Coalitions Part II

The second of the "grand coalitions" has entered the fray to contest the direction of foreign policy under the Bush Administration...

The second of the "grand coalitions" has entered the fray to contest the direction of foreign policy under the Bush Administration, this one comprised of The Century Foundation, The American Prospect and the Center for American Progress.  My colleague Christian Brose, in this issue of In the National Interest, will share his impressions of the first day of this group's "New American Strategies for Security and Peace" conference that is meeting in Washington (website:

Unlike the "Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy," (whose launch was profiled by ITNI, at the "New American Strategies" meeting is more clearly a gathering of Democrats, even if it aims to appeal to "patriotic Americans of all political persuasions."   (The advisory committee includes figures such as Madeleine Albright, Zbgniew Brzezinski, Leon Fuerth, Gary Hart, Walter Mondale and Theodore Sorensen.) Yet, like the CRFP, it faces the challenge of not only criticizing the current administration, but also of trying to present a coherent alternative vision of American foreign policy.

This is because there is no consensus among Democrats (other than shared opposition to George W. Bush) as to what to do about foreign policy.  First, there are the liberal internationalists, whose primary beef with the neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration does not seem to be over whether American power should be used to reshape the world.  No, it has to do with the list of countries that should be targeted, and, to a lesser extent, the makeup of the coalition (a preference for formally constituted groups like NATO rather than ad hoc "coalitions of the willing.")

The second are what might be termed "Democratic realists", who adhere to Walter Lippmann's credo that "the nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means."  In part, Democratic realists are realists because of the various domestic constituencies that form the core of the party who have no desire to see U.S. treasure diverted for grandiose overseas adventures at the expense of local priorities.

Finally, there are those who have largely agreed with the Bush Administration about the threat posed by Iraq and the means utilized to deal with it and are critical of the execution of the policy rather than of the policy itself.  (Writing in the Fall 2003 issue of The National Interest, Senator Joseph Lieberman declared, "Destroying the Taliban in Afghanistan and removing Saddam Hussein's brutal regime in Iraq--both of which were incubators of hateful violence--were critical to our global counter-terrorism campaign.  These wars were just, and our military victories in each have made the United States and the world safer …")

How can all of these perspectives be reconciled?  So far, two answers have emerged.  The first is to insist that an interlocking network of partnerships (private-public sector, state-federal and international) can ensure U.S. security without a massive expenditures of American funds; in other words, effective burden-sharing can safeguard both guns and butter.  The second is the implication that the real problem is a personnel one, that if different people sat in the White House, at the State Department and in the Pentagon, all of these problems would not exist.

But one cannot yet speak of a distinctive "Democratic" foreign policy emerging.  And while criticism of the Bush Administration makes good copy, it does not provide a realistic blueprint for action.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.