Mr. Bush has turned a small number of radical groups that hate America into a 10-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.
Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals. Messrs. Bush and McCain lump together, as a single threat, extremist groups and states more at odds with each other than with us: Sunnis and Shiites, Persians and Arabs, Iraq and Iran, al Qaeda and Shiite militias. If they can’t identify the enemy or describe the war we’re fighting, it’s difficult to see how we will win.
On George Bush’s watch, Iran, not freedom, has been on the march: Iran is much closer to the bomb; its influence in Iraq is expanding; its terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant in Lebanon and that country is on the brink of civil war.
The Bush-McCain saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable. It achieves nothing. But it forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders. And it spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right from American wallets into Tehran’s pockets.
In my humble opinion this is exactly what Democrats need to do. Take the attack to Republicans on foreign policy—it’s the GOP’s only strength and because of Bush’s bungling they are extraordinarily vulnerable. But to point out their incompetence is only step one. Step two, and this should probably be step one, is to call the GOP foreign policy what it is: aggressive nationalism. In many ways it is the opposite of traditional Democratic foreign policy that puts far more emphasis on international institutions.
Modern Republicanism has no use for international institutions–to put it mildly. They have contempt for the UN, the Geneva Conventions, and international law in general. They have repudiated no less that six international treaties since coming to power in 2001. They envision a world dominated by a supremely sovereign America—supremely sovereign in the sense that America is not held accountable to the rules that apply to other nations. This is a world that is indistinguishable from the world of imperial powers of centuries gone by. Not surprisingly it breeds resentment and suspicion around the world.
Liberals envision a different world in which nations do not fear reductions of national sovereignty in the interest of advancing human rights, nuclear non-proliferation, and the environment. It is a view consistent with democratic values and the rule of law. It is a forward-looking view, a global political framework for our inevitably global economy.
This is the great divide between liberals and conservatives on foreign policy—yet we seldom hear anyone make the case clearly on either side. Bush (and of course LIeberman in his recent op-ed) claim to be following in Truman’s footsteps, then they trash the very institutions Truman worked to create. Liberals for the most part ignore foreign policy as if they hope the subject doesn’t come up. Biden is showing the right spirit here, but he needs to call the GOP bluff not just on Iraq, but on their entire approach to America’s place in the world.
As an aside—isn’t it interesting that the conservative view of international governance mirrors their view of the national governance in America? A president above the law, accountable to no one.