Why Don’t Liberals Care About Foreign Policy?

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68 Responses

  1. Avatar mark boggs says:

    It is the greatest source of my disappointment in the guy.

    But I think you nail it pretty accurately when you attribute this sort of whistling past the graveyard to the fact that most democrats feel that the alternative to Obama in this fairly rigid two-party system is no alternative at all.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Obama staffer: “the Firebagger Lefty blogosphere.” I love it.

      Of course, they’re bragging Obama want to take a knife to the defense budget, the ne plus ultra of fiscal responsibility for the ideological left.

      Paul Krugman is a political rookie. At least he is when compared to President Obama. That’s why he unleashed a screed as soon as word came about the debt ceiling compromise between President Obama and Congressional leaders – to, you know, avert an economic 9/11. Joining the ideologue spheres’ pure, fanatic, indomitable hysteria, Krugman declares the deal a disaster – both political and economic – of course providing no evidence for the latter, which I find curious for this Nobel winning economist.

      Now let’s get to the fun part: the triggers. The more than half-a-trillion in defense and security spending cut “trigger” for the Republicans will hardly earn a mention on the Firebagger Lefty blogosphere. Hell, it’s a trigger supposedly for the Republicans, and of course, there’s always It’sNotEnough-ism to cover it.


  2. Avatar Huh? says:

    Who says liberals don’t care about foreign policy? Sure, you note a couple, but I think there are a few more than a couple liberals around….

    – We need to follow through and get the hell out of Iraq;
    – Ditto Afghanistan;
    – Double-plus that one on Libya (trust me – lots of liberals I know had first-class conniption fits when we got into Libya)
    – Gitmo? Close it, and charge the current residents in a real court. (That may not be directly “foreign policy”, but the situation was caused by a broken foreign policy so I’m including it.)Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    Correct me if I’m misremembering but didn’t Obama try to close gitmo and get cut off at the knees when the GOP started shrieking about moving the scary terrorists into an IL max security prison, the Democrat majority at the time ran away and then congress nixed the funding for the shutdown?

    My own view on foreign policy is that Obama has been absolutely horrible on civil liberties/surveillance/assassination and that there is, specific to him, no excuse for it. There is the general CYA principle involved of course; if he doesn’t go for broke on these issues and some psycho manages to consummate an attack on the US his ass is grass/if he goes for broke and nothing happens then it costs him nothing. That’s more of an indictment of us all tho rather than a specific defense of Obama.

    WRT the wars I feel a certain sympathy for him. Obama came into office with these issues in his lap and he’s been trying to navigate between a desire to wind them down and a desire to not paint his party as the cut and run party for another generation. Afghanistan remains a mire and I think he chose wrong when he went against Biden and decided to double down. On the Iraq front, OTOH I think he’s wound things down there about as well as anyone could hope for and I don’t see where the criticism comes from. We’re leaving after all.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I seem to recall a bit of a shell game going on with that. Gitmo would close… but a different Gitmo would open someplace that was not there in Cuba. We’d still be doing what we did, just somewhere else.

      And Republicans responded as if it were the end of the world anyway.Report

      • This is correct. Obama was closing Gitmo for PR reasons, rather than out of any kind of larger principle. There may be a multitude of reasons good and bad for this — and his PR motivation ain’t peanuts — but it is what it is.Report

    • Avatar mark boggs says:

      I think it also speaks to the gullible among us who actually thought that candidate Obama meant much of what he said. I remember candidate Obama. President Obama is no candidate Obama.Report

    • Avatar gschu says:

      I was going to make a similar point about Obama trying to close Gitmo and running into trouble. Though I couldn’t quite remember if he had wanted to try one or two people in the states, or if he had actually tried to close down the whole shebang.

      Your post makes me think about what would have happened with regard to civil liberties with McCain as President. I always had the feeling that Obama and McCain were not that far apart on these issues, so after becoming President Obama has had to tack to the right to help make the case that he is not a Anti-American Kenyan socialist bent on opening the US up to foreign invasion. This seems, to me, to be a political dynamic that McCain would not have had to deal with.

      It is the same dynamic that you outlined, and which in part drives his need to stay longer in Afghanistan than he, or his base, would like. Our actions are judged relative to others perception of us, and when those perceptions are that democrats are weak on defense and national security the cure is worse than the disease.Report

      • Avatar Rev.Blue Moon says:

        “so after becoming President Obama has had to tack to the right to help make the case that he is not a Anti-American Kenyan socialist bent on opening the US up to foreign invasion. ”

        He had to? Had to? Is there going to be a time where the President is considered his own man, rather than a windsock?Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          I agree with Blue Moon — this was a misreading of the public on Obama’s part. If he had praised Bush’s efforts to respond to 9/11 and acknowledged that tough calls had to be made, and we did attack in a way that sent a strong message, but now it’s time to bring the troops homes and build a great defense at home, most Americans would have silently gone along and secretly they would’ve said — thank goodness. American citizens just need a good way out without dissing the soldiers or making it all appear in vain — they are ready to leave the mideast for good.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      he’s been trying to navigate between a desire to wind them down and a desire to not paint his party as the cut and run party for another generation.

      The President’s putting party ahead of country, then, you admit?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        How do you figure? Are you of the opinion that a abrupt and immediate termination of the US’s force commitment in the Middle East would be good for the country’s interests? Whether Obama’s putting the party ahead of the country is unclear since it’s entirely possible (considering his mushy middleness quite likely) that he considers his current slow movements the best option the country has. I can’t read his mind so I don’t know myself. How about you?Report

        • Avatar Rev.Blue Moon says:

          That is a charitable interpretation, North. The other more likely explanation (I only say this out of general observations of homo politicianus) is that the President’s mushy middleness is that way for a very cynical reason: mushy middleness gets re-elected. As alluded to elsewhere in the thread, sustaining the war(s) has no downside for the man, except from liberals, who are, as the OP points out, notably absent in their criticism.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Just parsing yr quote, Mr. North. I admit it was unfair as I figure you probably didn’t mean it. If he is doing the “wrong thing” to defend his party’s rep, I’d say that’s bad, wouldn’t you?

          Let us assume he’s doing what he thinks is best for the nation, but as a milder objection, I think some of his arbitrary dates for withdrawal are ideologically driven, not pragmatic.


          …and may be counterproductive.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I’d say so, unless he’s doing the wrong thing out of a menue of wrong things. If there’s no right option then I wouldn’t fault him for choosing the wrong that helps his party. You gotta admit, surely, that his predecessor left him mired in a lot of no win situations abroad yes?Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Well, I’m not criticizing Obama from the left, and only mildly from the right.

              You gotta admit, surely, that his predecessor left him mired in a lot of no win situations abroad yes?

              You could say that about Ike and Korea, too. The Buck Stops Where?

              The Big Chair, that’s where. Look, I’m easy on these guys, on the whole. I have nice things to say about Clinton and even Carter.

              What’s getting forgotten lately in these grenade-tosses is that “the good war” is the one going badly, and the “war of choice” is winding down as best as could be expected. But it’s all getting stirred into an undifferentiated and frankly insipid soup called “war,” and war is icky.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I don’t disagree with any of that Tom, I’m just responding to the allegations that he’s putting party ahead of country. You went there if you recall.Report

  4. I think elite liberal journos on the whole don’t talk foreign policy because 1. they see no alternatives and 2. they don’t want to look like hippies and 3. there’s a fatalism/cynicism in much of America’s political intelligentsia about the Empire that has sapped much motivation to talk about it one way or the other.

    It’s a shame, though. I’ve been thinking for a while now that you can’t have progressive domestic policy take hold in a society defined along imperial/militaristic lines. If this is true, much of modern-day center-left work is willfully unambitious.Report

    • Avatar Ryan B says:

      I think (2) is a good one that I forgot to include in the post above. There is some cultural militarism that crowds out the space for liberals to talk about foreign policy, but that is to some extent also the fault of liberals for not presenting an alternative. We are, as far as I can tell, at a historical peak for warmongering. Even during our “greatest” wars, there were large and significant antiwar contingents. I mean, can you even imagine a world in which the US president needs Japan to physically bomb our territory before dragging us into a war?Report

      • Yeah, I think whether or not the end of conscription has been a net-positive is debatable.Report

        • Avatar Rev.Blue Moon says:

          I really do not think that the positiveness of the end of government slavery is up for debate.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            I’m inclined to agree.Report

          • Avatar Ryan B says:

            Describing conscription as slavery is somewhat unhelpful.Report

            • Avatar Rev.Blue Moon says:

              I am at a loss as to how it is unhelpful. What exactly would be analogous to the government forcibly, under threat of arrest, sending young men to die against their will?Report

              • Avatar Ryan B says:

                I’m not sure what would be properly analogous, but the thing that makes slavery slavery is the conversion of people into property. The military draft might be noxious for any number of reasons, but compelling people to serve in a war just is fundamentally different from buying and selling them.

                Also, it may be worth noting that the penalty for a slave disobeying his master is not exactly jail.Report

              • Avatar Rev.Blue Moon says:

                The cases are more similar than they are different, regardless of the particulars. You say they are “fundamentally” different; I say that the fundamentals are virtually the same. If anything, the draft is worse because it turns free men into property designed to kill, rather than “be productive”. Mind, that statement is not a defense of either, but to say that the draft is not “converting people into property” is showing that you do not have a lot of experience with the military.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Forcing someone to fight in a war is to treat them as a slave. I don’t see anyway to deny this.Report

              • Avatar Ryan B says:

                We can agree to disagree here, since I oppose the draft anyway, but you’re just obviously wrong. Mandatory service in your own country’s armed forces just isn’t slavery. It may be a violation of any number of rights or duties owed to citizens by the state, but the people involved are not turned into property and they cannot be bought or sold. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to comprehend that fact.

                Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Israel, Norway, Russia, and Switzerland all have mandatory military service of some kind. Are they all slave states? Of course not. It might feel good rhetorically to change the meanings of words, but as I said it’s not helpful.Report

              • Avatar Ryan B says:

                It does not turn them into property. They cannot be bought, sold, or exchanged. Such is the sine qua non of property.Report

              • Avatar Rev.Blue Moon says:

                Your argument is as follows:

                1. Slavery = turning people into property
                2. Property = Something that can be bought or sold
                3. Conscription does not involve the buying or selling of people
                4. Therefore, conscription is not slavery

                The problem with your argument is that you are assuming much of it. First, limited alienability does not make something “not property” (e.g., leases). In other words, you are assuming a large part of the definition of “property” to bolster your argument. Secondly, slavery can be a different thing other than the alienability of people (I mean, if “forced labor” makes you happier, then by all means…). Finally, I do not know what it means that “[conscripts] cannot be bought, sold, or exchanged”. By paying a conscript, a government is at least compensating that conscript out of respect for the “inconvenience” of impoundment.

                There is a lot more to unpack on “bought, sold, or exchanged”, such as the “lending” of Soldiers to government contractors, who subsequently make a huge profit off of the enterprise that the laborer (Soldier) does not see, for example, but it plain is not as cut-and-dried as you are making it out to be.

                And my truly final point is that the end of conscription will be an unalloyed good, contra to Mr. Isquith’s original point.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                the state of being under the control of another personReport

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                No, I hardly think transaction is the sine qua non. If someone took control of another person and forced them to work against their will, there is no transaction, but there is enslavement.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                To answer your question about other countries, with respect to enslaving people to military service, they are states which enslave people to military service.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                There’s also the whole factor that you can get out of “compulsory” military service.

                You can’t really get out of slavery on your own recognizance.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                If everyone could get out then it wouldn’t be compulsory, so you’re left with those who can’t get out are enslaved.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Conscription is a fascinating topic, but it’s not a denial of rights, it’s a duty of citizenship.

                These days we cannot tell the difference between rights and duties: or rather, we do not recognize the duties much atall except taxes and of course the rich paying their fair share.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                “In the course of [General Westmoreland’s] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ He drew himself up and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’ I replied, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.’ But I went on to say, ‘If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.’ That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries.”
                – Milton and Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 380.

                I don’t necessarily agree, though.

                Conscription is not a denial of rights, it’s a duty of citizenship. But we speak only of rights these days, not duties, so Friedman’s argument stands up well enough on several levels. Donald Rumsfeld is often credited with instituting America’s non-conscript, professional, volunteer army based on his days at the University of Chicago and hearing Friedman.

                [I’m told I’m not doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful by posting these factoids as I come across them in looking up the underlying facts of these debates. And backatcha, gentle reader.]Report

            • Avatar kenB says:

              Conscription is to slavery as taxation is to theft.Report

      • Avatar Jeff says:

        Even during our “greatest” wars, there were large and significant antiwar contingents.

        A million people marched against the war, but there were giant puppets! (And let us not forget that anyone who spoke out against the war was labeled a traitor — remember the Dixie Chicks?) It seems natural that a lot of those people said “Screw it.”

        Balloon Juice gets mentioned here from time to time. The front-pagers rail against Obama’s handling of foreign affiars all the time (ditto Obsidian Wings). I’m not sure where you’re looking that you don’t see criticism of Obama on the foreign policy front.

        The lefty blogs are FAR more critical of Obama in general than is ceded by the right, especially considering how nasty the right was during the Bush presidency.

        There I go, enabling the terrorists again!Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I think the Hamas flags at the peace rallies got more play with my circle than the puppets did.Report

          • Avatar Jeff says:

            Every movement has too many Jane Fondas and not enough Joan Baezes (Joan was one of many on the left who castigated Fonda for her idiocy).Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Criticizing Obama from the left is easy and safe; the context is always “Bush was worse, but…”

          Most times they do the ritual explicitly so as not to get eaten by their fellow pirahnas.

          The lefty blogs are FAR more critical of Obama in general than is ceded by the right, especially considering how nasty the right was during the Bush presidency.

          Yes, but the Bushies were worse.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            It helps that it’s usually true.Report

          • Avatar Jeff says:

            So we’re just supposed ignore 8 years of lies, insults and threats of bodily injury? We’re supposed to forget that the right was far more obsessed about the Clenis (long after he was out of office) than we could ever be about Bush?

            Bush, and his supporters, were far, far worse then Obabots (or whatever we’re called today).

            And you still haven’t acknowledged that whatever preface we may put before our comments, we hold “Barry” (how DARE he have an exotic name!) MUCH more accountable than we’re given credit for.Report

    • I am not prepared to defend this in detail just yet, but I’m actually increasingly of the opposite opinion: that it is not possible to have an imperialistic superpower without progressive domestic policy.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco says:

      There is no empire (or “Empire”).Report

  5. Avatar Ben says:

    There are several things which seem wrong-headed about this post. But how much evidence can convince someone that the thesis is wrong? Picking a foreign policy issue like closing Gitmo and providing posts by liberal bloggers? Giving a list of liberal blogs which focus on foreign policy? Pointing out that Yglesias wrote a fucking book about foreign policy?

    The only way to disprove the thesis that I can see is to provide a preponderance of evidence that liberal bloggers do, in fact, talk about this stuff. Which is impossible in a comment. But for the interested, I’ll at least give links to the stuff in the above paragraph:

    Yglesias wrote 8 posts with the word “Gitmo”: http://thinkprogress.org/?s=gitmo&fqauthor=Matthew+Yglesias

    Over 20+ posts on Gitmo on the widely-read liberal blog Lawyers, Guns & Money: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/?s=gitmo&x=0&y=0

    Lots of Gitmo entries at everyone’s favorite liberal blog to hate, Balloon Juice: http://www.balloon-juice.com/?s=gitmo

    List of liberal foreign policy blogs: Democracy Arsenal, Information Dissemination, Duck of Minerva. Progressive Realist is a liberal foreign policy post aggregator. Spencer Ackerman is all by himself, but surely no list of liberal foreign policy blogs is complete without him.

    Finally, Yglesias’ book on foreign policy (which isn’t supposed to be very good): http://www.amazon.com/Heads-Sand-Republicans-Foreign-Democrats/dp/047008622XReport

    • Avatar Ryan B says:

      This is a good contribution, for sure, although I think FDL is everyone’s favorite liberal blog to hate.

      In any case, Yglesias did put up a post this morning in which he corrected for the fact that he didn’t mention Iraq in his GWB post. And his point there was basically “presidents can do whatever they want”, without recognizing what a massive problem that is for his thesis that Obama hasn’t been all that bad.Report

  6. Avatar Anderson says:

    Well, foreign policy issues get talked about a lot when foreign policy issues are the dominant news of the day. Back in the heyday of the Iraq war, foreign policy was on everybody’s lips, left, right, and center. The 2004 election was largely about foreign policy because the economy was doing alright. But that’s the thing: The economy trumps all. In times like now, when debt crises and unemployment and stock market plunges are the news, it will seem like there’s a shortage of discussion on FP, whether that opinion be liberal or conservative. Of course Ezra and Jon Cohn are known for health care writing; that’s been a huge issue for the last year and a half.

    So what FP issues would garner lots of attention today? You say Gitmo, the war in Afghanistan, and Anwar al-Awlaki. Yet, let’s be honest, no one new has gone to Gitmo in years (I think about 150 people are there); while Afghanistan still gets a good deal of press coverage (like Obama’s speech calling for a draw down and the recent copter incident), fighting has never been as intense as the height of Iraq, much less Vietnam/WW2; al-Awlaki is a very small story that would only gain traction amongst people who follow FP issues closely. These issues don’t represent a giant elephant in the room for Obama because, to the voting populace, these issues fall far second to economic woes. Even Libya, which was the talk of the town for a good bit, pales in comparison to the holy “jobs” discussion because it is much more of a European concern than an American one. If the economy recovers miraculously and Afghanistan/Libya are the only news topics, I guarantee all the members of the liberal punditry will acquire a new found interest in FP.Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “Why Don’t Liberals Care About Foreign Policy?”

    Because Americans don’t care about Foreign Policy. This poll is from Nov 2010: http://www.princeton.edu/~pkrugman/deficit_ignore.PNG (the header is “Total Republicans Democrats Independents”). Once the perception (and some of the reality) that Americans weren’t dying in wars any more, War being the #1 most important thing that Congress Must Act On Now went from 45% to 2%.

    I dunno, maybe a McCain presidency would have at least made people care about War some more.Report

  8. Avatar Kolohe says:

    There are three main “Liberal” versions of foreign policy.

    The first consists of basically leaving everyone else alone for the most part, which is not at all different than the Ron Paul right wing version of foreign policy. (and collectively, a swath of the general population that is completely undercounted and ignored by both elites and the media. the left that is in this camp should really try to reach out more to their rightish compatriots, even if the right wing version is motivated by ‘the wogs begin at Calais’ (Maine))

    The second consists of ‘using more diplomacy’. This is generally empty headed muddled thinking (which Yglesias alternately dips into and swims out of) because there’s no such thing as ‘international law’* and ‘more diplomacy’ ain’t going to break through the ranks of Al Shabab to feed starving Somalians.

    The third is ok with ‘the full range of US Power’ but think the neocons are trigger happy assholes that have a completely wrong view of the world and can’t plan well enough to get laid in a whorehouse. Which is a correct assessment of the neocons. And this is the faction in power now. And Obama always campaigned that he would be in this faction.

    *oh sure, people call the body of treaties and customs ‘international law’ and occasionally a third worlder that loses a war will go before an international tribune, but the international order is a rational anarchy. And always has been. And until we get Moon and other colonies always should be.Report