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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Will Marshall and Jeremy Rosner

Last Build Date: Mon, 22 May 2006 00:50:01 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Fighting Smarter

Mon, 22 May 2006 00:50:01 -0600

Throughout the Middle East, there is disturbingly broad sympathy for Osama bin Laden and copycat extremist groups. In much of Europe, official and public antipathy for the Bush administration overshadows a mutual trans-Atlantic interest in confronting Islamist violence. Partly because of his errors in Iraq, partly due to his own shortcomings as a communicator, and partly due to the myopia of his top aides at the Pentagon and elsewhere, the president has failed to rally progressive forces, both in the West and in the Middle East, against an ideology that is profoundly hostile to liberal values and to the humane ethos of genuine Islam. The Bush administration's failures are not simply a matter of incompetence. They are the systematic reflection of a worldview -- conservative unilateralism -- that believes America can shape international affairs simply by flexing its military muscle. Even before 9/11, conservatives looked at the growing "power gap" that America enjoys with the rest of the world and reached two flawed conclusions. First, they overestimated what can be achieved by military power alone. The continuing carnage in Iraq, three years after U.S. forces easily toppled Saddam Hussein, is a tragic measure of their error. Second, they underestimated the value of international alliances and institutions that augment and help to legitimate the use of American power. In short, the Bush Republicans have been tough, but they have not been smart. The security formula of military dominance, ad hoc "coalitions of the willing," and pre-emptive war has failed to make Americans safer or the jihadists weaker. In fact, the Republicans' purblind policies have opened up the greatest chasm in modern memory between the scope of American power and our actual sense of security and standing in the world. But the American electorate will not turn over national leadership to the Democrats unless they step forward with a new and better plan for victory. Democrats should begin by reaffirming their party's commitment to progressive internationalism -- the belief that America can best defend itself by building a world safe for individual liberty and democracy. Progressive internationalism occupies the vital center between the neo-imperial right and the noninterventionist left, between a view that assumes our might always makes us right, and one that assumes that because America is strong it must be wrong. It stresses the responsibilities that come with our enormous power: to use force with restraint but not to hesitate to use it when necessary; to show what the Declaration of Independence called "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind"; to exercise leadership primarily through persuasion rather than coercion; to reduce human suffering where we can; and to bolster alliances and global institutions committed to upholding an increasingly democratic world order. By applying the organizing principles of progressive internationalism -- national strength, equal opportunity, liberal democracy, U.S. leadership for collective security -- Democrats can design a strategy that will defeat Islamist extremism. That strategy should specifically revolve around five key imperatives: First, we must marshal all of America's manifold strengths, starting with our military power but going well beyond it, for the struggle ahead. Second, we must rebuild America's alliances, because democratic solidarity is one of our greatest strategic assets. Third, we must champion liberal democracy in deed, not just in rhetoric, because a freer world is a safer world. Fourth, we must renew U.S. leadership in the international economy and rise to the challenge of global competition. Fifth, we must summon from the American people a new spirit of national unity and shared sacrifice. Use all our strengths. Democrats must be committed to preserving America's military pre-eminence, because a strong military undergirds U.S. global leadership. Diplomacy works best when it is backed by the credible threat of force. Therefore, we must give high priority to repairing the dam[...]