Policy from the People: Introductions

Next month, Fellow Travelers Blog will join with Win Without War to launch a project on grassroots movements for progressive foreign policy. A core priority of progressive foreign policy is democratizing US foreign policy. As such, the new series will bring voices from across the US progressive movement to the blog to discuss the role foreign policy plays in their activism. More than anything, this series will help debunk the Washington myth that everyday people in the United States don’t care about issues of foreign policy and national security. 

Win Without War’s friends and partners, representing many of the activist groups that form the beating heart of the progressive movement, will publish a new essay each month exploring the deep connections between issues that have too long been siloed as “foreign” and “domestic” and detailing the benefits and challenges their organizations experience engaging with the foreign policy world. Whether a consideration of American gun violence in the context of the global arms trade or a reflection on how environmentalists engage with military pollution, the essays will give readers a sense of where the progressive movement actually stands in their foreign policy work, and what we can do to continue to build an internationalist perspective into our advocacy for a more just and equitable policies here at home.

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November Revolution: A People’s Foreign Policy Will Win in 2020

This is the first edition of November Revolution, a monthly column from Pam Campos-Palma on foreign policy in the 2020 election.

By Pam Campos-Palma

In 2016, a right wing populist celebrity billionaire whom the establishment treated as a joke won his first election, in large part by treating themes of defense and security as a “bread and butter issue.” Four years later, it’s election time again. The United States has endured political trauma, asymmetrical polarization, and a corrupt, nationalist incumbent who has aggressively executed his neo-fascist agenda in the intervening years, but the centrality of foreign policy to President Trump’s message hasn’t changed. 

A president’s powers are least constrained in areas of international affairs and security, and Trump has used that flexibility to deliver on some of his most chilling campaign promises. He has exonerated war criminals, pencil-whipped an entire new military branch, instituted multiple and repeated discriminatory bans of entire classes of people based on their identities, gutted the State Department, ramped up for war with Iran– and the list goes on.  In this consequential election, foreign policy will play an outsized role, and Democrats must assert a bold vision that contests Trump’s jingoistic, nationalist agenda and rejects the corporate, war hawk status quo of the past. 

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On Chile in America’s Winter of Discontent

By Yong Kwon

Mass protests in Chile caught many US observers by surprise last October. The foreign policy establishment in Washington had looked to the Latin American republic as a beacon of stability. In addition to its peaceful transition to democracy after 17 years of military rule, the country was one of the strongest economic performers in the region. Yet much like the United States, an outward sense of economic growth and procedural stability masked rising inequality, a hollowing-out of the welfare state, and the displacement of citizens from the decision-making process. 

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An Indyktment of the Blob

By Lawrence Philby

The Blob likes to think of itself as a vast marketplace of ideas – think tanks, academics, pundits and politicians each offering their thoughts on the best course for US foreign policy, with the best of the lot winning out.

Yet this marketplace is governed less by the content of the ideas themselves and more by the intellectual pedigree of those expressing them. The same familiar faces debate the same general worldview, shrugging off outside perspectives unless couched in such a way as to preclude any real change.

To the blob, radical change proposed by outsiders is unrealistic, mere fantasies put forward by individuals who can’t see the big picture. Even the Blob can wobble under the strain of its own fatigue, however, as evidenced by the world-weary jeremiad that Martin Indyk published in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, January 17th.

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War Crimes Are Inevitable in the Forever War State

By Lawrence Philby

The anti-democratic nature of the US national security apparatus is why we’re in this mess, and preventing future escalation spirals requires changing not just who is in power, but how power works at the highest levels.

To be clear – and don’t let the reams of ex post facto justification distract you – this is fucking nuts.

It would be nuts even if it were President Cool Hand Luke at the helm to give the go-ahead for the assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani and not President 10-Flush Toilets.

It would be nuts even if it were the result of careful consideration and not Donald Trump picking “D – all of the above” on a hastily prepared multiple-choice policy planning document.

If would be nuts even if the Trump administration had a follow-up plan beyond talking shit on Twitter and dragooning government communications accounts to extoll the litanies of hate.

The United States should not be in the business of assassinating foreign leaders abroad on the flimsy pretext of undefined “terrorist” threats.

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The Petty Profiteers of Iraq’s Reconstruction

By Zack Kopplin

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, has refused to share meaningful details of his work for McKinsey & Company. He said the consultancy won’t release him from a nondisclosure agreement, although McKinsey did clear him to release the names of his clients. So far, Buttigieg has only provided the names of his clients empty summaries of his assignments, like grocery pricing in Canada and economic development in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I served a US government department in a project focused on increasing employment and entrepreneurship in those countries’ economies,” he said about the latter project. But client names and summaries aren’t enough.

These projects, especially the ones in built on war profiteering in low-oversight environments like the Middle East and Central Asia, require real transparency.

Internationally, McKinsey is known for serving dictators and advising clients to pay bribes, but Buttigieg believes the public should trust he avoided conflicts of interests and corruption. “I never worked on a project inconsistent with my values,” he said in a statement. That may be, but his work in Iraq put him a few connections away from deals with sketchy oligarchs. Voters shouldn’t have to take his word that he kept his hands clean.

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After a Siege

American forces in Iraq laid siege to Fallujah twice in 2004. When the smoke cleared at the end of that year the city on the Euphrates lay in ruins. Months of shelling, airstrikes, and house-to-house fighting damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of buildings—including countless homes, shops, schools, and mosques. Most of the approximately 300,000 inhabitants fled their homes, remaining displaced long after the sieges ended, but others were not so lucky. There is no precise body count of Iraqis who perished during the attack, but the figure is likely somewhere over 1,000. The city never recovered from the assault, falling prey to ISIS in 2014, and then another brutal Iraqi-government led siege in 2016.

The Sacking of Fallujah, published in April 2019, is an unusual history of these three sieges. The book is the product of years of work by six contributors inside and outside of Iraq. Personal essays and collected testimony of people marked by the destruction of the city are interposed between the chapters of a chronological narrative. In one affecting essay, Ross Caputi, one of the book’s credited authors, describes his participation in the second siege as a Marine and his gradual disillusionment with the war in Iraq. After leaving the military Caputi became involved in anti-war work and eventually co-founded the Islah Reparations Project, which provides resources to Iraqis and Palestinians in need.

With the fifteen-year anniversary of the 2004 sieges of Fallujah in mind, I reached out to Caputi to request an interview. We discussed The Sacking of Fallujah, his shift in perspective on American foreign policy, and his views on reparations and international solidarity.

Michael Youhana: Can you talk about the timeline of events encompassed in your book? 

Ross Caputi: The Sacking of Fallujah offers a little bit of background information on the city’s early 20th century anti-colonial struggles against Britain. The impact of the 1991 Gulf War and UN Security Council sanctions on Fallujah’s residents is also discussed. But the core of the book starts out in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq. The book describes the two American-led sieges of the city in 2004. It also discusses the more recent operation against ISIS in Fallujah in 2016 and the really difficult position residents of Fallujah find themselves in today. 

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The Quartermaster’s Tools and the Quartermaster’s House

When the next executive term is inaugurated on January 21st, 2021, it will have been 19 years, 3 months, and 15 days since the start of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Not since 2008 has the left in the United States had such an opportunity to re-imagine foreign policy from the executive branch. Should a Sanders or a Warren or another left-curious candidate assume the presidency in 2021, they will inherit a massive American security bureaucracy, with key positions waiting to be staffed by political appointees. 

To the extent that there is a bench for foreign policy within the big tent of the Democratic party, it is a bench that is almost exclusively aligned with the pro-intervention sides of both the Obama and Clinton camps, leaving few people of an anti-intervention bent for a president to call on. To better understand how this situation came to be and how it might be mitigated, I spoke over email with Daniel Bessner, a historian of American defense intellectual culture.

Kelsey D. Atherton: Let’s start with the most immediate question: should we get a Sanders or a Warren presidency, and a foreign policy to match, where would those administrations look to hire people into the administration to manage the national security apparatus? 

Daniel Bessner: I think this will be one of the foremost problems confronting a future progressive president. There is simply not a bench for left wing foreign policy thinkers, analysts, and bureaucrats in the same way that there is for conservatives or liberals. This is, in fact, my biggest gripe with the previous generation of left wing thinkers: though they were mostly correct in their moral condemnations of US foreign policy–its imperialism, its brutality, its feigned innocence– they fundamentally misunderstood how power works, at least in the foreign-policymaking realm.

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Political Science

Science diplomacy is part of the basic blocking and tackling of American foreign policy. The State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, for example, manages a US Science Envoy Program and an Embassy Science Fellows Program in an effort to “build relationships and partnerships that advance American foreign policy and scientific priorities”. Yet it is rare to hear any real debate about the role of science in America’s work abroad, or about how science came to be incorporated into the core functions of American foreign policy. Enter Audra Wolfe, a historian whose recent book, Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science covers the rise and consequences of science diplomacy as a tool of the American state and the rationalizations scientists made along the way. I spoke with Dr. Wolfe over e-mail about how the Cold War shaped American science in the 20th century and how effects are still felt today.

Sam Ratner: Your work centers around the idea of “scientific exceptionalism”, which isn’t a concept that we hear a lot in foreign policy discourse. What exactly is scientific exceptionalism, and why does in matter to broader questions of diplomacy?

Audra Wolfe: Scientific exceptionalism is the claim that science — and scientists — somehow exist beyond the reach of politics, and especially international politics. It’s a claim that obviously isn’t true, and yet it is also a core belief among many American scientists. I wanted to figure out why that is, so I dug into the history of American science. What I found kept bringing me back to Cold War propaganda. 

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