First off, many thanks to my comrade-in-blogs, Kevin Drum, for giving me the opportunity to stand in his stead while he takes a well-earned, if too brief, vacation. It’s a pleasure to be here as a visitor from my regular habitat at

One of my co-blogganists over at DA, Shadi Hamid, is shaking of the late August doldrums by sparking a spirited discussion over the future of progressive foreign policy through a pair of posts on democracyarsenal and at the c.

I completely agree with Shadi that progressives need to work hard on articulating an affirmative vision for the future of U.S. foreign policy, one that goes beyond undoing the most obvious mistakes of the Bush Administration. I’ve heard a couple of party luminaries opine on the subject of late, and the cupboard is scarily bear. Here’s where I part ways with part I of Shadi’s description:

– While I think democracy promotion is part of a progressive program, and stands a chance of inspiring people with the positive and transformative potential of American power, the taint of the Bush years will be with us for a long time, making it difficult to talk about an ambitious agenda to sow freedom worldwide. Moreover, the Bush Administration has discredited the link between seeding democracy and averting terror, seeming to prove in Iraq that efforts to accomplish the former could could yield the very opposite of the latter. Americans’ foremost concerns with security and the threat of terrorism and nuclear weapons will not be allayed through democracy-promotion efforts.

I wrote here about why a Community of Democracies cannot be the centerpiece of a progressive vision. While I believe a progressive foreign policy program must include deep exploration of how to get democracy promotion right, until we have clearer consensus on that, neither the American public nor the rest of the world will be ready for high-risk US intervention in the name of spreading democracy.

– The Princeton Project on National Security, which will issue its own report in late September, will emphasize the concept of “order building” – strengthening alliances, international instruments and multilateral institutions as a way to entrench American values. I like this formulation, though think progressives in particular need to be careful to develop it in ways that seem less technocratic and procedural and more substantive. It cannot just be about order in itself, but must also address the kind of order we aim to construct.

My twist would be along the lines of global society-building. Among the major problems we struggle with are the absence of an accepted set of norms for international behavior – without those standards, it becomes impossible for, e.g. the UN Security Council to agree on whether Iran’s nuclear program warrants UN sanctions. We also lack a clear sense of countries obligations to one another – the rewards of courage and leadership within a society are fairly clear, but what does, say, a country like Italy get in return for bravely stepping up to lead the UN’s treacherous Lebanon mission? Working with others to get these sorts of norms better established and understood – not just through formal mechanisms but also through broad public awareness, is to me – at least for now – a more viable focus than trying to bring change in individual societies not our own.