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”

Policy from the People, Part 2

By Caleb Weaver

This is the second of a two-part series on foreign policy development in social movements. Part One lays out the case for social movements as the natural home for left foreign policymaking, and Part Two traces the history of foreign policy development in the American labor movement since the end of the Cold War.

After decades of the AFL-CIO pursuing a corporation-friendly foreign policy of “business unionism,” John Sweeney’s election as federation president in 1995 marked a radical change in the way the US labor movement thought about its relationship to the outside world. Richard Trumka, Sweeney’s running mate, announced shortly after their election that “for too many years, ideology has been the chief export of the AFL-CIO…now the chief export and import will be a far more precious and relevant commodity, one called international solidarity.” The move toward international solidarity had a rocky start, but it eventually became the basis of a solidly progressive foreign policy at the AFL-CIO. The federation’s development of the infrastructure for international solidarity points the way for other social movements as they build their own foreign policy apparatuses.

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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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