Every Tool Against Autocracy: A Progressive Case for Sanctions

By Neil Bhatiya

In November, Nicholas Mulder took to The Nation to make the case against economic sanctions as a tool of leftist foreign policy. Sanctions, he argued, have a far less effective record than US policymakers’ instinctive preference for them would suggest, and cause more damage to innocent parties than the foreign policy establishment should be comfortable with; in either case, Mulder is skeptical progressive should desire applying them to US adversaries.   

However, in calling for the rejection of sanctions, Mulder is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. When it comes to the left foreign policy goals Mulder rightfully lauds–enforcing international norms on nonproliferation, human rights, and corruption, as well as busting oligarchs, ending tax evasion, and deterring other financial crimes–sanctions are a more realistic and more effective tool than any alternative at hand.

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Ending the Siege

By John Carl Baker

In 2018, the Korean reconciliation process resulted in summits at Panmunjom and Pyongyang, numerous sports and cultural exchanges, the reunion of separated families, a veritable non-aggression agreement between North and South, and yes, an unprecedented meeting between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump. The left has long advocated for greater engagement with North Korea, but President Trump’s prominent role in this opening has many viewing a promising opportunity with dismissiveness and suspicion. Some see it as yet another example of our own aspiring dictator cozying up to established autocrats and other authoritarians abroad. Others regard the process as a substanceless sham to prop up Trump’s poll numbers or distract from the dizzying number of administration scandals at home. Over the past year, Congressional Democrats have often promoted these narratives while offering only tepid support for diplomacy.

These criticisms are not unfounded. Trump is a racist demagogue presiding over an administration of mustache-twirling plutocrats who have made their admiration for repressive regimes quite clear. Trump’s glowing descriptions of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un are in incredibly poor taste and can reasonably be cited as further evidence of his own contempt for human rights and democracy. And the administration undoubtedly exploits diplomacy with North Korea–a rare bright spot in a deeply unpopular and failing presidency–to make it seem like it’s actually accomplishing something.

Yet viewing this historic moment solely through the lens of Trump obscures the broader picture. Together the Koreas have forged an opportunity not only for peace but for addressing the North’s nuclear weapons program, a longstanding US goal. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vision of a simultaneous dual-track process is now underway, with the US leading on nuclear negotiations and the Koreas handling peninsular concerns. Trump may be at the helm of the former by necessity, but he should not be allowed to take center stage in a drama in which he is at best a supporting character. Foregrounding Trump negates the agency of those on both sides of the demilitarized zone – and risks spurning left solidarity with the Moon administration in favor of scoring minor partisan points.

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Development Aid from the Left: The Case for Fair Trade

By Dustin Johnson

While many of us likely think of fair trade as a label on coffee and chocolate indicating that it was produced under better and fairer conditions than the average batch, it is a much more radical project than that. Fair trade is rooted in the idea that people who produce goods, whether they are farmers or artisans or miners, should be able to live comfortably from their labor and choose how best to invest in the improvement of their community. To ensure this, fair trade systems set a guaranteed minimum price that producers will receive when they sell their products, thereby providing stability and insulating them from global market fluctuations. Most systems also include a premium, or additional price per unit, which the producers use to improve their production, support education, improve health and sanitation, or otherwise benefit their community.

Development policy, left and otherwise, is often segregated from the labor power considerations at the heart of fair trade systems. Yet a left approach to development must consider not just living conditions in the global South, but power relations both within the South and between North and South. One way for a left international development policy in the global North to expand worker power around the world is to expand support for fair trade producers and systems.

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On Yemen, the Right Choice Is the Popular One

By Jeb Boone and Sean McElwee

This article is a joint production of Data For Progress and Fellow Travelers Blog, drawing on data from Data For Progress’s What The Hell Happened project. The project conducted nationwide polls in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2018 midterms to explain the dynamics that drove the election. Among the topics polled was support for American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and the results point to a clear path forward for left wing leadership in Congress to lead on this crucial foreign policy issue.

Horrific images of dead children and maimed, lifeless bodies from Yemen scroll past American eyes on a daily basis and, according to new polling data, Americans are becoming more and more aware that their own government is playing a key role in doling out destruction in Yemen.

And they want the US to end its role in that war.

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Irregular Budget Warfare

By A. Grande Strategy

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez entered into the thorny realm of defense budgetary politics yesterday. She tweeted out, in response to an article by David Lindorff in The Nation on fraudulent accounting practices in the Defense Department, that the “$21 [trillion] in Pentagon accounting errors” could help fund “66% of Medicare for All…before our premiums.” Centrist blob and conservative trolls alike rushed to the scene screaming “Achshually!”, pointing out that the errors found by the audit do not translate to immediate funds that could be reprogrammed for Medicare for All. The naysayers are correct – accounting errors are not the same as undisclosed liquid assets. Yet this venal error obscures Ocasio-Cortez’s broader point, that defense budgets are held to a far-lower standard of oversight than any other form of discretionary spending. The opacity of the Pentagon’s budget is a weapon purpose-built to undermine those who seek to shift priorities in government spending, and only Congressional oversight can even the odds.

Here’s why Washington should let go of its obsession with providing oversight of Ocasio-Cortez’s twitter account and redirect that energy towards the Department of Defense:

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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”