Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PROGRESSIVE REALISM....Last week I skimmed through Robert Wright's New York Times op-ed about a new school of foreign policy he calls "progressive realism." I wasn't able to make much sense out of it, however, so yesterday I read through it more carefully. I still find the writing a bit muddled and opaque, but I think I understand the outline of what he's saying. Here's my nickel summary:

  • The world is interconnected enough that "national interest" includes a lot of things it didn't used to include. Keeping countries from becoming failed states and terrorist havens, for example, is clearly in our national interest.

This sounds a lot like neoconservative idealism, but two things make it "progressive":

  • A strong belief that promoting economic liberty is the best way of promoting political liberty. This means support for globalization and free trade. Human rights activists and labor unions will object to this, but they can be brought on board by agreeing to give international bodies the authority to regulate not just trade, but also things such as labor and environmental issues.

  • A renewed devotion to international institutions such as arms control regimes and the United Nations. As Wright puts it, "the national interest can be served by constraints on Americas behavior when they constrain other nations as well." However, the extent to which we should bind ourselves to these institutions is left a bit fuzzy.

Unfortunately, the rest of the essay is oddly disconnected from these main points, especially since it never really addresses head on the problem of non-state terrorist groups. It's also less persuasive than it would be if Wright had presented some examples of past events in which progressive realism has been a success.

In any case, I think Wright has mainly jumped on the bandwagon of trying to figure out new ways of presenting and labeling good old fashioned liberal foreign policy. Peter Beinart did much the same in The Good Fight. The main difference is that Beinart took his cues from Reinhold Niebuhr while Wright takes his from Hans Morgenthau with a hat tip to Norman Angell.

But that's OK. If rebranding helps to sell common sense, then we should rebrand away. We're still looking for our Boswell, though.

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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Comments

Frist? Yes!

Posted by: SS on July 23, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Progressive realism is a delightful contradiction in term. I look forward to the sequels, "progressive family values" (only gays get married, everybody has abortions), "progressive churches" (God may exist... but we're not sure), and "progressive talk radio" (oh wait, already exists and is a miserable failure).

It's interesting that liberals are still trying to run away from the label liberal with things like progressive. It's even more interesting that rather than come up with new ideas, they try to repackage things that have already failed. Hey, Jimmy Carter is still alive... why not try to run him again Dems? Plenty of time until the democrat party chooses a candidate for '08, and Kos would probably say it's okay.

Posted by: American Hawk on July 23, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

It certainly is odd to hear all this talk of liberty coming from the most servile people in the world. Or the talk of "economic liberty" coming from a society in which that is the liberty to open a drive-thru expresso stand.

Nor, in fact, is it clear that "liberty" is what is wanted. For example, should the response to global warming include an unregulated stock market selling shares in "private-enterprise" solutions, and a freedom from government regulation of emissions?

And just how is this thrust for liberty reconciled with the World Bank, IMF, and other coercive collusions that made such a wreck of the past 30 years of development in the third world?

In short, I suspect the main value of the article cited might be as a guide to what won't happen and wouldn't be a solution. Certain it is that we face momentous changes in the years to come, among them will be the discovery that we are no longer a world leader, or obligated to impose our "solutions" on less enlightened folk.

In case you haven't noticed, Brazil, a country that threw off a dictatorship we supported and helped install (that good ol' liberal foreign policy) is now exporting a super-small car, the Brio, to the U.S.. The kind of car that American auto companies cannot even conceive making.

The torch has passed.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 23, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

His take on free trade is pure bullshit. Free trade does not promote freedom, it does the exact opposite.

Let me use China as an example.

If China ever becomes a democracy, the people might demand that their elected officials pass minimum wage, worker safety, and environmental protection laws. If China ever allows its people to have basic human rights such as freedom of speech, workers might actually get together and form a (gasp!) union. Does anyone think that multinational corporations really want these things in China (or anywhere else for that matter)?

For multinational corporations, China's repugnant human rights record is a feature, not a bug.

I assume Wright support NAFTA, the WTO, PNTR with China and every other free trade agreement/organization that has lacked enforceable protections for workers. He only supports labor and enviormental protections as an inconvenient sop to workers and environmentalists.
Sleazebags like this have no right to call themselves "progressive".

Posted by: Anonymous on July 23, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Hawk, I'm a compasionate conservative.

Posted by: santa on July 23, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Last week I skimmed through Robert Wright's New York Times op-ed about a new school of foreign policy he calls "progressive realism."

This is contradictory because liberals can't be realists in foreign policy. Liberals believe in coddling and appeasing the terrorists which only make them stronger and America weaker.

Look at Bill Clinton. After Al-Qaeda attacked the USS Cole, Clinton didn't declare war on Al-Qaeda but instead tried to make it a matter for the police to handle. This lead Al-Qaeda to believe America was weak and because of that 9/11 happened. In North Korea, Clinton and Albright signed treaties, made deals, and threw parties for North Korea. Because of that, North Korea believed America was weak and launched the tae Dong missle. It is only because Bush's missle defense system destroyed the Tae Dong was America protected from being hit. Liberals have shown over and over again they con't protect America from the terrorists like Al-Qaeda and North Korea.

Posted by: Al on July 23, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

It's the rebranding. For example he portrayed the need for the US to have allies as a way to stop other countries with "free riding" on our valiant efforts. As if we could succeed without them. I'm fine with this way of speaking. It seems well crafted to appeal to the kind of voter who can never ask for directions when lost.

As for non-state actors, they're annoying but other countries have lived through worse threats than what we're facing now. The obvious way to take out Osama Bin Laden is to strengthen our alliances with other states. Eventually we can collectively put enough pressure on Pakistan so they'll allow an international force to go in and get him. Repeat for other terrorist leaders.

In the meantime, our priority, along with alliance building, should be stopping nuclear proliferation and reducing the dangers of a weapon getting into the hands of non-state actors. It is absolutely worth our making bold moves, including dramatically cutting our nuclear stockpiles, if it means we can get other states to cut or eliminate theirs. This should be a no-brainer. We have more nukes than anyone else. We don't want to use them in combat. Using them as bargaining chips would actually increase our power, relative to other states, while making the world a safer place and generally better for business.

Posted by: TomB on July 23, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

His ideas on trade are pie in the sky. It's easy to see why transnational and other corporations support free trade, and they are the ones pushing it. But environmental and labor regulation? Not in their interests, unless they are enlightened enough to support regulation on the premise that it is better to have something predictable they have input into and better to have a level playing field for responsible corporations. But without the strong popular support we saw in the '60s and '70s, they don't fear excessive regulation at all. So nothing will happen, because the forces that support such regulation are too weak. That, of course, may lead to extra-legal means to try to get regulation in many countries, but since we can't see that reasonable regulation is in our national interest, that's the way it probably goes.

Posted by: Mimikatz on July 23, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Wright attempts to rescue (Tom) Friedmanism from its own internal contradictions. The problem is that the horse got out of that barn several years ago. There's nothing left to do but hunker down and hope for the best.

The next administration will be occupied with repairing, if it can, the credibility and trust of American economic and diplomatic power. But the "magic moment" (in Clinton's formulation) is over. There is simply no way to embrace the emergence of new multipolar realities - Russia, China, Iran, and India. Yes, we remain the "indispensible nation". Unfortunately, the world is moving on leaving us with that tarnished crown and the harsh morning light.

Posted by: walt on July 23, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

"A strong belief that promoting economic liberty is the best way of promoting political liberty."
--from the main post

This is rather backwards, don't you think? Economics is just the mechanics of how wealth and rewards are distributed throughout society. Politics is what designs the system of rewards and privilege in the first place. To say that economic liberation leads to political liberation is putting the cart in front of the horse.

Posted by: Bolo on July 23, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

HUH?!?!

Increased devotion to the UN; is this the UN that was responsible for us having to invade Iraq? You do get that right? The reason the UN sanctions did not work is that only the Iraqi people suffered. Saddam was making money hand over first through UN corruption. And it would be "progressive" to put more faith in the UN? When they are raping children they are supposed to be feeding and walking away from every resolution they pass and putting serial murdering states on their human rights commission, they are stabbing us in the back the way only a "friend" can. And yet the Regressive-Democrats want to put US foreign policy more under the influence of this den of snakes?

Kofi Annan is the man to see to get a Mercedes for cost in Africa; that's it.

Otherwise, this "progressive realism" seems like boilerplate GOP politics.

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on July 23, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

AL - YOU RULE!

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on July 23, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

AMERICAN HAWK:

Great idea: for the Dems in '08. A Jimmy Carter-Hugo Chavez ticket; they already have an excellent relationship. Cindy Sheehan can be Secretary of State. Instead of "Return to Normalcy" the motto can be "Regress to the late 70s", before these Reagan and post-Reagan 25 years of economic boom and successful stalwart foreign policy.

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on July 23, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

He only supports labor and enviormental protections as an inconvenient sop to workers and environmentalists.
Sleazebags like this have no right to call themselves "progressive".

This is why there is never good discussion on issues of trade. You can be for trade liberalization and labor/environmental protections. Yet the left often portrays those two as mutually exclusive while the right plays along using that artificial construction since most people do favor liberalization--for moral and economic reasons. Those who want to expand trade but have some common sense guidelines for labor/human rights often get sidelined by the David Sirotas of the world.

Posted by: gq on July 23, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a big fan of Robert Wright, and this is entirely consistent with his previous work. His political philosophy is the most articulate and sensible of any that I have encountered.

For those not familiar with his past work, Wright was right about the Iraq War, and argued persuasively against it in a series of letters in Slate back in late 2002. (On the other side was Jeffrey Goldberg of the "New Yorker".)

I don't see his message as being muddled at all. Maybe because I understand his philosophy, having read his book "NonZero".

Kevin states:

It's also less persuasive than it would be if Wright had presented some examples of past events in which progressive realism has been a success.

I would say that progressive realism worked well in Kosovo and in the first Iraq War. These were multilateral intervention that worked to the benefit of the United States (realistic), while helping to oust dictators (Saddam from Kuwait, Milosevic from Kosovo).

Wright is right -- we liberals need to embrace self-interest. Yet self-interest cannot be separated from morality and idealism. There is no going back to the "good old days." Globalization must be adapted to better meet our interests. That is the only realistic way forward -- to progress...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Here's an excerpt from a Robert Wright column in October 2002:


Goldberg succeeds in establishing that Saddam Hussein is the nastiest leader on the world stage today. Then again, there's always someone who holds that title, but America hasn't ever made that a sufficient cause for warnot even when the person is "by far" the nastiest on the stage. One reason is that American foreign policy has generally been in the hands of people who consider the consequences of their actions. Goldberg, in contrast, doesn't even address the possible downside of warexcept, obliquely, in his aforementioned assurance that war in the Middle East won't breed any hatred.


I suspect Goldberg is proud of the absence of cost-benefit calculations from his analysis. His is a moral argumenthe uses the words "moral" or "morality" five times in his post, with a dollop of "evil" thrown in for good measure. Of all the annoying undercurrents and overtones of the pro-war rhetoric, this is the one that annoys me the most: the suggestion that those of us who are clinically weighing all the possible downsides and upsides of war, rather than spending all our time marveling at how evil Saddam is, are being something other than moral. When I think about war in Iraq, I think about the long-term results in terms of human suffering and human fulfillment. I consider that a morally grounded framework. The fact that, within that framework, I try to be rational, rather than employ the Iraq hawks' tone of pre-emptive outrage (a tone that is also used on the anti-war left), is not something I'm ashamed of. I agree that Saddam Hussein is a terrible man. The question is how you end his terror without creating lots more terror.

Wright is not about shallow rebranding. He's about being realistic, and being clear that realism is moral...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Here's more of what Wright had to say in 2002. And it's not that far from what Tom Friedman and others had to say. But Wright has not equivocated as Friedman has. Wright's message is not muddled...


Of course, preventing slaughter is a worthy cause regardless of whether you call the slaughter genocide. If a war would save 100,000 innocent Kurds, most Americans would support it and very few would care about the technical terminology. The trouble is that these Kurds have been dead for more than a decade, and war won't bring them back. So if Goldberg's "never again" argument is to justify a war, it has to do so in a roundabout way: Punishing Saddam Hussein will show future leaders that they can't get away with wholesale slaughter. That's a valid goalagain, regardless of what label you apply to Saddam's crimebut it doesn't have the same urgency as stopping slaughter. If the point of a war is just to punish one man for the sake of posterity, then an American president can afford to be prudently circumspect: weigh the costs, choose the time and place carefully, maybe even maneuver Saddam into a courtroom, as we finally succeeded in doing with Slobodan Milosevic.

Wright addresses head-on the misconception that progressives are unrealistic...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

I almost always agree with Kevin. But whose communication is muddled here:


Wright takes his from Hans Morgenthau with a hat tip to Norman Angell.


But that's OK. If rebranding helps to sell common sense, then we should rebrand away. We're still looking for our Boswell, though.

I'm a reasonably literate person, but I'm completely clueless with regard to Hans Morgenthau, Norma Angell, and Boswell (not to mention Neibuhr and Beinart). What's clear to me is that Wright is right -- progressive-ness and realism go well with success...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

There are so many variables in foreign policy that any ultimate vision for foreign policy would likely be contradicted.

What liberals should do, instead of seeking one ideological blanket to sweep every foreign policy challenge under, is to use their judgement to facilitate specific strategies to achieve victory in the crises we face: the global radical Islamist insurgency, global warming, the threats to U.S. security posed by nuclear proliferation.

American history is full of examples where national interest and morality conflict, but this does not necessarily happen all or even most of the time.

For example, global warming and greenhouse gases. The U.S. should reject the Kyoto Protocol, but should propose its own treaty, in which China (which was not held accountable by the Protocol) would be forced to cut greenhouse gases along with the U.S. and other developed countries. Then, if the measure fails, the U.S. would be in a stronger position to cast China as the bad guy on the environment to the international community. We serve our moral interests by protecting the environment, and we serve our national interest by giving China two options: be hampered by regulations, or become more isolated.

Posted by: brian on July 23, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

That China would not be as able as us to grow their economy under regulations that global warming prevention would require could possibly result in a strategic gain for us.

Posted by: brian on July 23, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

brian --

You have some specific ideas which could certainly fit within the umbrella of progressive realism. The key is that we need to work (make progress) via international agreements and institutions...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

There's a small flaw. Economic free trade is often a code word for the kinds of policies that destroy unions. And unions are often the biggest force, and usually a crucial one in political battles with authoritarian governments.

Perhaps progressives could include support for unions overseas as a key plank of their foriegn policy?

Its a domestic political winner too. I am sure that supporting anything that gets Chinese wages up is going to win a lot of votes.

Posted by: still working it out on July 23, 2006 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yep. It is just a new package for common sense.

But better that than lack of common sense.

Posted by: Armando on July 23, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

As to the argument that international trade promotes free institutions, reread the last chapter of Animal Farm and compare it to China today. Selling prisoner's organs for transplant is the ultimate in "free trade."

I could be snarky about the left's continuing fantasy life projected on the UN and international institutions: I'll just say that Wright would have a lot more credibility on that issue if he advocated a tough love approach to the radical, fundemental reforms needed to make his position plausible. Instead I'm confident he see's John Bolton as the problem rather than the solution.

Posted by: minion of rove on July 23, 2006 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

In any case, I think Wright has mainly jumped on the bandwagon of trying to figure out new ways of presenting and labeling good old fashioned liberal foreign policy.

It's just the same old Clinton-era neoliberal internationalism. It contains these two points of emphasis:

1. Because we live in a new globalized age where everything is holistically and magically interconnected, and states are of declining importance, the national interest and the global interest interpenetrate and intertwine. Thus liberal can now defend any old overseas crusade they want and dress it up as the enlightened "realist" pursuit of self-interest.

2. Free trade and American NGO's will ultimately fix everthing.

Posted by: Dan Kervick on July 23, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Instead I'm confident he see's (sic) John Bolton as the problem rather than the solution. minion of rove

My experience with John Bolton is that he is 100% wrong. So yes, he is the problem.

I heard him on the radio declaring positively that the U.S. had found a bio-weapons lab in a trailer in Iraq. That has proven to be incorrect.

From what I've seen, Bolton is one of the stupidest fucking people on planet earth. So of course he was recently promoted.

I agree that we need to do much better with regard to labor and the environment in international trade...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: You missed the boat on this one. It is evident from your writeup, that you missed his point entirely.

Wright's piece isn't about a framing exercise, it is about a completely different set of guiding principles for foreign policy.

His prescriptions are for applications of idealism and realism which are grounded in a very different set of guiding principles. Realism is applied to address a Darfur, where a the prospect of a failed state should lead to joint action. This is in stark contrast to the realism as practiced which says put up with horrendous governments like the Saudis since we need the oil.

Likewise on the idealism front, instead of preventive wars like Iraq, we use the best features of our capitalist system to guide or policies.

Posted by: RickG on July 23, 2006 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Detroit Dan,

If you are like every other Democrat I've ever met, you would admit, away from microphones, that John Kerry was not the ideal personality to run for president. Yet I'm confident you supported his larger mission rather than focus on his quirks and imperfections. Do I think Bolton is suave? No, not really, but the fact that the left would rather deal with that trivia speaks volumes about their priorities. I think Wright's argument would be a lot stronger if the left was willing to get behind his efforts to reform the institution, and help us avoid another standoff - like the smart sanctions fiasco - with the "international community."

Posted by: minion of rove on July 23, 2006 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Pick ANY Israeli Prime Minister and you have someone who is proportionately nastier than Saddam Hussein.

If "Progressive Realism" is to be the new foreign policy we shall plainly be getting what is right and proper, a ditching of Israel for the sensible, connected path, cosying up to the owners of most of the non-Russian oil, the Islamic countries. Russia will cosy up to the EU and between them they are going to cut our lunch for us.

The faster we cosy up to the Near and middle East less Israel the better.

Posted by: maunga on July 23, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what's peculiar about this whole discussion: Niebuhr and Morgenthau wrote about foreign policy. They explained theories of foreign policy, and in some ways they may even have influenced foreign policy. But they did not make foreign policy.

It may not be, precisely, a new thing in the Internet age that so many people who have little chance -- and may have little desire -- to make policy are devoting such vast effort to defining what policy should be. What exactly do they expect to result from this? Do they think a new President, wholly unlettered in foreign affairs, will pick up Beinart's book or Wright's and say to himself, "Aha! this is the philosophy I've needed to fill this great philosophical vacuum in the foreign policy area" along the lines of President Bush's reported reaction to Eliot Cohen?

Why would we want such a President, again, in the first place? But directly to this subject, wouldn't people -- Republicans as well as Democrats -- be better served by thinking more about the men who have made foreign policy in the past, as opposed to the men who have merely written about it?

With respect to the Democrats, Dean Acheson intimidated many people during his life. It may be that he still does. But he, not Niebuhr or Morgenthau, is the central figure in postwar American "liberal" foreign policy. His spirit and Harry Truman's, not the theorists' and philosophers', is what Democrats need to recover if they are to regain the public's trust on foreign policy. I understand the appeal of people who wrote and taught for a living to people who now write and teach for a living. If today's writers and teachers want to put their foreign policy ideas in the context of their own professional forebears' they can certainly do that. But not if they expect to get anywhere.

Posted by: Zathras on July 23, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Jimmy Carter would be a blessing to this country, compared to the lying POSs running running it now.
IMHO

Posted by: mb on July 23, 2006 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

American Hawk, don't you ever get tired of smelling your own ass?

Your dunderheaded assertions, not based on anything real, let alone anything people can discuss, are akin to the fart scenes in an Adam Sandler movie -- mere pandering to the childish types in the crowd and entirely dispensible. You obviously don't know even the most basic meanings of words in historical or political contexts outside of using them to suck up to idealized authoroty figures. But what if daddy doesn't love you anymore? (And who on earth would choose George W. Bush as a surrogate father?)

In other words, grow up or piss off!

Posted by: Kenji on July 23, 2006 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

minion of rove,

Let me be clear -- I have no respect whatsoever for John Bolton. I'm in favor of improving the U.N., but Bolton is the worst person I can think of for that assignment. His credibility with me is right up there with that of Dick Cheney. These are people I have heard with my own ears spouting misconceptions that have had disastrous consequences for the U.S...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on July 23, 2006 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

With American unilateralism disgraced and discredited, the United States can and must move on to a new internationalism to meet the five global challenges of the 21st century. In a time of global terrorist threats, the U.S. must rebuild its alliances, partnerships, and most of all, its reputation, to help ensure its security. In a time of new competition from the EU, China, India and others in the global economy, the U.S. must skillfully manage economic transition to maximize the American standard of living. At a time of rapidly growing Chinese economic and geo-political power, the United States must ensure that competition does not become conflict. And with the building threat of nuclear proliferation, the United States must work in concert with allies and international institutions.

For the full article, see:
"The End of the Unilateral Moment: Five Global Challenges for a New American Internationalism"

Posted by: AvengingAngel on July 23, 2006 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to try to avoid a lot of the cross-fire between the left and right posters on this thread and address the gist of Mr. Wright's column head-on:

Kevin, I agree. This column is a disjointed muddle. Mr. Wright veers between obtuse sentences like this one, "...for many liberals a reminder of how easily the ostensible amorality of classic realism slides into immorality." (whew!) to extremely questionable assertions like "neoconservatism's ascendancy (!) has scared liberals into a new round of soul-searching". Huh? One, I don't see it ascending - exactly the opposite. Second, neoconservatism didn't "scare" me - it appalled me.

In any case, I don't agree at all with Mr. Wright if he is saying that the realities of the 21st century requires a less idealistic approach to foreign policy. I think it requires a much more idealistic one. Let's try treating the Palestinian people with human dignity. Let's try paying more in taxes to build a better society. Let's try loving our children more and working less. Let's sacrifice our time in front of the TV or the PC for more time in face-to-face discussion with other human beings.

The other way sure as hell hasn't worked...

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on July 23, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

On his proposal to coopt labor and environmental groups by giving trade tribunals the power to enforce labor and environmental standards: this is pretty weak kool-aid. The experience of trying to enforce the labor side letter to NAFTA shows how far this proposal will go, when we expect the political elites on either side of the border to enforce labor standards that they not only do not believe in, but which they are actively trying to undermine. The recent Jordan trade agreement, which was supposed to be the model for future agreements, has produced the same results: widespread violations, in that case involving the virtual peonage of foreign-born workers brought to Jordan as a result of the "opening" of trade, and not even the pretense of enforcement. Thinking that trade makes the world a better place is (charitably) a delusional belief in pie in the sky and (practically) bald-faced lies by those who knows who wins and who loses and expect to be one of the winners.

If this is progressive realism, then I'm not buying it.

Posted by: Henry on July 23, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly enough, the two points that make it "progressive" are just dumb and give power to people who shouldn't have it simply for being a nusiance.

The first point makes it progressive. The other two are just pandering.

Posted by: aaron on July 24, 2006 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Thinking that trade makes the world a better place is (charitably) a delusional belief in pie in the sky and (practically) bald-faced lies by those who knows who wins and who loses and expect to be one of the winners.

Living in Vietnam, a country where more than half of the population didn't earn enough to money to purchase 1500 calories of food a day in 1990, and where average income has since tripled due to trade and exports, tends to encourage a different perspective on that question. I think you should ask the hundreds of millions of Chinese who have gone from mud huts and a bowl of rice twice a day to Toyotas, fast-food cashew chicken and apartment blocks how they feel about greater volumes of trade. That free trade agreements with East Asia have not made Michigan a better place does not mean they have not made the world a better place. In this case, it would appear the "winners" have included many of the world's poorest people, and the "losers" have included much of America's working class. That is a mixed bag from an abstract moral point of view.

Posted by: brooksfoe on July 24, 2006 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

With American unilateralism disgraced and discredited, the United States can and must move on to a new internationalism to meet the five global challenges of the 21st century.

With America disgraced and discredited, the United states should be obedient to other nations. There are five key mechanisms that should be used to transfer US resources and institutions for use by our international patrons.

In a time of global terrorist threats, the U.S. must rebuild its alliances, partnerships, and most of all, its reputation, to help ensure its security.

Second verse, same as the first.

In a time of new competition from the EU, China, India and others in the global economy, the U.S. must skillfully manage economic transition to maximize the American standard of living.

EU, China, and India are more competitive than before.

At a time of rapidly growing Chinese economic and geo-political power, the United States must ensure that competition does not become conflict.

Be carefull not to make anyone mad.

And with the building threat of nuclear proliferation, the United States must work in concert with allies and international institutions.

If you don't do what we tell you to do, we'll let terrorist get the bomb.

Posted by: aaron on July 24, 2006 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

The main problem I have with Wright's approachwhich is essentially indistinguishable from neoconservatism with a nod to international institutionsis that it doesn't address the fundamental problem of modern international institutions and why they make a poor vehicle for anything progressive except on a transitional basis. (The other major problem is that it equates capitalism and economic liberty, which is about as accurate as equating feudalism and political liberty.)

A truly progressive foreign policy would acknowledge that transitionally modern international institutions are necessary, at the same time it would hold that it is essential to both centralize the functions of those institutions into a smaller set of institutions, while at the same time increasing the legitimacy of international institutions by making them more directly and more democratically accountable.

On top of, IMO, failing to be very progressive, Wright spends a lot more time setting up false alternatives and trying to show how progressive realism is salable rather than making a coherent and forceful argument for why it would be better than real competing policies. Particularly, he doesn't argue very much, when pointing to recent failures of neoconservatism, to concrete argments about what progressive realism would do differently.

He presents a comfortable label and a fuzzy, ill-defined way of thinking about foreign policy that doesn't have any clear concrete application, and which virtually any conceivable concrete policy could be framed as following, which makes it sound to me like he's angling to be recognized as influential by presenting something Democratic politicians can adopted as a way of speaking about foreign policy without actually being constrained (or directed) by in their substantive policy.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 24, 2006 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

"Regime change wasnt essential. "

I recommend that Mr. Wright go back and read every NY Times paper in order starting with Sept. 02'.

The rest of the op-ed is just as dumb.

Posted by: aaron on July 24, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

A truly progressive foreign policy would acknowledge that transitionally modern international institutions are necessary, at the same time it would hold that it is essential to both centralize the functions of those institutions into a smaller set of institutions,

Why?

while at the same time increasing the legitimacy of international institutions by making them more directly and more democratically accountable.

Hard to do in those regions of the world where national institutions are not directly democratically accountable, viz. China, the Mideast and Africa. Hence perhaps we should hold off on making it a smaller set of institutions for a while -- concentrate on making the EU, NATO etc. more democratically accountable? But perhaps that's what you mean by "transitional".

Posted by: brooksfoe on July 24, 2006 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

Thought-provoking posts, brooksfoe.

Posted by: Kenji on July 24, 2006 at 3:55 AM | PERMALINK

Fuck this noise.

The first duty for several administrations after the current crowd goes will be reestablishing basic American credibility - showing that we've decided to take honesty and competency seriously again. Our economy will be in a shambles, worsened by the likely failure of the first post-Bush/Cheney to deliver a sufficiently honest harsh assessment of our country's needs for some time. (We'll be going through the same kind of bouncing around that we did in 1929-31.) We won't have the resources for any grand ventures, nor the popular desire to embark on them if we did. Whatever free resources we do have will have to go to rebuilding basic infrastructure and social services.

We'll have zero reserves of influence or respect. Once Blair goes, no country in the world will have any reason to grant us the slightest slack. Leadership on every issue, from global warming to refugees to responsible trade, will have passed to others out of sheer simple necessity. We will - quie rightly - be regarded with the greatest suspicion for a long time to come. We'll have to earn back others' respect one step at a time, with competent ambassadors, paying our dues (the literal ones, I mean) in international organizations, reestablishing the rule of law as a consideration in our own decision-making, and like that.

We are as screwed when it comes to credibility as Germany, Italy, and Japan were in 1945. Realizing that won't be fun, for those who haven't yet. Responding to it won't be any more fun. Certainly not as much fun as the buzzwords du jour. It's just necessary.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh on July 24, 2006 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

We're still looking for our Boswell, though.

http://makeashorterlink.com/?S4352147D

Look no more.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on July 24, 2006 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

assume Wright support NAFTA, the WTO, PNTR with China and every other free trade agreement/organization that has lacked enforceable protections for workers.

Posted by: Morgan on July 24, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

I think Brucs makes the right point: we have been equating discussions of foreign policy with discussions on 'how do we remake the world?' for nigh unto sixty years now. Thanks to GWB, we no longer have that option. Georgie threw away our moral currency; paralyzed our military; crippled our economy and enslaved it to outside debtholders; and ruined our primacy in the scientific community. We are now the drunked country giving unwanted backrubs to others.
Our foreign policy is going to have to be 'how to we guide the world' to 'how do we get ourselves back to a position where we have anything to say about it.'
Without addressing this, any discussion of policy is fragmentary if not illusory.

Posted by: pbg on July 24, 2006 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Robert Wright's policy prescriptions are absolutely, 180 degrees wrong.

We need protectionism and isolationism. Not more corporate-led globalization. And let's face it, no one buys any promises of amelioration in "free trade" agreements. They remember the broken promises of the past.

Posted by: Firebug on July 24, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Britain is near completion of the deindustrialization process (including food production)as a result of free trade. For Britain it began in May 1824 when the merchantalist laws protecting the Spitalfield Silk Weavers were repealed after a fierce struggle. The predictable result was a drop in prices,the impoverishment of the weavers, and movement of the manufacturing overseas. This was to the benefit of wholesalers who did not care about the origin of goods and their allies- the advocates of Smith and Ricardo political economics in Parliament.

The question then, as now, is if free trade is good for the nation as a whole. What is good for Wal-Mart is not necessarily good for America. Then, as now, removal of trade barriers was articulated in terms of individual rights and national propensity. Now we are at the end of the process it is perhaps more important to ask if national deindustrialization is in the nations best interest and will it provide more prosperity. Nationalists argue that only a strong industrial core will allow a nation to be militarily strong. Since the beginning of this decade there has been very little increase in wages even though productivity is increasing and there is a growing gap between rich and poor. Free trade is not the manifestation of the natural order but a political choice that is relevant to national life.

Posted by: bellumregio on July 24, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK
Hard to do in those regions of the world where national institutions are not directly democratically accountable, viz. China, the Mideast and Africa.

Well, certainly. OTOH, those are particularly the regimes whose interest ought to least constrain US policy, and which ought, therefore, have least influence in institutions with the strongest role when it comes to US policy. The UN model has some utility for managing conflict and for resolving some problems (global disease epidemics) that truly transcend even the strongest real ideological differences between democratic and totalitarian regimes. I wouldn't abandon it. Neither, though, do I think that we can focus on empowering it (or other international institutions with similar makeup) as a means of fostering progressive change. We need to build institutions that share two features that the UN/WTO/ICC/etc. institutions lack:

1) Greater integration: in a sense, this is part of "strength". You can't have a strong institutions if different, closely-linked functions are spread across different institutions founded on different treaties, that don't have commonality of membership.

2) Democratic accountability: this provides both popular control of and legitimacy for the central institution. As you note, as a practical necessity this probably means the member-states of such institutions will probably also have to be relatively democratic.

Now, in the short-term this probably means a proliferation of institutions as "weak" institutions like the UN, etc., continue to exist; but it also means the US should be working to build new, tightly integrated institutions that are more energetic that can expand with global democratization and increasingly provide the primary fora for addressing issues of concern to their members and, eventually, displace the old-style organizations.

We constantly condemn the UN, and various related or subordinate bodies (the UN human rights commission perhaps the most frequent target) for being dominated by "bad" countries and hostage to their "bad" regimes. But unless we're building institutions that structurally avoid the problem of "bad" regimes being able to obstruct their functioning, its just an excuse to abandon international institutions altogether. And the way to do that is to build institutions that aren't accountable to regimes in the first place, because only then can they have both the practical freedom and the moral authority to effectively pursue the common values for which the institution is chartered even when this contradicts the parochial interests of the regimes of the states within the institution.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 24, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

"This is rather backwards, don't you think? Economics is just the mechanics of how wealth and rewards are distributed throughout society. Politics is what designs the system of rewards and privilege in the first place. To say that economic liberation leads to political liberation is putting the cart in front of the horse."
--me, way up the comment thread

Actually, I'm going to correct myself here. What I said above is certainly true, but its only true at certain times. Political groupings create the rewards and privileges for good behavior in a society. An economic system is formed around these rewards. Gradually, the political groups and society at large change and their needs are no longer served by the economic order.

However, the economy has developed lots of inertia in the intervening years and it now drags politics along with it. Once the economy becomes too unstable/untenable, it will collapse (or at least decay) and it will be up to politics to rebuild the next one.

So, there's actually a time-dependent dynamic built in, where politics leads economics in one era and economics leads politics in another. Our economy has been leading us for a while now (I put it at the early 80s) with politics just singing along behind it. Now, things are getting too unstable and we'll see a reverseful soon. Politics will become about ideas and the reshaping of the nation and not just about how much money we should shovel to the rich.

Should be interesting and distressing times ahead.

Posted by: Bolo on July 24, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Errr... "see a reversal soon." Proofread...

Posted by: Bolo on July 24, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, what Bruce says is more than true. We're all being entirely too optimistic by framing the discussion as if we have choices in the matter. Coulter and her crowd of angry ad libbers can crow about foreign enmity as a badge of honour -- it still plays at home, a little -- but pretty soon crow will be all that's left to eat, so maybe we better start scaling down our expectations. Humility is probably the first, and maybe the least, price we'll have to pay to rejoin the planet, already in progress.

Posted by: Kenji on July 24, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: dd on July 24, 2006 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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