Put Foreign Policy in State Platforms

Only about six percent of Americans care about foreign policy. Thanks to geography and most of us speaking only English, Americans don’t really engage with the rest of the world – except when we’re pointing weapons at them. Most voters just accept that presidential candidates will formulate their own foreign policy by surrounding themselves with lobbyists and talking heads from ideological think tanks.

Well, if that sounds like a terrible idea to you, here’s another. Put specific foreign policy planks into all the state party platforms. And put the best and best-supported ideas into the national party platform.

Last year Democrats drafted a national party platform that some said was the most progressive platform of all time. And maybe it was – for the Democratic Party – and only when limited to certain domestic planks.

But when it came to foreign policy, the Democratic Party’s hawkish platform reflected its presidential candidate’s worldview. We would fight ISIS by giving taxpayer money to repressive and right-wing governments – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel – the Usual Suspects – though so far they’ve been useful only to Defense contractors. The DNC platform ignored Congress’s right and obligation to declare war while calling for the use of presidential AUMF statements – like the one Donald Trump used last week. The platform downplayed the use of ground forces while preferring technology – Tomahawks and drones – like the ones Donald Trump used last week. Nobody really has a different plan – just keep on using extrajudicial killing indefinitely, without ever declaring war, without ever clearing the endless war with Congress.

The DNC platform is full of jingoistic phrases such as “Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” But many are beginning to question whether it just might be the United States that has inflicted the most damage on world peace and stability. We originally funded Islamists to fight the USSR, have given Israel $128 billion since 1948 while simultaneously turning our backs on Palestinians, created failed states in Iraq, Libya, and Syria – and then created millions of refugees Europe and Turkey have had to deal with.

We’re not winning any friends with this.

Republicans of the Bush administration, and Democratic Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry have all pursued policies of enlarging the world’s militaries – which ratchet up global dangers – failing to stop settlements, pulling NATO into our misadventures, conducting war games on Russia’s doorstep, throwing money at successive Egyptian dictators – all while playing God by deciding which regimes shall live, and which regimes shall die. Trump has pushed everything to its extreme, but what we’re seeing now is merely an exaggeration of the same foreign policy mistakes Democrats and Republicans have committed for years.

Meanwhile, the DNC leaves foreign policy to its presidential candidates. It also seems to think that, as long as Democrats pursue more enlightened domestic policies, maybe voters won’t even notice the foreign policy. But today’s progressive Democrats are taking notice. Many of the issues Democrats are arguing about now are not trivial differences. They deserve to be discussed, debated, and put into platforms.

Somewhere between domestic and foreign policy lie the American colonies. The ambiguous legal status and distances to places like Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Mariana Islands provide numerous opportunities for exploitation. Over decades, tax breaks and bonds bankrupted Puerto Rico. PROMESA was the Republicans’ way of sending thugs to break kneecaps and tell islanders to pay up. And PROMESA had bi-partisan support. To our shame, Democrats did almost nothing to help Puertorriqueños. Yet when it comes to taxpayer giveaways, “fiscal responsibility” rarely applies to the Usual Suspects, the DOD, or Defense contractors. That’s a bipartisan principle.

Now, if you don’t care about the people in our colonies – in far-flung places some of us can’t even find on a map – and you still haven’t been convinced that foreign policy is important, let’s consider how it affects you personally.

Police forces are now militarized. It’s not just the APCs and tanks, all that military surplus and the surveillance gear, but the many vets-to-cops who are now the face of the modern police force. State governments are passing draconian bills that threaten or abridge civil liberties. You can’t post a thought, send an email, or place a cellphone call without it being monitored. Right here in Massachusetts, partly out of good intentions – but also because of lobby groups – Democrats have proposed house and senate bills that strip the Constitutionally-protected right to boycott Israel. In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo set up a blacklist to punish these boycotters. But regardless of how you feel about Israel, stomping on the First Amendment is not something Democrats should be doing. That’s the GOP’s job.

You can’t fly into the country without being asked to give up your phone and passwords. You can’t fly out of the country without being subjected to increasingly intimate pat-downs. Men of a certain age can skip their annual prostate exams because the TSA now provides them free of charge. And you can’t climb on a plane without fear that someone will call the cops on you for speaking Arabic, working on a math problem, using the wrong word, telling the wrong joke, or having goons break your nose and knock out your teeth if you object to being bumped on a flight you’ve paid for.

None of this is new. And this is not just Trump’s Great New America. This is the authoritarian America that Democrats had a hand in making.

Two hundred million Americans no longer enjoy civil liberties along borders with Mexico or Canada, or within a hundred miles of the oceans. Homeland Security can set up checkpoints, stop and question you, confiscate your belongings, detain you, subject you to the third degree. All in violation of the 4th Amendment. Democrats voted for the Patriot Act, the FISA Courts, expansion of Homeland Security, and resisted effective oversight of the NSA and CIA. Many Democrats didn’t even read the Patriot Act before signing it.

So if you think that foreign policy doesn’t affect you, think again. Foreign policy is not something that should be decided by a presidential candidate. This is why it is critical that foreign policy planks be presented, debated, and adopted in each of the state Democratic Party platforms. Besides setting forth principles for legislative priorities in our own states, they’ll also send strong messages to the national party.