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Issue No. 59 (November 2004) -- Mark Satin, Editor

Our next foreign policy needs to learn from ALL of us

“[W]e . . . have to be smart, Jim.”
-- Senator John Kerry at the foreign policy presidential debate, Miami FL, September 30, 2004

In Wallace Stevens’s great poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” you learn that all the ways he describes are -- so to speak -- useful, illuminating, and “true.”

It is a tragedy that we approach foreign policy differently in this country, very differently.

Our choices are said to be sharply constrained. In this corner, foreign policy “realism”; in that corner, “idealism.”

But a radical middle wind is blowing in the think tanks and universities, and, increasingly, public policy analysts are struggling to come up with frameworks that can give us a more many-sided read on the choices we have.

Hot new model

The hottest new model comes from Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author most recently of Power, Terror, Peace, and War (2004). Mead argues that the realist / idealist dichotomy should be scrapped in favor of one that allows us four basic choices, as follows:

-- “Jacksonians” are quick to act when American interests and prestige are at stake. But they’re suspicious of international coalitions and skittish about “merely humanitarian” interventions.

-- “Hamiltonians” are conservative multilateralists. They favor international coalitions to achieve traditional national interests.

-- “Wilsonians” are liberal internationalists. They’re appalled that we walked away from the Kyoto treaty; if they supported the Iraq war, it was in part to lend credibility to the U.N. (whose resolutions Saddam had been spurning for years).

-- “Jeffersonians” are anti-war and suspect we’re too entangled with other nations.

Soul of America

Although Mead’s four-sided model is a significant advance on the us-against-them approach of “realists” vs. “idealists,” it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

It still suggests that, at the end of the day, some of our wisdom will “win out,” and other parts of our wisdom will be lost on the world.

In the year 2004, with the world in turmoil, we need to do more than simply come up with a longer list of contenders for the foreign policy throne. We need to:

--- assess ALL our carefully considered approaches to foreign policy,

-- discover what’s “true” or helpful about EACH approach,

-- and then use ALL the wisdom derived thereby to come up with a coherent new approach to foreign policy that speaks to the needs of the 21st century.

On one level this is simply a foreign policy matter. But on a deeper level it’s something more. It is about what pioneers like Corinne McLaughlin of the Center for Visionary Leadership and David Spangler of the Lorian Association call the Soul of America.

It is about calling forth and pulling together ALL the best energy of that Soul. And sending it out into the world in practical, helpful ways.

(Or, if you prefer, it’s about what many social scientists now call “constructivism” -- reconstructing and hopefully expanding and deepening the very way we see the world. See, e.g., Walter Truett Anderson, “Being Constructive,” in ibid., The Next Enlightenment, 2003, pp. 127-145; and, for foreign policy specifically, “Social Constructivism in International Relations Theory,” http://home.pi.be/~lazone.)

In the next couple of pages, I’ll give you a first cut at a full-souled or deeply constructivist approach to U.S. foreign policy.

Twenty-six ways of looking at the world are summarized and assessed below. Arguably, eight are radical, eight moderate, eight conservative, and two indeterminate.

I think you’ll quickly come to see that our future depends on our learning what’s useful, illuminating, and “true” about EVERY SINGLE ONE of our 26 ways of looking at the world.

And then USING those learnings to create, if not a great Wallace-Stevens-like poem, then a great foreign policy.

Foster conflict resolution!

Some of us feel that the most urgent thing the U.S. can do in the world is help other nations and peoples solve their conflicts peacefully.

Authors like Mark Gerzon (Leaders Beyond Borders, 2003) and William Ury (The Third Side, rev. 2000) have gone beyond just writing about that goal. They’ve spent years helping peoples and groups outside the U.S. understand one another and bridge their differences.

“Leaders beyond borders are bridge-builders who specialize in bridging the man-made (as opposed to the natural) chasms of our world,” says Gerzon.

“Thirdsiders urge disputants to sit down and talk out their differences respectfully,” says Ury. “Thirdsiders . . . focus on the process. To them, how people handle their differences is just as important as what outcome they reach.”

All true. But we owe much more to our world than helping others acquire good process.

Organization to watch: Search for Common Ground, 1601 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Ste. 200, Washington DC 20009.

Humanitarian intervention!

Some of us are so appalled by the cruelties routinely visited on other peoples -- through governmental oppression and civil wars -- that we can’t believe we’re not doing more to stop it. Particularly when the cruelties rise to the level of genocide.

“The U.S. should stop genocide for two reasons,” says Samantha Power in her award-winning book A Problem from Hell (2002). “The first and most compelling reason is moral. When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the U.S. has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act. . . .

“[T]he second reason: enlightened self-interest. . . . [S]ecurity for Americans at home and abroad is contingent on international stability, and there is perhaps no greater source of havoc than a group of well-armed extremists bent on wiping out a people on ethnic, national, or religious grounds.”

Who can disagree? The only question is whether the U.S. and the other developed nations are willing -- and able -- to live in a constant state of armed conflict. Since the answer to that question is undoubtedly “no,” other, complementary solutions are going to have to be found.

Organization to watch: Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, 79 JFK St., Cambridge MA 02138.

There's a "duty to prevent"!

Some of us think that -- though a “responsibility to protect” other peoples from genocide may be important -- a “duty to prevent” other nations from acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction is even more important. Especially when those nations are run by rulers without significant internal checks on their power.

It isn’t just conservatives who believe this. Listen to Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s storied Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs (in Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2004):

“Like the responsibility to protect, the duty to prevent [recognizes] that in the 21st century, maintaining global peace and security requires states to be proactive rather than reactive. And both [new principles] recognize that U.N. members have responsibilities as well as rights.

“The duty to prevent [calls] on the international community to act early in order to be effective. . . . [And t]he duty to prevent should be exercised collectively, through a global or regional organization.”

Sounds good. But what, exactly, would the “duty to prevent” have us do about Iran? Pakistan? North Korea? And at what point would we do more than just talk? Can we speak of a “duty” at all when its dictates are so murky?

Organization to watch: Council on Foreign Relations, 58 E. 68th St., NY 10021.

Build civil society!

Some of us urgently want “civil society” -- basically, groups that are neither government- nor corporate-controlled -- to supplement or even take over many traditional functions of national and international governments.

Activists have been talking about civil society for decades . . . and putting their shoulders where their mouths are through groups as diverse as International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Climate Action Network, and Transparency International. In her book The Coming Democracy (2003), Ann Florini beautifully captures and extends their vision.

According to Florini, new information technologies -- the Web, e-mail, cell phones, etc. -- are allowing civil society groups to increasingly expose the inner workings of corporations, governments, and international institutions to the general public.

As a result, an exciting new kind of global democracy is on the horizon. National and international institutions might not change their form. But they won’t make decisions without formally taking into account a considerable amount of input from civil society actors, and without being totally transparent about their processes.

Only a grinch would resent the impact watchdog groups are having on our national and international institutions. The problem is that, as Florini herself points out in her earlier and more measured book, The Third Force (2000), “[T]here is nothing inherent in the nature of civil society -- local or transnational -- that ensures representation of a broad public interest. [And e]ven for those who share the goals of particular networks, troubling questions about legitimacy and accountability remain.”

Organization to watch: Global Governance Initiative of the World Economic Forum, 91-93 Route de la Capite, CH-1223 Cologny/Geneva, Switzerland.

Be magnanimous!

Some of us are asking whether the U.S. needs to act in the same aggressive and short-term-oriented way as other dominant powers throughout the world’s history.

In “American Primacy in Perspective,” a widely-noted article in Foreign Affairs (July / August 2002), two Dartmouth professors -- Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth -- make the case for what they call “magnanimity.”

“Washington . . . needs to be concerned about the level of resentment that an aggressive unilateral course would engender among its major allies,” they write. “As for the developing world, if the U.S. could help improve political, social, and economic relations there, practically everyone would benefit -- the locals directly, and the rest of the world indirectly.”

The problem with magnanimity, of course, is the same in foreign affairs as in daily life: what seems benign to one often seems quite different to another.

Organization to watch: World Affairs Council, 1800 K St. N.W., Ste. 1014, Washington DC 20006.

God, principle, sacrifice!

We tend to think of terrorists as “bad,” “evil,” and worse. And of course we’re right. But at the terrorists’ own level, the moral universe looks quite different. Here’s a passage from Walter Laqueur’s magisterial anthology, Voices of Terror (2004), memorializing Palestinian Sheikh Dr. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam:

“The Sheikh’s life revolved around a single goal, namely the establishment of Allah’s rule on earth. . . . He reared his family in the same spirit also, so that his wife, for example, engaged in orphan care and other humanitarian work. . . . He refused teaching positions at a number of universities, declaring that he would not quit jihad until he was either martyred or assassinated.”

Such passages may not convince you of the wisdom of jihad. But they may convince you that some people insist on living lives of great passion and sacrifice, and that it’s imperative that every society offer its citizens sane paths to that end.

Organization to watch: Terrorism website, Council on Foreign Relations / Markle Foundation, http://cfrterrorism.org.

Just walkin' and listenin'

Some of us feel the best way to relate to the rest of the world is by exploring and listening -- and slowly but surely discovering how (if at all) we can help.

You might think this approach is too counter-cultural to contemplate, but in the hands of serious thinkers and activists it can be a powerful tool.

Anti-war activist Fran Peavey has spent a good part of the last two decades sitting on benches in foreign countries with a sign, “American Willing to Listen” -- or just going up to strangers in foreign lands and initiating thoughtful conversations -- and now has a marvelous sense of the world’s social, psychological, and historical currents.

“Although theoretically I was fighting for the survival of every human being on the planet,” Peavey says in her extraordinary memoir, Heart Politics Revisited (rev. 2000), “I didn’t actually know many people outside the U.S. . . . I really loved people only in California and Idaho. I needed a global heart.”

Recently a Gen-Y establishment insider, Jedediah Purdy (Harvard College, Yale Law School), undertook a similarly guileless adventure. In Being America (2003) you’ll find him running with Madras teen-agers, hanging with Chinese law students, and trying to cope with the phenomenally contradictory messages he received one afternoon from Egyptian booksellers.

Obviously, this way of approaching the world can’t give us the answers we need. But it can give us the wherewithal for asking the right questions.

Organization to watch: Peavey’s Crabgrass.org, 691 Minna St., San Fran 94103.

Nurture the middle class!

Some of us would focus our development efforts not on the wretched of the Earth, but on firming up the middle class of the Earth, and on bringing more people into the middle class.

Sherle Schwenninger, long-time foreign policy analyst, urges developing nations to take the U.S. as their socioeconomic model (in Ted Halstead, ed., The Real State of the Union, 2004):

“The U.S. grew rich not [only] by exporting its wares . . . but by creating a large domestic market for American-made goods and services . . . in part by establishing [systems] of credit” for homeowners, local governments, and entrepreneurs. Governments of developing nations -- in conjunction with the international financial community -- might therefore care to aim “not simply at boosting manufactured exports but also at expanding domestic consumption, homeownership, and public infrastructure.

“They could begin to do so by creating the equivalent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac [lending institutions that made homeownership possible] and by creating local and state bond markets to finance new roads, schools, and water systems. . . .”

This is an attractive approach. But with billions of people in dire economic straits, it’s hard to believe a popularly elected government in a developing nation would not want -- or need -- to do at least as much for the very poor.

Organization to watch: Global Economic Policy Project of the New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Ave. N.W., 7th Flr, Washington DC 20009.

Weak states first!

Some of us feel we ignore weak states at our peril. In The Pentagon’s New Map (2004), Thomas Barnett, who teaches political science at the Naval War College, virtually lays down a gauntlet, as follows:

“Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the . . . Core.

“But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and -- most important -- the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the . . . Gap.”

Barnett’s solution: Shrink the Gap! Partly by “exporting security” there and partly by encouraging aid and, especially, private investment there.

The solution sounds benign. But suppose a nation in the Gap wishes to follow an unconventional development path. Would it still receive security aid, development aid, private investment?

Organization to watch: Center for Global Development, 1776 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Ste. 301, Washington DC 20036.

O, sustainable development!

Some of us feel our key task is to foster “sustainable development.”

The classic statement of sustainable development is the “Earth Charter” (2000), product of the work of literally thousands of activists over many years. In her new book Planetary Citizenship (2004), sustainable development pioneer Hazel Henderson lays special emphasis on this passage from the Charter:

“Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.”

The most recent attempt to translate the concept of sustainable development into a practical political and economic program is Wolfgang Sachs et al., “Jo’burg Memo: Fairness in a Fragile World” (2002). U.S. drafters included Henderson and Worldwatch Institute’s Hilary French. “Above all else, this question is critical,” the document states. “What does fairness mean within a finite environmental space?”

The questions raised by sustainable development thinkers are vital and often moving. But you can’t help thinking that the world is larger -- science more dynamic -- technology more open-ended -- and life more unpredictable, than the s.d. philosophy appreciates.

Organization to watch: Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Mass. Ave. N.W., DC 20036.

Exercise "soft power"!

Some of us want to make sure the U.S. exercises “soft power” in the world.

Soft power is a term coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph S. Nye, Jr. in 1990, and fully developed by him in his book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004).

Soft power, says Nye, is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies. When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced. . . .

“When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction.”

It would be great if we could act in the world only through soft power -- student exchanges, public diplomacy, multilateral diplomacy, etc. But even in the best of all worlds, military power (coercive diplomacy, war) and economic power (aid, sanctions) should remain in our arsenal -- as Nye himself would be quick to admit.

Organization to watch: Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, 1901 N. Fort Myer Dr., Ste. 405, Arlington VA 22209.

Build great-power alliances!

Some of us are wary both of foreign policy arrogance and of subordinating U.S. interests to a veto by a gaggle of small countries (as is often the case at the U.N.). They’d like to do what both Theodore Roosevelt and FDR had in mind -- build a great-power alliance, an alliance of adults to make things right.

Policy analyst Michael Lind is an eloquent exponent of this position. In “Toward a Global Society of States” (Wilson Quarterly, August 2002), he suggests placing “responsibility for the management of global peace and progress” less on the U.N. General Assembly and more on the U.N. Security Council, once it’s been reformed to include such great powers as Germany, India, and Japan.

Alternately, Lind would establish a great-power concert outside the U.N. -- perhaps through a revitalized NATO, or a better focused G-8 (Group of Eight).

It is common sense that the wealthiest and most powerful nations should act as the world’s steering committee (and it’s far better that they do so publicly than behind the scenes). But wouldn’t it be wise for the wealthiest nations to have some formal accountability to the smaller and weaker nations?

Organization to watch: America Strategy Project of the New America Fdn, 1630 Connecticut Ave. N.W., 7th Flr, DC 20009.

Another world is possible!

Some of us feel it’s imperative to imagine another world -- a world radically different from global capitalism -- a world all good people might come together to work for.

Increasingly, the vision that’s emerged among “antiglobalists” and other radicals is the vision of a highly decentralized world.

John Cavanagh et al.’s Alternatives to Economic Globalization (2002) includes detailed statements of that vision. For example: “Whenever economic production, labor, and markets can be local, they should be, and rules should help achieve that. . . .”

Naomi Klein has identified the “system of centralized power itself” as the world’s core problem. In Fences and Windows (2002) she romanticizes groups of alienated and marginalized activists. David Korten has imagined a world in which we’d travel abroad less and live in smallish cities.

I don’t find these visions attractive. But I’m glad radicals are churning them out. Unless we strive to imagine a better world, we’ll never be able to create one.

Organization to watch: International Forum on Globalization, 1009 General Kennedy Ave., Ste. 2, San Fran 94129.

Stay number one!

Some of us are convinced that, first and foremost, we need to strive to remain #1 in the world -- economically, technologically, and above all, militarily.

There are vulgar and arrogant reasons for wanting to remain #1. But there are also pragmatic and even benign reasons, and President George W. Bush spelled those out in the first paragraph of his widely noted “National Security Strategy of the USA” (September 2002):

“The U.S. possesses unprecedented -- and unequaled -- strength in the world. [As a result, we have] unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom.”

So far, so good. The trick, though, is to make sure that our understanding of “freedom” is sufficiently broad to encompass other genuine national leaders’ sincere interpretations of that word.

Organization to watch: Committee on the Present Danger, 1146 - 19th St. N.W., Ste. 310, Washington DC 20036.

Spread freedom!

Some of us would not stop with using our immense power to preserve freedom in the world. They would act to assertively extend freedom.

“For 200 years, tyrannical rulers have dreaded America’s influence over their subjugated peoples,” David Frum and Richard Perle write in their manifesto An End to Evil (2003). (Frum is, of course, the former George W. Bush speechwriter who coined the phrase “axis of evil.” Perle is an influential foreign policy hawk.)

“We do not show our respect for human difference by shrugging indifferently when people somehow different from ourselves are brutalized in body and spirit. . . . To say that we are engaged in ‘imposing American values’ when we liberate people is to imply that there are peoples on this earth who value their own subjugation.”

It is true that we should use our power to help the wretched of the earth. But an eagerness to “liberate people” by force is precisely what characterized Hitler and Stalin. History calls on us to liberate peoples more subtly or at least in close concert with their own representative organizations -- as we might have done in Iraq.

Organization to watch: Project for the New American Century, 1150 - 17th St. N.W., Ste. 510, Washington DC 20036.

Poor people first!

Some of us feel it would be immoral if the world didn’t focus, first and foremost, on improving the lot of the world’s poor.

That case was made, powerfully and thoroughly, by the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2003, “Millennium Development Goals: A Compact Among Nations to End Human Poverty.”

The eight development goals featured are as basic as they are ambitious. Among them: “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”; “Achieve universal primary education”; “Promote gender equality and empower women”; and “Reduce child mortality.”

Unlike most U.N. documents, this one led to action by many nation-states -- including a projected 50% increase in U.S. development assistance by FY 2006 under the Millennium Challenge Account.

It is useful and necessary to appeal to the conscience of the developed nations. But charity alone will never lift the poor out of poverty.

Organization to watch: InterAction, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Ste. 701, Washington DC 20036.

Shared values now!

Some of us are convinced that the peoples of the world desperately need to acquire a shared set of values. Without common values and a common purpose, how can we move forward together?

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni, a pioneering “communitarian” thinker, not only shares this perspective. In his new book, From Empire to Community (2004), he argues that the world “is actually moving toward a new synthesis between the West’s great respect for individual rights and choices and the East’s respect for social obligations; between the West’s preoccupation with autonomy and the East’s preoccupation with social order. . . .”

It is probably true that, at the higher levels, some such synthesis is emerging. But foreign policy does not typically get done at those levels.

Organization to watch: Communitarian Network, 2130 H St. N.W., Ste. 703, Washington DC 20052.

Foster trade and investment!

Some of us think promoting trade and investment is the very best way to help the developing world -- and ourselves, too.

Stung by the criticisms of “antiglobalists,” free traders have mounted a largely convincing defense of their position. Their most important new books are Martin Wolf’s Why Globalization Works (2004) and Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defense of Globalization (2004).

Bhagwati’s book is not unsympathetic to some of the more moderate policies advanced by antiglobalists. But Wolf’s is the better argued. A baby boomer who’d been a social democrat in college and now writes a column for Financial Times, Wolf brilliantly marshals facts, figures, and logical arguments to show that a global market economy can do more good for ALL concerned -- including U.S. workers, foreign workers, developing nations, and the environment -- than any other socioeconomic system.

Wolf may be right -- in my view, he is right -- but his book is insufficient. You’re never going to integrate the planet economically without paying a lot more attention to issues of transparency, accountability, equity, and cultural sensitivity than most national leaders and transnational corporate managers have done so far.

Organization to watch: Project on Trade and Global Markets of the Progressive Policy Institute, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E., Ste. 400, Washington DC 20003.

Change America first!

Some of us think the best we can do -- as world citizens -- is change the U.S. for the better. Stop hectoring and bullying the world, the argument goes. Become a beacon to the world once more.

You can find this argument in many thinkers on the far left and far right, from Howard Zinn and Tom Hayden to Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis. But rarely has it been more up-front than in political economist Charles Derber’s new book, Regime Change Begins at Home (2004).

“When American leaders talk about regimes,” Derber says, “it is usually about the evil governments of Iraq, North Korea, Iran, . . . [However,] the U.S. government is also a regime. . . . Our current regime is a corporate one. . . .”

You don’t have to buy into Derber’s anti-corporate message to appreciate his larger point: Papa, don’t preach.

Organization to watch: United for Peace and Justice, P.O. Box 607, Times Square Stn., New York NY 10108.

Spread electoral democracy!

Some of us think our most urgent task is to spread electoral democracy.

“The road to [human rights and property rights] in today’s world runs not through unaccountable autocracies but through freely elected governments,” writes Journal of Democracy editor Marc Plattner (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1998).

“Elections [themselves] would seem to require the guarantee of certain civil liberties -- the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly -- if they are to be truly free and fair. . . . [And] even if democracy breaks down, it can leave a legacy of hope for the future.”

Electoral democracy is an important component of a humane society. But so, too, are property rights, civil rights, and “positive” rights such as access to housing, health care, and a job.

Organization to watch: National Endowment for Democracy, 1101 Fifteenth St. N.W., Ste. 700, Washington DC 20005.

Spread constitutional rights!

Some Americans think that more electoral democracy is not what the world needs most right now. A more pressing need may be for constitutional rights associated with freedom -- human rights, property rights, women’s rights, etc.

“Liberty came to the West centuries before democracy,” says Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria in his award-winning book, The Future of Freedom (2003). “[And] there can be such a thing as too much democracy -- too much of an emphatically good thing.

“The essence of liberal democratic politics is the construction of a rich, complex social order, not one dominated by a single idea. . . . Constitutional liberalism [as distinct from representative democracy or populism] seeks to protect an individual’s autonomy and dignity against coercion, whatever the source -- state, church, or society. . . . [L]iberty and democracy [are] often at odds.”

It does make sense to think of human freedom and popular democracy as separate entities. There can be illiberal democracies and liberal autocracies. But in today’s world, how likely is it that we’ll see either of those for very long?

Organization to watch: Human Rights Watch, 350 Fifth Ave., 34th Flr, NY 10118.

It's a conspiracy!

Some of us are convinced that behind the major “visible” events of the world are more or less invisible conspiracies, and that we can’t make things right in the world until we expose the conspiracies and disempower the conspirators.

The events of 9/11 have unleashed a tidal wave of conspiracy theories. The Internet bulges with them. For example, one widely-disseminated document (“9/11 Video Shocks Sacramento Citizens,” from NewsWithVision.com) claims that a windowless plane -- not a commercial airliner -- hit the second World Trade Tower, and that it “had some kind of blue logo on the front.” The document doesn’t say, and doesn’t need to say, that the Israeli flag consists of a blue logo.

David Ray Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor (2004), a popular 9/11 conspiracy book by a transformational theologian, suggests that the collapse of the World Trade Towers was caused by explosives and that the Bush Administration had prior knowledge of the attack.

I am not persuaded by any of this. You quickly learn in law school that any event can be explained in several plausible ways, and all the 9/11 conspiracy theories require you to ignore too much publicly available evidence.

But it is true that conspiracies do happen. Fidel Castro was right to fear that certain U.S. agents and Cuban exiles were conspiring to kill him. The people of Detroit were right to fear that General Motors and certain civic officials were conspiring to level the historic Poletown district. We should never say “never.”

Organization to watch: 9-11 Commission Public Discourse Project, One Dupont Circle, Ste. 600, Washington DC 20036.

Fix the bureaucracies!

Some of us who spend time in Washington DC are convinced that our foreign policy problems have much to do with a variety of bureaucratic horribles at the State and Defense departments and the intelligence agencies.

The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report (2004) publicized egregious flaws in the working of our national security bureaucracies -- among them, stifling hierarchies, lack of internal and cross-agency communication, fear and resentment of individual initiative, and a simple lack of dedication to one’s job.

For years, policy analyst Paul Light has preached that our bureaucracies are not hiring -- or even attracting -- the right people. There is a “human capital crisis” in our bureaucracies, he writes (Brookings Review, Winter 2000). “Young Americans are not saying ‘Show me the money’ so much as ‘Show me the work.’ And on that count government is losing ground. . . . [T]he message to government recruiters from the [college] graduates I interviewed is simple: make the work more inviting.”

If you want to see a great (albeit tragic) example of what Light is talking about, go onto the Internet and try finding and then applying for an appealing job at the 180,000-employee Department of Homeland Security, a bureaucracy of no small importance c. 2004. The salaries are not ungenerous. But you won’t believe the jargon, the bleak and suffocating job descriptions, or the red tape.

Probably no one who’s spend time in Washington would deny the need for bureaucratic reform ASAP. But not even the most dedicated foreign policy bureaucrats or the most consultative internal processes can fully substitute for inadequate foreign policies.

Organization to watch: Center for Public Service of the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., DC 20036.

Environment first!

Some of us think our dominant foreign policy issue is the environment. The U.S. Greens have built a political party on that premise.

“Time is running out,” says Lester Brown, a respected environmental analyst and author of Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (2003). “Whereas historically we lived off the interest generated by the earth’s natural capital assets, we are now consuming those assets themselves. We have built an environmental bubble economy. . . .

“Terrorists are a threat. But the destruction wrought by terrorists is likely to be small compared with the worldwide suffering if the environmental bubble economy collapses.”

I feel such views are overwrought -- they underestimate both nature’s resilience and technology’s increasing capacity to come to the rescue (via biotechnology, nanotechnology, and the like; see esp. futurist Joseph Coates’s online book 2025). But no one can say for sure how dire our environmental situation is, and under these circumstances it’s probably best to take Brown’s warnings seriously enough to tread as lightly as we can -- meanwhile pumping as much creativity as we can into reversing the dangerous trends he’s identified.

Organization to watch: Earth Policy Institute, 1350 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Ste. 403, Washington DC 20036.

O, international institutions!

Some of us feel that international institutions are the key to the global future. Recently, Newsweek correspondent Michael Hirsh made the case for international institutions especially vividly in his book At War With Ourselves (2003).

American power largely built the world’s great international institutions, Hirsh argues. Yet we are ambivalent about whether we want to use them to build a better world.

“Americans can vacillate no longer. Circumstances have forced us into a stark choice: either . . . watch the international system wither away without us, or fully embrace, at long last, this global system we fathered and yet too often have fecklessly orphaned.”

International institutions can be useful and important. But it is also true that international institutions need a big dose of reform in the direction of transparency and accountability -- just as much as do national governments and large corporations. Our international institutions are not the perfect instruments we dreamt about in high school.

Organization to watch: Citizens for Global Solutions, 418 Seventh St. S.E., Washington DC 20003.

National defense first!

Some of us want to avoid foreign adventures altogether and concentrate on defending the U.S. militarily against foreign aggression.

That has long been the libertarian position, and it was recently brilliantly defended by policy analyst Ivan Eland in “The Empire Strikes Out: The ‘New Imperialism’ and Its Fatal Flaws” (Cato Policy Analysis, November 26, 2002).

“Today’s world bears little resemblance to the one over which [the British and Roman empires] presided,” Eland says. “First, the world is far more interconnected today, which makes the consequences of sanctimonious, arrogant, or clumsy international behavior riskier. . . . Second, the potential costs of making enemies today are far greater. . . .

“Most of all, the strategy of empire is likely to overstretch and bleed America’s economy and its military and federal budgets, and the overextension could hasten the decline of the U.S.”

This is all true. And yet, the peoples of the world desperately need U.S. and great power assistance -- not just economically but also militarily. To ignore that unfortunate fact is to bury one’s head in the sand.

Organization to watch: Independent Institute, 100 Swan Way, Oakland CA 94621.

Dare to synthesize

You may feel tempted to pick and choose among all the foreign policy perspectives above. You should try to avoid that temptation.

It is important to get beyond the idealist vs. realist cast of traditional American foreign policy debates. Even the new, four-cornered debate that Walter Russell Mead has made possible (Jacksonians vs. Hamiltonians vs. Wilsonians vs. Jeffersonians) fails to capture all the views of thoughtful Americans as presented above.

I am trying to suggest that -- in formulating our next foreign policy -- we need to get beyond debate of the I’m right / you’re wrong variety and begin trying to integrate the truths in ALL the views above.

Toward the end of each view, I tried to indicate exactly how that view is relevant and useful in our new age.

Since all our views are relevant and useful, we should stop thinking about our next foreign policy as a choice between two ends of a spectrum, or four tendencies arrayed as in four corners of a boxing ring.

Let’s think of it instead as a diamond, a 26-sided diamond; each side of which reflects part of the truth.

The task, for radical middle thinkers and activists, is to see that diamond whole. To hold it high and allow it to reflect the wisdom of ALL the perspectives revealed by caring foreign policy analysts and activists over the years.

That diamond embodies and reflects a maximally social-constructivist foreign policy. It takes all Americans’ best insights into account.

It also embodies and reflects -- if you prefer spiritual language -- the Soul of America. Our best insights, with regard to relating to the rest of the world, are all there.

And the way for us to act wisely in the world is for us to be true to our Soul -- all 26 sides of it -- at all times.

If the New Left slogan during the ‘60s was, “Dare to struggle, dare to win,” the Radical Middle slogan during the ‘00s might as well be, “Dare to synthesize, dare to take it all in.”

If our nation’s foreign policies can embody the best of who we are -- the best of who we ALL are -- then many good things will be possible in this world.


WHY "Radical Middle"?


50 Thinkers and Activists DESCRIBE the Radical Middle 

50 Best Radical Middle BOOKS of the '00s


100 Great Radical Centrist GROUPS and  Organizations

25 Great Radical Centrist BLOGS


Generational Equity and Communitarian platforms 1990s

First U.S. Green Party gatherings, 1987 - 1990

Green Party's "Ten Key Values" statement, 1984

New World Alliance, 1979 - 1983

PDF of  the Alliance's "Transformation Platform," 1981


What the Draft Resistance Movement Taught Me

What the Civil Rights Movement Taught Me


New Options Newsletter, 1984-1992 (includes back issue PDFs!)

New Age Politics: Healing Self and Society, 1976,  1978 (includes 1976 text PDF!)


50 Best "Third Way" Books of the 1990s

25 Best "Transformational" Books of the 1980s

25 Best "New Age Politics" Books of the 1970s


10 Best U.S. Political NOVELS

50 Current Political IDEOLOGIES

50 Current Political  MANIFESTOS