in the study of political violence and transitional justice. One of the movement’s major contributions has been to begin grappling with  “complex victimhood,” an approach that moves “beyond static categories of victim and perpetrator… to recognize contingency and agency within these categories.” Erin Baines, in her book Buried in the Heart: Women, Complex Victimhood and the War in Northern Uganda, strikes a blow against “women and children” framing and demonstrates how thinking about complex victimhood can improve our understanding of women as political actors in conflicts.

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Colloquium: Five Principles for Left Foreign Policy

American foreign policy is nasty, brutish, and short-sighted, but it doesn’t have to be. Policy is a fundamentally mutable thing, and while there are existing structures that will shape and constrain how the United States engages with the world, rarely has so much of of the longtime Beltway foreign policy consensus been up for debate.

Plotting a new path forward in accordance with left values requires left foreign policy leaders to reject  the stance of restrained, technocratic stewardship that defines the self-image of the existing national security state. Instead, left leaders must make explicit how the values that inform their domestic platforms can express themselves in the United States’ actions on the world stage. Extending those values outward is a way to reorient the state, to lessen its power for harm, and to urgently answer the call for international cooperation on issues from combating climate change to arms control.

Below, you will find the first three entries of what we hope will be an ongoing project at Fellow Travelers Blog: leading foreign policy thinkers offering up five principles for left foreign policy. Ours is a project of thinking beyond the narrow confines of perpetuating a forever war, managing hegemonic decline, and preparing for a grim war between nuclear-armed nations. The statements of principles below are presented as possible futures, as guideposts and visions for how elected officials on the left might want to steer policy, and for how people should hold those same policy makers accountable when they act against the interests of people across the world.

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Ro Khanna: Five Principles

An entry in the Fellow Travelers Blog colloquium on principles of left American foreign policy.

By Ro Khanna 

For much of our nation’s history, foreign policy has transcended partisanship. But, in recent times, the bipartisan consensus of the foreign policy establishment has led us into war after war, blunder after blunder. Soon we will be in the middle of the 2020 presidential primary season, and candidates in the Democratic party will be debating Trump’s policies of child separation, the travel ban, climate change and taxes. But what will be our party’s stance on foreign policy? It is my aim to put forward five principles that should guide our party’s foreign policy platform moving forward.

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