Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Foreign Policy Divide in the Democratic Party

This week's Letter from Washington at the New Yorker is a fascinating piece by Jeffrey Goldberg on the Democratic Party's divide on Iraq and foreign policy heading into the 2008 campaign season.

Goldberg compares the foreign policy positions of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama -- with these three being generally seen as the top Democratic prospects to win the party's nomination. Clinton supports the war in Iraq, but questions the Bush administration's strategy; Edwards thinks the war's been a mistake and favors and immediate withdrawal; Obama -- who was not in the Senate in 2003 -- is critical of the war but thinks a rapid redeployment of American forces from the country will betray and endanger the Iraqi people.

Here's a key segment that illustrates how the antiwar preferences of key Democratic constituencies establish essential weaknesses for the party in foreign policy in 2008 and beyond:
Clinton, Edwards, and Obama view themselves as internationalists—eager to keep America engaged in the world and willing to employ force if necessary. And yet, if polls are to be trusted, this outlook separates them from their party’s base. A 2005 poll conducted by the Democratic-affiliated Security and Peace Institute found that the top two foreign-policy priorities of Republicans were the destruction of Al Qaeda and a halt to nuclear proliferation; Democrats named the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the elimination of AIDS. Grassroots Democratic opposition to the Iraq war has been especially potent; it cost Senator Joseph Lieberman the support of Democrats in his primary fight last year. Polls also show that a sizable minority of Democrats now feel that the war in Afghanistan was a mistake—thirty-five per cent, according to an M.I.T. survey conducted in November of 2005. Even more noteworthy, only fifty-seven per cent of Democrats questioned in the same poll would support the deployment of U.S. troops against a known terrorist camp. A German Marshall Fund poll in June of last year found that seventy per cent of Republicans would approve of military action as a last resort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, as opposed to only forty-one per cent of Democrats. As the New Republic editor-at-large Peter Beinart, who has argued for a more assertive Democratic foreign policy, notes in an essay that will appear in a forthcoming collection produced by the Brookings and Hoover Institutions, “America’s red-blue divide is no longer chiefly between churched and unchurched. It is between hawk and dove.” He is not alone in arguing that Bush has done something that would have seemed impossible in late 2001: he has turned the fight against terrorism into a partisan issue.
Read the whole thing. The article notes that Bush will do whatever he can not to leave Iraq while he's in office, and thus the "who lost Iraq" label might be pinned on the Democrats should they take the White House in the next election. The piece left me impressed, though, with Hillary Clinton's foreign policy acumen -- honed during her husband Bill's administration -- and made me feel better about her frontrunner status (seeing that she's got a good chance of becoming our next president). Edwards is clear in his policy proposals, unlike the others, but he seems out of his depth on foreign policy. Obama's simply playing coy. At some point he's going to need to put out some beefy policy positions so that the media and the electorate can assess what he's got that makes him qualified to lead the nation in international affairs.

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