From the ashes of order, what next?

Traditional American foreign policy is dead. The President of the United States is now fundamentally hostile to the institutional structure of traditional American diplomacy, from his own State Department and intelligence agencies to international organizations like NATO and the WTO that the US has traditionally championed. Republican elected officials  are broadly okay with this, believing it to be a worthwhile trade for its economic and social agenda. And the Republican base thinks it’s awesome, or, at minimum, an acceptable tradeoff for other priorities. So, now what?

The current liberal foreign policy agenda is primarily defensive, an attempt to preserve what is already lost. This is doomed to failure. The rest of the world knows there are going to be future Republican presidents. The GOP was only in exile for one presidential term after Watergate. George W. Bush started a war of aggression based on a lie and served two terms and the Democrats still only had a united government from 2008-2010. Iran-Contra, possibly the closest analogy to the nebulous Trump-Russia scandal, led to no negative electoral consequences for Reagan at all. And given where the GOP base is, they’re highly likely to nominate candidates in the Trumpian mold for the foreseeable future. Thus, unless drastic measures are taken, the next Republican president will take another chunk out of the “Rules-Based Liberal Order” and the next one yet another until there’s nothing to defend at all.

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Fights of Fancy

Consider a novel in which a man must grapple with an advanced new technology to prevent cataclysm. Perhaps he (and it is typically a he) is a member of the military or an intelligence analyst fighting the next world war. He could be a scientist enlisted by the powers that be to help stop some new machine over which they’ve lost control. Or he could covertly wield that device against enemies of the United States foreign and domestic. Perhaps science has already run fully amok and he’s left to reckon with the consequences in a brave new world. This is the technothriller.

The technothriller—alongside true crime, pop history, exploitative detective fiction, and Christian-themed memoir—is a staple of the pallet of hardcover bestsellers at Costco Warehouses across the country, and is likely to remain so. Technothrillers are popular among general audiences, but they’re also notably popular in the world of politics and the military. Former troops and ex-spooks frequently write fiction informed by their careers and politicians like to illustrate the policymaking process with examples from popular culture. Jurassic Park is an easy touchstone for questions of genetic engineering; Tom Clancy is the common man’s military strategist. Recently, political scientists have stated to interrogate the technothriller’s ubiquity in the halls of power.

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Salting the Wound

Last Thursday, Gina Haspel was confirmed as the director of the CIA after a nomination process fraught with questions about her complicity in destroying tapes of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. Democratic senators hemmed and hawed, first displaying support, then retracting it as public opinion ebbed and flowed and questions began to pile up. When it came down to the vote, however, six Democrats broke ranks and voted to confirm, saying that while they did not approve of Haspel’s earlier actions, they were confident that she would no longer partake in such indecorous actions as torture and obstruction of justice. They trusted her to be a guiding hand for the CIA. Another senator cited the lack of accountability for torturers and their enablers, saying that her actions must be held to a “similar standard as previous nominees:” that is to say, none. Confronted with a staggering record of moral apathy, the Democrats and their colleagues choose the easiest option every time: why deal with the weight of the past when it is so crushing and so incriminating?

The Democrats who voted to enable this should feel ashamed. The fact that they do not, and that their statements only show hesitance with regards to public reaction, is as big an indictment as any. They are not capable of feeling the shame that they should when confronted with our country’s horrifying record of terror. Two of the Democrats who voted to confirm Haspel are members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Sens. Manchin and Warner) so supposedly, they are more informed than their colleagues about the actions that the CIA perpetrates in our name. And yet, when brought face to face with the declassified, uncensored truth, they turn away. It hurts their eyes.

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Mend the Gap

While progressive economists and free trade ideologues alike have criticized Trump’s threats of a trade war against China, they caveat and demur when it comes to discussing the White House’s belligerence around the enforcement of intellectual property rights abroad – partly because there is a pervasive sense that emerging economies are engaged in some kind of abusive behavior. But scrutiny around foreign “theft” of intellectual property must take into consideration the broader context of how the underlying system was constructed and what its architects intended. Accordingly, Center for Economic and Policy Research co-founder Dean Baker perceptively reframed the discussion: “The issue here is who set the rules and what is proper payment.”

The fact of the matter is that the neoliberal trade system today reflects power disparities between nations, providing unequal benefits while hobbling efforts to respond to global needs, including food security, climate change mitigation, and improved educational attainment. This is a salient issue for the left, which advocates for shared prosperity through equitable distribution of the means of production – not just within the borders of any one particular country, but also across the world. Here, given the sway of the United States over the World Trade Organization (WTO), the American left is best positioned among global peers to push for change – with advocacy opportunities arising during negotiations of trade agreements that require Congressional ratification and the presidential administration’s participation in multilateral ministerial meetings.

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Remove the Screws and Build Anew

Normalization of relations with other countries is a basic tenet of any left foreign policy for the United States. So too is the idea that climate change poses one of the greatest risks to the planet and unconditional international cooperation will be required to mitigate the damage.  The first is essential if the second is to succeed. Only by fully recognizing and entering into dialogue on equal footing can any further, more transformational policies be open to discussion. Though there are many policy prescriptions regarding these two points, the United States does not have to look far to find a prime example of putting both into practice: Cuba. After the brief honeymoon period following Barack Obama’s 2015 resumption of official diplomatic ties, US-Cuban relations are once again souring. But the upcoming leadership transition means presidential power will soon pass from the Castro family for the first time since the Cuban Revolution. This is a unique opportunity for the United States to demonstrate not only its willingness to accept historical reality by completely normalizing relations, ending the embargo, and closing the base in Guantanamo, but also its commitment to fighting the effects of climate change.

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How Racism Feeds Militarism

While most public opinion research on foreign policy asks the public to evaluate specific policies and interventions, a new working paper by Ohio State political science PhD student and Data for Progress co-founder Jon Green takes the novel approach of measuring support for hypothetical justifications for military intervention against racial attitudes. The research is still in progress, but early returns suggest that being racist — scoring high on a scale Jon calls “Acceptance of Racism” — is associated with increased support for war for oil and attacking terrorist camps. Racism also predicts much lower support for using the military to prevent genocides, support allies, or enforce international law. I spoke with Jon over e-mail to discuss these and other findings, and what they tell us about the future of progressive foreign policy in America.

SR: What do scholars know so far about how people come to their preferences about military intervention?

JG: In general, we know that the public is less supportive of war if they perceive high human costs, and we know that low income communities of color typically shoulder a disproportionate share of those human costs. So in general (though not always), when scholars have looked for a racial dimension to foreign policy attitudes, they’ve found one. Observationally, black citizens became less supportive of the Vietnam War more quickly than their white counterparts. Experimentally, framing opposition to the (then-potential) Iraq War in terms of disproportionate human costs significantly reduced support among black respondents who were high in in-group consciousness (the same experiment found that framing opposition in implicitly as opposed to explicitly racial terms — highlighting the likelihood that war funds would divert resources away from the social safety net — increased support among white respondents who were high in out-group resentment).

With respect to racial attitudes, as opposed to racial identity, most of the work that’s out there has focused on specific conflicts in the Middle East, and not without good reason. Scholars have found both that the targets of American foreign policy in the region are racially constructed, and that support for interventions in the region has consistently been associated with various attitudinal measures that implicate race: value of hierarchy, ethnocentrism, anti-Muslim stereotyping, e.g. However, there’s a growing body of work showing that racial attitudes are becoming increasingly associated with all manner of policy attitudes — from health care to environmental regulation — such that it seemed reasonable to at least check to see if the same sorts of relationships would carry over to uses of military force that less-obviously invoke the Middle East, such as helping the UN uphold international law.

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Disaster by Design

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) was the toast of boardrooms and newsrooms alike in his recent visit to the United States. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates were happy to stooge for the monarch in candid, jolly photo ops.

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos with MbS (Saudi Press Agency)

Those photos are a perfect representation of the US-Saudi relationship when it comes to Yemen – billionaires cheerfully posing for professional photos while thousands starve.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee recently sponsored a bill that would have ended US involvement in the brutal, Saudi-led and US supported imperialist war in Yemen but the legislation didn’t even come up for a vote. Ten Democrats, including recently elected Alabama #resistance hero Doug Jones, flocked to the side of their Republican colleagues to table the bill.

While US lawmakers continue to “resist” the Trump administration through acquiescence, Yemenis – already some of the world’s most impoverished, food insecure people – face US bombs dropped by Saudi pilots, Houthi ordnance, cholera, famine and mass death.   

Who is responsible for what the UN now calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis?

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