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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Kate Kizer: Five Principles

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

By Kate Kizer

We are at a turning point in progressive politics. In less than a month, a new cohort of progressive leaders may be elected to Congress. Already the largest caucus in the House of Representatives, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is poised to gain even more power within the Democratic Party and have a chance to moving the party left on key foreign policy issues.

While this election cycle has focused on the popularity of progressive candidates’ domestic agenda and their absorption into the Democratic mainstream, there have been numerous lamentations about the limited amount of discourse about progressive foreign policy on the campaign trail.

Progressives already have a starting point from which to develop our international priorities: our values. Progressive values inform our domestic agenda, and there is no need to create a new set of values to inform our foreign policy agenda. Our progressive values don’t stop at the water’s edge and we shouldn’t apply one set of values within our borders and another for our engagement abroad. Instead, we can and should outline a clear vision for progressive foreign policy by applying the same set of values to foreign policy as we apply to domestic policy.

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Patrick Iber: Five Principles

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

By Patrick Iber

Restorative justice

Some theories of foreign policy have given a great deal of attention to when it is appropriate to use American military power abroad—when war might be ‘just.’ It is possible to imagine that this might be a relevant question some day, but in the present scenario this looks to have been a misguided focus. Whether the war in Afghanistan is just is a separate question from whether or not the United States could have even effectively pursued its stated objectives, given its capacities and history.

Rather than focusing on whether particular foreign interventions can be philosophically justified in the abstract, the US needs to recognize that it is a power—an empire—with a particular history. That limits both what it can do and how it should act in the future. It also has a legacy that includes a great deal of harm. The United States needs to accept responsibility for the harm it has caused, not only through its direct actions but by also backing and supporting repressive regimes. To navigate an era defined by revanchist authoritarianism, the United States should embody the world order necessary for its survival and think instead in terms of restorative justice.

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