As pointed out by Isenberg (see “So What’s New?”, posted today), the Democrats are still floundering. There are all sorts of tactical, but I would also point out a much larger, macro-level, foundational ill that keeps the Loyal Opposition from offering more viable alternatives: a bipartisan buy-in to a National Security Strategy that still, in essence, harkens back to the Cold War.
The script, in this regard, is pretty simple:
1) Most or all really bad transnational problems (like terrorism) can be linked back to an enemy state, who equips, guides, trains, and otherwise supports such nasty players;
2) There is broad international agreement on who that enemy state is (or states in plural);
3) The enemy is monolithic, which naturally leads to a “bloc” approach to security: the US finds regional friends/allies to put bases in, give financial perks and aid, sell weapons, trade with, and so forth; the enemy bars its gates with an Iron (or Iran) Curtain;
4) The world’s regions are thusly divided up between states that subscribe to the US-led global order, and those that rebel against that order, both through simultaneously isolating themselves AND through practicing coercion beyond their borders via strategic alliances with other bad state or non-state actors.
5) This enemy has an ideology that is irredeemable and cannot be negotiated with; true compromise via normal diplomacy is impossible, and so the US and its friends/allies must settle on coercive diplomacy, backed up by superior military force and the ability to escalate “up the ladder” in a crisis, and make the enemy back down (or: win a war through superior war-fighting capabilities, in the case that the enemy refuses to see reason and back down).
If you think about it, this was the Cold War script in both Europe and Asia; it underlaid conventional and nuclear deployments in both regions, and strong alliances such as US-Japan and NATO; it led us into Vietnam; it led to things like the Pershing II deployment in Europe (contrary to earlier attempts at Detente and despite the ongoing Helsinki framework), nuclear buildups in the Kennedy and Reagan years (this script was eminently bipartisan), and led the US to support all stripes of dictators in the name of anti-communism. For better or worse, it was the basic foundational approach for 50 years.
And now we’re trying to do the same exact thing in the Middle East, between “moderate” Arab regimes (as if Saudi Arabia were moderate) and strong ally Israel, on the one hand, and Syria/Iran on the other.
Until Democrats soundly reject this script, we’re not getting anywhere as a nation, and there is no real opposition, beyond largely meaningless tactical maneuvers like those of Hillary Clinton and other colleagues.
And what should take its place? Broadly: look to the practices of middle-to-rising powers such as India, Chile, South Korea, South Africa, Turkey, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, as well as Northern middle powers such as Canada and Scandinavian countries, and throw the EU and Japan into the mix as well (in short: most of the G20 economic bloc).
What is the pattern with these middle-to-rising states or blocs? Very simply, the end of security based on clear divisions between (state-level) friends, allies, and enemies.
Consider: Turkey has equally correct relations with Israel and Iran, EU and Arab states to its North and South; India has been compeeting with China for the same nifty oil contracts with dictators that China has (China has received all the bum press, but India was in bitter competition for Burma, Nigeria, Sudan as well); India has constructed a major Iranian port facility in the Southern Gulf and is helping Iran build transportation networks for more oil/gas, even while India ALSO has great anti-terrorism ties with Isreal and the US, and like China and Japan, is courting all ASEAN nations; and as for SEA nations like Indonesia or Malaysia, they look equally to China, Japan, US for help in security without picking sides. And South Korea has increasingly strained alliance ties with the US now, even as it has a burdgeoning, impressive space launch program now going forward with Russia, and even as it trades in high-tech goods and finance with Japan and China. (Many of these same powers also have major nuclear energy programs).
These states tactically seek out those financial, military, trade, and cultural relationships that will help them rise higher in the global system and provide a better living for their own people. They are looking for diverse, autonomous, protected market expansion domestically (for a truly multi-faceted economy) while also increasing exports externally.
In short: we are entering a globalized age of pragmatic multipolarity. There are certainly moral downsides, but it’s where the global system is heading. And a Cold War legacy strategy doesn’t work well in this new reality, because at the most basic level, it does not reflect the practices of other nations.
The question is, can either Republicans or Democrats recognize this trend? – which has been recognized quite strongly by “New Realists” such as Anatol Lieven, Steve Clemons, Stephen Walt, Brzezinski (whose brand of Realism has morphed quite a bit in these past few years), and others from the coalition led by Chris Preble of CATO.
On my own end, I would note that one very unfortunate victim of pragmatic multipolarity could be the idea of “Responsibility to Protect” and the idea of stabilization missions – unless we jettison old approaches and work with (rather than against) middle-to-rising powers to construct viable, adaptable, and flexible regional institutions for things such as disaster relief, peace keeping, peace enforcement, and other ills associated with weak and failing states.