One of the things I have repeatedly found frustrating is that every op-ed is able to state the problems very clearly and in a way with which most of would agree. Take this dissection of a
campaign speech of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren by Hal Brands at Bloomberg:
In her view, the pursuit of globalization after the Cold War was a disaster. It facilitated the rise of authoritarian rivals such as China; it devastated the American working and middle classes. After 9/11, moreover, an exaggerated fear of terrorism led Washington to wage “endless war” in the greater Middle East. Warren charged — and here she echoed any number of progressive critics of U.S. policy over the past century — that American statecraft has become over-militarized and self-defeating.
What is needed, then, is a mixture of reassertion and retrenchment. The U.S. must mobilize for a protracted ideological competition with the authoritarian powers by recommitting to vital practices the Trump administration has neglected. American leaders must revitalize the force-multiplying alliances Trump has strained; they must stand firmly with the world’s democratic leaders rather than the coterie of corrupt autocrats whose company Trump seems to prefer. Washington should also crack down on intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, and other predatory Chinese economic practices. It should more actively highlight the corruption and despotism of authoritarian regimes. Reinvesting in diplomacy — another course correction from the Trump era — will be crucial to all of these efforts.
Yet if the U.S. should sharpen its approach to ideological competition, she argues, it should also recalibrate key aspects of its involvement in the world. The military dimensions of counterterrorism need to become less aggressive; the forever war in Afghanistan needs to be wound down so a peace settlement can be reached. Military spending should fall significantly to make budgetary room for domestic priorities; the U.S. should forgo expensive investments in updating its nuclear arsenal. Most importantly, the next president must put the promotion of better labor standards, environmental protections, and outcomes for the working and middle classes at the core of America’s trade agenda.
So far, so good. Hollowing out of U. S. manufacturing through ill-considered one-way trade liberalization? Check. Foolish Middle East nation building? Check. Futile forever war in Afghanistan? Check.
As is often the case with campaign-season speeches on foreign policy, however, Warren’s vision also has its unresolved tensions and challenges. The senator is right that the working and middle classes have suffered in recent decades, yet most studies indicate that automation — not trade — is the primary culprit in the hollowing out of American manufacturing. Warren is equally right that the war in Afghanistan is going nowhere fast, yet if the U.S. begins withdrawing now it will probably undercut any chances of getting the acceptable peace agreement she claims to prefer.
More broadly, there is no arguing with the idea that the United States needs a limited-liability approach to counterterrorism. Decelerating too much, however, risks allowing ISIS, al-Qaeda and their various offshoots to reconstitute and operate in more dangerous ways. Additionally, in U.S.-Russia relations, verifiable arms control would surely be preferable to a new arms race with Russia. But absent the leverage re-investment in America’s nuclear arsenal will provide, how will the U.S. bring Moscow back into compliance with the arms control treaties it has systematically violated?
Finally, the idea of slashing military spending is more problematic than it may seem. Here, too, Warren is correct that there are plenty of parts of the defense enterprise that can be streamlined, and the Pentagon is certainly guilty of buying too many expensive legacy systems with limited relevance to future conflicts. The problem, however, is that the U.S. will find it devilishly difficult to succeed in the global competition Warren rightly identifies without significant new military investments. Contrary to what Warren argued, America’s conventional military superiority is no longer so overwhelming. It has eroded badly in Eastern Europe, the Taiwan Strait and other geopolitical hotspots, as Russia and China have developed capabilities meant specifically to deny the U.S. freedom of action.
and I consider this unadulterated poppycock:
The tenfold increase in the number of global democracies since 1940 has ultimately rested on America’s ability to deter aggression by authoritarian powers.
The increase he points to came despite repeated U. S. military interventions rather than because of them. The abortive attempts at democracy and liberalization throughout the world that are now retrenching came because of manifest U. S. economic success. Nothing succeeds like success. Everybody wanted to emulate what had brought U. S. prosperity. As U. S. economic growth slowed and wealth was manifestly being concentrated in ever fewer hands our system became less appealing.
Mr. Brands also need to take a look at the graph I put at the top of this post. The relationship between that collapse and China’s admission to the WTO is obvious. Less obvious is its connection with automation.
That challenge that Sen. Warren faces in enunciating an updated liberal foreign policy is how can you defend progressive values without interventionism? It has been a vital component of progressive foreign policy for a century.
This seems like a good place to repeat my view that increased inequality and loss of hope in the U. S. are a direct consequence of a triple whammy of ill-considered neoliberal policies: one-way trade liberalization, failure to prohibit mostly illegal immigration of low wage workers from Mexico and Central America, and the abuse of H1-B and L1 visas to push down wages for those in the four and lower fifth quintiles of American income earners. It will be interesting to see how Sen. Warren squares that circle. How she stands up for today’s progressive values in foreign policy while primarily arguing for lining the pockets of the elite at the expense of the middle class and the working poor eludes me.