Saturday, February 14, 2015

Murphy On The Battlements

US Senator Chris Murphy, who has been in the Senate only a little more than  two years and two weeks, is now “Desperately Seeking A Progressive Foreign Policy,” the tile of a column the senator wrote on his new blog.

According to Mr. Murphy, the modern progressive movement is still in its swaddling clothes. The new movement was “founded on foreign policy” after Democrats had spent a couple of decades "in the wilderness during the era of the Democratic Leadership Council… in the early days of the Iraq war.”

The modern progressive movement, Mr. Murphy writes, sprang from Howard Dean’s presidential bid in 2004, during which time “progressives mounted their first serious assault in years on the conventional thought hegemony by challenging the neoconservative foreign policy vision. Many of today’s icons of the progressive movement — MoveOn, Democracy for America, Daily Kos — arguably originate from this fight. Today’s progressives were molded in the fire of foreign, not domestic, policy.”

The young progressive movement now has become reactive, “absent, from serious, meaningful foreign policy debates.” Progressives have been unwilling to engage in such debates in part because there has been for the last few years a Democrat in the White House. Mr. Murphy does not point out in his maiden progressive articulation that President Barack Obama is possibly the most progressive chief executive since Woodrow Wilson left the White House in 1921. Progressives have understandably deferred to the Commander in Chief “when it comes to articulating views on international events.” While such deference to President Barack Obama is proper, less understandable is the thoughtless rubbernecking among progressives.

The dominance of US Senators John McCain and Rand Paul and Mr. Obama ought to concern progressives, according to the movement’s new John the Baptist, “because none of these three camps adequately represents the views of most American progressives.”

Mr. Murphy rejects neo-conservativism robustly as “a non-starter” a “philosophy of knee jerk military intervention” and “the original motivating force behind the modern progressive voice.” Isolationism is likewise repugnant “as most progressives believe in America playing a positive role in the world. We simply believe that we should lean into the world with something other than the pointed edge of a sword.”

Mr. Obama struck a responsive chord in his May 2014 West Point speech, “where he prioritized the use of our military for counterterrorism efforts and emphasized the need to strengthen rule of law and human rights in developing nations.” However, “we break with him on rather substantial questions like domestic surveillance, drone attacks, and most recently, military intervention in Syria.”

From the battlements, Mr. Murphy shouts out orders to his progressive troops: “It’s time for progressives to outline a coherent, proactive foreign policy vision, (emphasis original).”

The organizing principles of Mr. Murphy’s progressive vision, he writes, would involve: a) “A substantial transfer of financial resources from the military budget to buttress diplomacy and foreign aid so that our global anti-poverty budget, not our military budget, equals that of the other world powers combined,” b) “A new humility to our foreign policy, with less emphasis on short- term influencers like military intervention and aid [which Mr. Murphy highly recommended in a)] and more effort spent trying to address the root causes of conflict,” c) “An end to unchecked mass surveillance programs, at home and abroad, as part of a new recognition that we are safer as a nation when we aren’t so easily labeled as hypocrites for preaching and practicing vastly differently on human and civil rights,” and d) “a categorical rejection of torture, under any circumstances.”

A rapid implementation of Mr. Murphy’s principled vision is necessary because “We are entering well into the fourth month of unauthorized U.S. military actions in Iraq and Syria amidst calls from the new Republican Senate majority to send ground troops back to the Middle East” and “fragile negotiations to end Iran’s nuclear weapons” program are under threat “from good-intentioned but misguided efforts to pass new sanctions legislation through Congress.”

These pressing issues “cry out for a coherent progressive response. But where we end up isn't as important as committing to the journey. In the coming months, progressives need to commit ourselves to a process that articulates this new set of ideas. The world is a mess, and while there is no simple pill America can administer to fix things, what we know is that there is significant room for progressives to articulate a foreign policy vision that is truly our own.”

Foreign policy – especially the Ouija board variety practiced by Mr. Obama, to whom progressives have so often deferred – is indeed a messy business, particularly now that Mr. Obama is determined to pursue in the Middle East a policy of accommodation that will upset neither Iran, a growing Middle East peace broker, or Iran’s patron, President Of Russia Vladimir Putin, the vanquisher of Ukraine. The tender feelings of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are less important.

A recent request to the Congress from Mr. Obama for additional presidential authority to prosecute a war against ISIS, a terrorist group that beheads American Journalists, murders American aid workers and crucifies Christians, would seem to violate Murphy principle a), since both the Congressional authority and the funds necessary to prosecute a war against ISIS for at least three years certainly would not involve a “transfer of financial resources from the military budget to buttress diplomacy.” It would also violate Murphy principle b), which calls for a new humility that emphasizes a greater “effort spent trying to address the root causes of conflict” rather than investing time and money on “on short- term influencers like military intervention and aid.” Still we are left with the two remaining principles of Mr. Murphy’s progressive vision as yet unassaulted by the progressive Mr. Obama or non-progressives in the US Congress. Rand Paul, an arch libertarian, has come out strongly against c), snoops hiding in the telephone receivers of average Americans, and Mr. Obama has long favored assassination, death by drone, to torture. It turns out that the progressive principles enunciated by Mr. Murphy in his progressive blog are not all that cutting edge.

Progressives within the Democratic Party may want to start looking for a new John the Baptist.

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