December 03, 2004

The Prism of Iraq

So Peter Beinart's kicked off a discussion on how Democrats should think straight on national security. There's a lot to be said on this, but first, it's worth asking to what extent the specific events of the last four years should drive a Democratic vision for foreign policy. After all, much of this debate over unilateralism vs. multilateralism has worked within the conceptual bounds of the Iraq war -- in which a multilateral institution found itself unable to enforce its own resolutions, and unable either to stop or to legitimate an American invasion. But surely that was a very unique situation, made even more unique by the current disaster in Iraq. Barring a nuclear attack, we're simply not going to invade another country anytime soon, nor use our military in any large-scale pre-emptive capacity.

The point here is that those arguing that the United States needs to find itself some better sources of legitimacy, for instance, aren't really forward-looking in any meaningful way. Surveying the scene, there are no "rogue states" that could a) plausibly pose a threat to the United States and b) be invaded. This type of situation is no longer a big foreign policy issue. "Legitimacy" is no longer a concern in the same way. (Multilateralism is, but it too needs to be reconceived.)

Unfortunately, the Iraq war dominated the 2004 campaign, and John Kerry was forced to talk about what he would have done in that situation. So he did, and his answer was incoherent, but any answer would have been a bad one insofar as it would have focused almost exclusively on a special, one-time-only situation.

More to come... obviously there's a "terrorism" aspect to foreign policy that hasn't been addressed.
-- Brad Plumer 3:35 AM || ||