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January 15, 2006

The Image of the Chessmaster

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Picking up on Ezra here, the "Democrats are clever, wily foreign policy strategists" meme is a great place to start.  The important thing is that this idea be imbued with the flavor of dramatic and exciting victory.  One of the big differences between the Bush and Kerry foreign policy images of 2004 is that the image of how Bush would lead us to victory in foreign affairs was, for most Americans, easily accessible.  We'd fire our guns, drop our bombs, and blow away the bad guys wherever they were in the world.  The image of Kerry-style victory was harder to grasp. 

Democratic rhetoric on foreign policy has to make this image vivid.  I was wishing for Kerry to boast about how a Kerry Administration could've inspected every closet in Iraq for WMD without putting a single soldier into the field.  (Give President Kerry a war resolution in November 2002, and that's what happens -- he makes Saddam respect Hans Blix, lets the inspectors keep searching after they made Saddam destroy his Al-Samoud missiles, and we learn that Iraq has no WMD without a single American causalty.) 

There are winning images that don't involve the blowing-up of stuff and people, and it's the job of anyone who thinks they might oppose a war in the future to discover them.  I'm sad to say that anything in the vein of "sophisticated, effective security; humane, peaceful protection" (suggested by a commenter on the earlier post) will lose to the image of ass-kicking that Republicans sell.  But chills can be sent down spines by the image of accomplishing massive foreign policy goals through brilliant diplomacy, without risking a single American life.  Americans like winning, but we don't like our soldiers getting killed.  The image of the chessmaster delivers on both. 

Of course, it's hard for a party out of power to do anything to establish a foreign policy reputation -- we have to handle some crises first.  We have a more illustrious foreign policy history than the GOP, if you go back to WWII, but our more distant successes are harder to draw on.  (One of the appealing things about Wes Clark is that he has the closest ties to our badassness in the Balkans.)  What we can do is tear down Republicans on their strategic incompetence, as Battlepanda does:

The Iranians are the big winners in this Iraq war you started. You diverted U.S. firepower on a State that had no W.M.D. and was not causing us problems and turned it into a fiery hellhole that is a continual drain on our blood and treasure. Meanwhile, the real threat, Iran, was allowed to continue its nuclear programs apace. As a cherry on top, we delivered them the gift of eliminating Saddam, a thorn in their side, and a shia-dominated government in Iraq.

Let me add that the Iraq War gave all our enemies big incentives to go ahead with WMD programs.  We remove Saddam, who had no WMD, and do nothing about Kim Il Jong and his nuclear missiles.  If you're an anti-American dictator, which one do you want to be?  Republicans have not only given the mullahs everything they wanted, they've given them reason to go all-out for nuclear weapons. 

Even if we aren't going to be running foreign policy until 2008, defining ourselves by attacking Bush for strategic and tactical failures is a way to start.  Part of the way you define yourself is by how you oppose your enemies, and calling Republicans out on this kind of incompetence is the way to go. 

January 15, 2006 in Foreign Policy | Permalink

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Comments

You must be joking.

Hmm… Good Friday Agreement? A flop.

Dayton Accords? Not too bad, all things considered. Score one for Clinton.

Oslo Agreement? Predicated on the notion that giving a gang of murderers a state will lead to good results. A predictable disaster.

Haiti? Yes, we like dictators so much we'll actually return them to power!

Panama Canal? Yes, let's give it back without any conditions so that powerful adversaries can buy up all the surrounding real estate, and hold it hostage to our good behavior. Great idea!

Brezhnev? Great guy! No way he'll invade Afghanistan… umm…

*************

My point in all this is that your "Dems as wily strategists" meme, no matter how well you think you can back it up, will be shot to pieces if you actually try it in an election. The Democrats, for good reasons and bad, cannot survive by resting on their increasingly withered laurels. You need to propose something new, and something concrete that can be weighed on its merits, before people like me will support you again.

Posted by: Mastiff | Jan 15, 2006 7:44:01 PM

FDR's handling of WWII and Truman's Marshall Plan are the big wins here -- remember that I did say, going back to WWII. Kennedy also did pretty well in the Cuban Missile Crisis, from what I've heard.

Aristide was democratically elected, in case you've forgotten.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 15, 2006 8:55:18 PM

The Good Friday Agreement is going fairly well. Not perfectly, but it's certainly not a flop - that would imply an IRA return to the 'armed struggle'.

Oslo - any worse than pre-Oslo? Not noticeably.

Haiti - Aristide was elected. Cedras was the dictator.

Panama Canal - oh, this is the Texas Republican thing about the Red Chinese plotting to take over the Canal. Hmm. Okay, whatever(edges away)

Afghanistan - US intervention there has put the country into 22 years of civil war, plus terrorism, a four-year US occupation - better to have left it alone. Then it would have been freed in 1989 with the rest of the satellites.

On the success side:

Dayton (which Mastiff acknowledges)

Post-Soviet disarmament and counterproliferation (now being screwed up)

Containing Saddam at minimal cost and with minimal risk('nuff said)

NATO expansion

Posted by: ajay | Jan 16, 2006 2:15:09 PM

Post-Oslo is infinitely worse than pre-Oslo: a gang of murderers has been given international legitimacy, tyrannical control over millions of people, and billions of dollars with which to enrich themselves and to murder others.

Just in terms of body counts, many more Israelis and Palestinians have died in the decade and a half since Oslo than died during the first intifada.

My point with Afghanistan is that the Russian invasion occurred immediately after Carter spent so much effort telling America that we needed to live peacably with the Soviets. His miscalculation was absolute.

Besides, my point was all about the perception of your supposed target audience. It will take only a few well-placed sound bites to blow this PR strategy out of the water, whether or not they are factually correct.

And Neil, my point is that you cannot keep going back to WWII and expect that to be enough. Politics is all about "What have you done for me lately?"

Posted by: Mastiff | Jan 17, 2006 11:26:29 PM

certified home inspectors in orange county.

Posted by: orange county home inspectors | Jun 21, 2006 1:35:54 AM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 29, 2007 11:20:28 AM

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