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.

Stop Censoring the Debate

The two month experiment by centrist and progressive Democrats in resisting Trump — while simultaneously trying to fix their troubled marriage — is showing signs of strain.

The odd couple, who have been sleeping “indivisibly” in a narrow double bed since Trump’s inauguration, may once again be getting tired of each other’s morning breath — if not their mate’s true nature.

From the introduction of Democratic Party platform planks, to discussions of how much support the DNC is giving progressive candidates in special elections, differences are apparent and profound. Centrist Democrats are asking for money already, and Progressives are giving instead to progressive PACs. Progressive Democrats are challenging the GOP in special elections, while the DNC hasn’t figured out what its national strategy is.

Still, the veneer of “indivisibility” must be preserved. And this is being done with a little sleight of hand — or, rather, some heavy-handed censorship.

To be sure, the Right Wing enjoys the friction in this stressed Democratic marriage. If nothing else it’s a nice distraction from the GOP’s own relationship problems. Jared Kushner’s New York Observer ran a piece recently telling progressives what they already know — that the DNC hasn’t been doing much to help progressives. The discussion over the Kansas election provoked a bit of heat on Facebook and on political discussion groups, though it was not unusually rancorous. But Indivisible’s response was to simply censor the whole discussion:

Elsewhere we’re seeing exhortations to avoid reading the right-wing press, to install content blockers in your browser, and to consult lists of “safe” vetted publications — all at a time it’s important to know what the other bastards are up to.

Not only that. An old adage reminds us that even a stopped click is right twice a day. This especially pertains to those great stopped clocks, the Right Wing. Must we ignore them, even if they occasionally make a good point? Or should heavy-handed “moderators” shape every discussion and, like the Great Chinese Firewall, protect us from opinions we shouldn’t be hearing and arguments we should be having?

Libertarians and Tea-totalitarians both claim that Democrats succumbed to political correctness in the 2016 elections. One aspect of this accusation was that Democrats support “identity politics” — defending vulnerable constituencies. Well, good for Democrats! And — centrist or progressive — we all had better acknowledge that, right now, the Democratic Party is the only thing standing between GOP authoritarianism and a vulnerable public.

But another aspect of the Right’s criticism points at the Democratic reticence to get out in the alley and mix it up, to habitually smooth over differences until no one really knows what Liberals stand for, to avoid conflict like delicate little “snowflakes.” And they’re right, pardon my saying so.

So, people, the Democratic couple this essay started out with is going to have to figure out how to move forward. They’re going to have to have it out, scream out loud — whether out in public or at a genteel cocktail party — and resolve their differences once and for all.

I’m getting a bit tired of hearing that pushing for Democrats to try a new, progressive, strategy is tantamount to rehashing the Clinton-Sanders primary all over again. We can’t have a discussion about strategies and directions if “moderators” censor the debate.

If you’ve ever seen Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?” you know that denying problems in a relationship never ends well. It’s time to let George and Martha really have at it.

Democrats need to engage on their differences. They exist, and they are serious. Disputation and resolution is the only way forward. Censorship is not only counter-productive, it’s something we cannot stand for — whatever the good but misguided intentions.

Keating Applauds Trump’s Missiles

When they invaded Iraq Republicans turned the country into a failed state ISIS could move right into. But then Democrats repeated the same mistake in Libya and Syria.

Fast forward to 2017. Many Democrats now recognize the mistake. But not William R. Keating, a slow learner who in my humble opinion needs a new job.

After Trump sent 50 Tomahawk missles into Syria on April 6th, the top five American newspapers ran 18 editorials praising the attack. There was not a single criticism. Breitbart’s Charles Krauthammer rejoiced that there was a new sheriff in town. Defense hawk and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Trump’s attack and urged him to take out Assad’s airfields. By bombing Syria, Farid Zakaria said, Donald Trump had finally “become president.” MSNBC’s Brian Williams called the missiles flying off to do their lethal work “beautiful.”

For the most part Democrats didn’t even bother to question whether it had been the Syrian government that killed the civilians with sarin gas. The Liberal Atlantic Monthly ran a piece titled Why America Should have Hit Assad Four Years Ago. Meanwhile, CIA-sponsored rebels are fighting US Army-sponsored rebels along the Turkish border. What the hell is going on? US involvement in Syria is not merely a fiasco, but a giant bipartisan fiasco demonstrating — once again — that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can be trusted to execute a coherent American foreign or military policy.

Sending a barrage of missiles into another nation is well beyond dispatching a drone to kill a suspected terrorist (and everyone nearby). This kind of attack is without question an act of war. The War Powers Act requires the President to report to Congress within 48 hours of initiating “hostilities” and forbids forces from remaining past 60 days. So far we have heard nothing from the President. Tellingly, three weeks before the sarin gas incident, the U.S. beefed up troops intended for Syria, and signalled its intent to stay in Syria, even after ISIS had been defeated.

Here in Massachusetts, where we are fortunate to have sensible Senators, voters still need to pay attention to Liberal hawks. Elizabeth Warren, to her credit, demanded to know what Trump’s strategy in Syria was. Ed Markey, to his credit, voiced concern that Syria could become another quagmire.

But our very own 9th Congressional district Representative, William R. Keating, stands with Trump. Keating is an Iran hawk and had to have his arm twisted to accept Obama’s Iran deal. Keating also voted with the GOP to limit Syrian refugees. No big surprise, then — Keating applauded the missle launch.

Keating, especially, needs to hear from voters. But call everyone. If you live near one of the local offices, drop in.

Representative William R. Keating

  • Hyannis Office: 297 North St., Hyannis, MA 02601
  • New Bedford Office: 558 Pleasant St., New Bedford, MA 02740
  • Plymouth Office: 170 Court St., Plymouth, MA 02360
  • Phone 202-225-3111

Senator Elizabeth Warren

  • Boston Office: 2400 JFK Federal Building, 15 Sudbury St., Boston, MA 02203
  • Springfield Office: 1550 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103
  • Phone 202-224-4543

Senator Edward J. Markey

  • Boston Office: 975 JFK Federal Building, 15 Sudbury St., Boston, MA 02203
  • Fall River Office: 222 Milliken Blvd., Fall River, MA 02721
  • Springfield Office: 1550 Main St., Springfield, MA 01101
  • Phone 202-224-2742