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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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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The How-To Question

A review of Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (Norton, 2018) and Ben Rhodes’ The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House (Random House, 2018).

By Alex Thurston

Recently, there has been some compelling work done to articulate a left foreign policy vision, but there has been little corresponding work on left foreign policy implementation. If a democratic socialist won the White House, how would the left approach the nuts and bolts of foreign policy? Has anyone on the American left run a Deputies’ Committee meeting? Steered a nominee through confirmation hearings? Written talking points for a president?

After all, even a democratic socialist president elected with a large mandate might encounter suspicion and opposition not just from Congress, but also from the military and executive branch agencies – the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and even the State Department. Unlike the bipartisan foreign policy “blob,” moreover, the left’s bench of people with senior executive branch experience is thin. The left has little access to the networks that produce papers such as “Process Makes Perfect” – although the left would do well to study such reports. In short, the best foreign policy vision might falter when faced with the challenges of building effective governing coalitions within the executive branch itself.

One way to examine these problems is through the lens of new memoirs by Obama-era officials. Two books attracted my interest first – Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence and Ben Rhodes’ The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. Continue reading “The How-To Question”