Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why the Democrats should reclaim democracy (Jackson Diehl)

A column in the Washington Post with some news that sounds potentially encouraging:
Though you'd never know it from surfing the Internet, there exists in the Democratic Party a substantial body of politicians and policymakers who believe the U.S. mission in Iraq must be sustained until it succeeds; who want to intensify American attempts to spread democracy in the greater Middle East; and who think that the Army needs to be expanded to fight a long war against Islamic extremism.

Their problem isn't only that some people (mostly Republicans and independents) don't believe they exist. Or that the flamers at would expel them from the party if that were possible. They also face the formidable task of rescuing what they believe is a quintessentially Democratic policy agenda from the wreckage of the Bush administration, so that a future president can do it right. [....]

This is about a coalition of mostly younger foreign affairs professionals who held mid-level positions at the State Department and the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and who have spent the past several years formulating a distinctly Democratic response to the post-Sept. 11 era -- as opposed to a one-dimensional critique of President Bush or Iraq. [....] This month they published a fascinating book that lays out what the foreign policy of a winning campaign by one of those Democrats -- or perhaps Hillary Clinton -- could look like. Sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute, which is an outgrowth of the Clinton-friendly Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), it's called "With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty.

Like most of its authors, editor Will Marshall, a DLC founder who now heads the policy institute, sees himself as reviving the foreign policy of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, who formulated the Democratic response to the totalitarian menace of communism. Jihadism, Marshall says, requires a similar exercise of intellectual muscle. "Democrats have always been at our best when we have defended democratic values against illiberal ideologies," Marshall told me last week. "When we do that we can appeal to a broader public, not only at home but globally." [....]

Unfortunately, [Kenneth] Pollack and his fellow Democrats acknowledge, no liberal policy in the Middle East will work if Iraq fails. While Democrats differ over whether the invasion was right, notes an introduction by Marshall and Jeremy Rosner, both national interests and national honor demand that "we not abandon the Iraqi people to chaos and sectarian violence."

"The fact that President Bush and his team have mismanaged virtually every aspect of postwar reconstruction does not justify an immediate or precipitous withdrawal," they say. "Instead we should rally the American people for an extended and robust security and reconstruction presence."
Absolutely right!

I will have to read the book to see how much I actually agree with it (and I have to admit that the initials DLC make me a little nervous). But so far, this sounds pretty good to me. And if the 2008 Presidential election should turn out to be a contest between Hillary Clinton and John McCain--something that doesn't look entirely impossible, though I wouldn't bet on it--then this program might even turn out to be a realistic option. (The rest of this column is here.)

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub