Walker's World: Democrats thinking at last

By MARTIN WALKER, UPI Editor  |  June 8, 2005 at 11:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- Whether it is Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., or Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, some scion of the Kennedy clan or a former senator like John Edwards, D-N.C., or even former Vice President Al Gore, the next Democratic presidential candidate has no more excuses. A ready-made foreign and security policy for the United States that combines idealism about the kind of future that can be built with some hard-nosed realism about risks and limits has just been prepared in advance.

Not surprisingly, it is co-authored by a veteran of the Reagan administration, former assistant secretary for Defense Lawrence Korb, who now counts as a staunch Democrat as a fellow of the Democrats' well-funded new think tank the Center for American Progress. Korb wrote the new strategy with Robert Boorstin, who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. The CAP is run by John Podesta, President Clinton's former chief of staff in the White House.

Under the title "Integrated Power," their new booklet is presented as a national security strategy for U.S. progressives "that integrates our country's military, economic and diplomatic powers, and rejects the failed Bush administration approach that has weakened the armed forces, drained the Treasury and severely damaged our global influence."

The Bush administration will not be able easily to dismiss this as soft and fuzzy Democratic thinking. Korb and Boorstin call for expanding the woefully overstretched U.S. Army by 86,000 troops, threaten to stop the $3 billion in aid to Pakistan until its government provides full access to the top nuclear smuggler A.Q. Khan, and say the United States has to be prepared to be ruthless in the war on terror with "more nimble use of deadly force."

What is smart -- and different -- about the strategy is that it sees the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, the Commerce Department and the CIA, the Pentagon and the FBI, the Treasury and the U.S Trade Representative's office as parts of a single whole that need to be singing in harmony rather than trying to shout one another down as they vie for their share of the budget.

It tries to get beyond the increasingly arid debates between the advocates of "hard' power like the military and "soft" power like trade, democracy promotion and support for independent media, and look at them as a whole. The problem is that there are few things tougher in Washington than getting vast and jealous bureaucracies to work together, and share the blame and credit along with the budget.

"We continue to segment, categorize and divide when today's world requires integration," the strategy says, stressing that the Energy Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have to be brought to the top table of the federal government along with State and Pentagon. Indeed, it advocates a new Department of International Development to oversee foreign assistance and conflict-prevention programs.

"The American people deserve to know that there is a different, better path to keeping our country strong and spreading democracy and prosperity," Korb and Boorstin said at the launch of "Integrated Power."

"The Bush administration hasn't issued a national security strategy since it gave the world pre-emption in 2002. What we've learned since 9/11 about our enemies, combined with the situation in Iraq, demonstrates the need for new thinking and action," they added.

Many traditional Democrats are likely to be startled if not offended by the hard-nosed realism that says progressives have to be ready to accept a return to nuclear power, along with subsidies for bio-fuels and controls on vehicle emissions to free the United States from dependence on imported energy. And the protectionist wing of the Democratic Party -- in the labor unions and among anti-globalization groups -- is likely to bridle at the call for opening market access to food and other exports from developing countries, while at the same time joining the Europeans in setting a target of 0.7 percent of gross domestic product for development assistance.

The Korb-Boorstin strategy also lays itself open to some of the traditional conservative jibes about the Democrats not being tough enough to safeguard national security. They prepare the way for a retreat from Iraq, stressing the need to "create a credible exit strategy" and also demand that the United States pledge not to "establish any permanent military bases in Iraq or Afghanistan."

They also say the United States should forget President Bush's refusal to "reward" rogue states and start direct talks with both Iran and North Korea.

"Wishing away problems or choosing to shut out objectionable or extreme regimes is a failed approach to national security challenges," they say.

They believe in preventive diplomacy, tackling problems before they fester into crises. So they propose to double federal spending on programs like the Nunn-Lugar legislation that seeks to put Russian nuclear weapons and materials under lock and key while finding alternative work for Russian nuclear scientists. They also want to stop the development of new nuclear weapons like the so-called "bunker buster."

Above all, they are ready to acknowledge that the Bush administration has been right and deserves support on some of the big issues. They agree one of the fundamental goals of the United States must be to promote democracy. But they insist this cannot be imposed at gunpoint. (As Napoleon once said, "You can do anything with bayonets -- except sit on them.")

"That the president wants to spread democracy is laudable," Korb-Boorstin maintain. "But in the past two years, we have learned that it matters a great deal how you achieve your goal."

"Every day the American people are witness to the terrible cost of the president's simplistic world view and the blind certainty that drives those around him. The situation the United States today faces in Iraq is what happens when ideology trumps the facts, when a country acts without a strategy."

"Where the Bush administration sees its role as an explosive detonator for democracy, we choose to be an aggressive catalyst," they claim, a phrase that sounds as if it seeks to capture a distinction without a clear difference.

But that is the core of the Democratic dilemma; so many Democrats supported the war -- including their last presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and some of their likely candidates in 2008 like Clinton -- that there are limits to the contrasts they can present with the Bush policies. The fact that the think tank on which many in the Democratic Party now depend for new ideas is coming up with a thoughtful and coherent new strategy so early in the political cycle demonstrates how seriously they now take the battle of ideas.

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