Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by Mark Dillman via flickr
Progressives are running for U.S. office on strong domestic programs. Here’s how their foreign policy platform can be just as strong.
By Phyllis Bennis / 08.15.2018
Across the country, a new cohort of progressives is running for—and winning—elections. The stunning victory of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic congressional primary in New York is perhaps the most well-known, but she is far from alone. Most of these candidates are young, more than usual are people of color, many are women, several are Muslims, at least one is a refugee, at least one is transgender—and all are unabashedly left. Most come to electoral politics after years of activism around issues like immigration, climate and racism. They come out of a wide range of social movements and support policy demands that reflect the principles of those movements: labor rights, immigrant and refugee rights, women’s and gender rights, equal access to housing and education, environmental justice, and opposition to police violence and racial profiling. Some, though certainly not all, identify not just with the policies of socialism but with the fundamental core values and indeed the name itself, usually in the form of democratic socialism.
Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman in Detroit, just won the Democratic primary for the legendary Congressman John Conyers’ seat. Four women, two of them members of Democratic Socialists of America and all four endorsed by DSA, beat their male incumbent opponents in Pennsylvania state house primaries. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud is running an insurgent campaign for Congress against a longstanding incumbent in western Massachusetts, keeping her focus on Medicare-for-All and civil rights. Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar, a former Somali refugee, won endorsement from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and is running for Keith Ellison’s former congressional seat as an “intersectional feminist.” And there are more.
Ilhan Omar by Lorie Shaull via flickr
Many highlight their movement experience in their campaigns; they are champions of immigrant rights, healthcare, student debt organizing and the fight for $15. Intersectionality has grown stronger, as the extremism of Trump’s right-wing racist assault creates significant new gains in linking separate movements focused on racism, women’s rights, immigrant rights, climate, poverty, labor rights and more.
But mostly, we’re not seeing progressive and socialist candidates clearly link domestic issues with efforts to challenge war, militarism and the war economy. There are a few exceptions: Congressional candidate and Hawaii State Rep. Kaniela Ing speaks powerfully about U.S. colonialism in Hawaii, and Virginia State Rep. Lee J. Carter has spoken strongly against U.S. bombing of Syria, linking current attacks with the legacy of U.S. military interventions. There may be more. But those are exceptions; most of the new left candidates focus on crucial issues of justice at home.
It’s not that progressive leaders don’t care about international issues, or that our movements are divided. Despite too many common assumptions, it is not political suicide for candidates or elected officials to stake out progressive anti-war, anti-militarism positions. Quite the contrary: Those positions actually have broad support within both our movements and public opinion. It’s just that it’s hard to figure out the strategies that work to connect internationally focused issues, anti-war efforts, or challenges to militarism, with the wide array of activists working on locally grounded issues. Some of those strategies seem like they should be easy—like talking about slashing the 53 cents of every discretionary federal dollar that now goes to the military as the easiest source to fund Medicare-for-all or free college education. It should be easy, but somehow it’s not: Too often, foreign policy feels remote from the urgency of domestic issues facing such crises. When our movements do figure out those strategies, candidates can easily follow suit.
Candidates coming out of our movements into elected office will need clear positions on foreign policy. Here are several core principles that should shape those positions.
A progressive foreign policy must reject U.S. military and economic domination and instead be grounded in global cooperation, human rights, respect for international law and privileging diplomacy over war. That does not mean isolationism, but instead a strategy of diplomatic engagement rather than—not as political cover for—destructive U.S. military interventions that have so often defined the U.S. role in the world.
Looking at the political pretexts for what the U.S. empire is doing around the world today, a principled foreign policy might start by recognizing that there is no military solution to terrorism and that the global war on terror must be ended.
More broadly, the militarization of foreign policy must be reversed and diplomacy must replace military action in every venue, with professional diplomats rather than the White House’s political appointees in charge. Aspiring and elected progressive and socialist office-holders should keep in mind the distinction between the successes and failures of Obama’s foreign policy. The victories were all diplomatic: moving towards normalization with Cuba, the Paris climate accord and especially the Iran nuclear deal. Obama’s greatest failures—in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen—all occurred because the administration chose military action over robust diplomacy.
Certainly, diplomacy has been a tool in the arsenal of empires, including the United States. But when we are talking about official policies governing relations between countries, diplomacy—meaning talking, negotiating and engaging across a table—is always, always better than engaging across a battlefield.
A principled foreign policy must recognize how the war economy has distorted our society at home—and commit to reverse it. The $717 billion of the military budget is desperately needed for jobs, healthcare and education here at home—and for a diplomatic surge and humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to people of countries devastated by U.S. wars and sanctions.
A principled foreign policy must acknowledge how U.S. actions—military, economic and climate-related—have been a driving force in displacing people around the world. We therefore have an enormous moral as well as legal obligation to take the lead in providing humanitarian support and refuge for those displaced—so immigration and refugee rights are central to foreign policy.
For too long the power of the U.S. empire has dominated international relations, led to the privileging of war over diplomacy on a global scale, and created a vast—and invasive—network of 800-plus military bases around the world.
Now, overall U.S. global domination is actually shrinking, and not only because of Trump’s actions. China’s economy is rapidly catching up, and its economic clout in Africa and elsewhere eclipses that of the United States. It’s a measure of the United States’ waning power that Europe, Russia and China are resisting U.S. efforts to impose new global sanctions on Iran. But the United States is still the world’s strongest military and economic power: Its military spending vastly surpasses that of the eight next strongest countries, it is sponsoring a dangerous anti-Iran alliance between Israel and the wealthy Gulf Arab states, it remains central to NATO decision-making, and powerful forces in Washington threaten new wars in North Korea and Iran. The United States remains dangerous.
Progressives in Congress have to navigate the tricky task of rejecting American exceptionalism. U.S global military and economic efforts are generally aimed at maintaining domination and control. Without that U.S. domination, the possibility arises of a new kind of internationalism: to prevent and solve crises that arise from current and potential wars, to promote nuclear disarmament, to come up with climate solutions and to protect refugees.
That effort is increasingly important because of the rapid rise of right-wing xenophobic authoritarians seeking and winning power. Trump is now leading and enabling an informal global grouping of such leaders, from Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Victor Orban in Hungary and others. Progressive elected officials in the United States can pose an important challenge to that authoritarian axis by building ties with their like-minded counterparts in parliaments and governments—possibilities include Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, among others. And progressive and leftist members of Congress will need to be able to work together with social movements to build public pressure for diplomatic initiatives not grounded in the interests of U.S. empire.
Mixed messages by Jayel Aherma via flickr
In addition to these broad principles, candidates and elected officials need critical analyses of current U.S. engagement around the world, as well as nuanced prescriptions for how to de-escalate militarily, and ramp up a new commitment to serious diplomacy.
Geopolitical Power Plays
Russia: Relations with Russia will be a major challenge for the foreseeable future. With 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons in U.S. and Russian hands, and the two powers deploying military forces on opposite sides of active battlefronts in Syria, it is crucial that relations remain open—not least to derail potential escalations and ensure the ability to stand down from any accidental clash.
Progressives and leftists in Congress will need to promote a nuanced, careful approach to Russia policy. And they will face a daunting environment in which to do so. They will have to deal with loud cries from right-wing war-mongers, mainly Republicans, and from neo-con interventionists in both parties, demanding a one-sided anti-Russia policy focused on increased sanctions and potentially even military threats. But many moderate and liberal Democrats—and much of the media—are also joining the anti-Russia crusade. Some of those liberals and moderates have likely bought into the idea of American exceptionalism, accepting as legitimate or irrelevant the long history of U.S. election meddling around the world and viewing the Russian efforts as somehow reaching a whole different level of outrageousness. Others see the anti-Russia mobilization solely in the context of undermining Trump.
But at the same time, progressive Congress members should recognize that reports of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 and 2018 elections cannot be dismissed out of hand. They should continue to demand that more of the evidence be made public, and condemn the Russian meddling that has occurred, even while recognizing that the most serious threats to our elections come from voter suppression campaigns at home more than from Moscow. And they have to make clear that Trump’s opponents cannot be allowed to turn the president’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin into the basis for a new Cold War, simply to oppose Trump.
China: The broad frame of a progressive approach should be to end Washington’s provocative military and economic moves and encourage deeper levels of diplomatic engagement. This means replacing military threats with diplomacy in response to Chinese moves in the South China Sea, as well as significant cuts in the ramped-up military ties with U.S. allies in the region, such as Vietnam. Progressive and socialist members of Congress and other elected officials will no doubt be aware that the rise of China’s economic dominance across Africa, and its increasing influence in parts of Latin America, could endanger the independence of countries in those parts of the Global South. But they will also need to recognize that any U.S. response to what looks like Chinese exploitation must be grounded in humility, acknowledging the long history of U.S. colonial and neocolonial domination throughout those same regions. Efforts to compete with Chinese economic assistance by increasing Washington’s own humanitarian and development aid should mean directing all funds through the UN, rather than through USAID or the Pentagon. That will make U.S. assistance far less likely to be perceived as—and to be—an entry point for exploitation.
NATO: A progressive position on NATO flies straight into the face of the partisan component of the anti-Trump resistance—the idea that if Trump is for it, we should be against it. For a host of bad reasons that have to do with personal enrichment and personal power, Trump sometimes takes positions that large parts of the U.S. and global anti-war and solidarity movements have long supported. One of those is NATO. During the Cold War, NATO was the European military face of U.S.-dominated Western anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, peace activists from around the world called for the dissolution of NATO as an anachronistic relic whose raison d’etre was now gone.
Instead, NATO used its 50th anniversary in 1999 to rebrand itself as defending a set of amorphous, ostensibly “Western” values such as democracy, rather than having any identifiable enemy—something like a military version of the EU, with the United States on board for clout. Unable to win UN Security Council support for war in Kosovo, the United States and its allies used NATO to provide so-called authorization for a major bombing campaign—in complete violation of international law—and began a rapid expansion of the NATO alliance right up to the borders of Russia. Anti-war forces across the world continued to rally around the call “No to NATO”—a call to dissolve the alliance altogether.
But when Trump, however falsely, claims to call for an end to the alliance, or shows disdain for NATO, anti-Trump politicians and media lead the way in embracing the military alliance as if it really did represent some version of human rights and international law. It doesn’t—and progressives in elected positions need to be willing to call out NATO as a militarized Cold War relic that shouldn’t be reconfigured to maintain U.S. domination in Europe or to mobilize against Russia or China or anyone else. It should be ended.
In fact, Trump’s claims to oppose NATO are belied by his actions. In his 2019 budget request he almost doubled the 2017 budget for the Pentagon’s “European Deterrence Initiative,” designed explicitly as a response to “threats from Russia.” There is a huge gap between Trump’s partisan base-pleasing condemnation of NATO and his administration’s actual support for strengthening the military alliance. That contradiction should make it easier for progressive candidates and officeholders to move to cut NATO funding and reduce its power—not because Trump is against NATO but because the military alliance serves as a dangerous provocation toward war.
The War on Terror
Drone by www.dronethusiast.com and AK Rockefeller via Flickr
What George W. Bush first called “the global war on terror” is still raging almost 17 years later, though with different forms of killing and different casualty counts. Today’s reliance on airstrikes, drone attacks and a few thousand special forces has replaced the hundreds of thousands of U.S. and allied ground troops. And today hardly any U.S. troops are being killed, while civilian casualties are skyrocketing across the Middle East and Afghanistan. Officials from the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have repeated the mantra that “there is no military solution” in Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq or against terrorism, but their actions have belied those words. Progressive elected officials need to consistently remind the public and their counterparts that it is not possible to bomb terrorism out of existence. Bombs don’t hit “terrorism”; they hit cities, houses, wedding parties. And on those rare occasions when they hit the people actually named on the White House’s unaccountable kill list, or “terrorist” list, the impact often creates more terrorists.
The overall progressive policy on this question means campaigning for diplomatic solutions and strategies instead of military ones. That also means joining the ongoing congressional efforts led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and others to challenge the continued reliance on the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).
In general, privileging diplomatic over war strategies starts with withdrawing troops and halting the arms sales that flood the region with deadly weapons. Those weapons too often end up in the hands of killers on all sides, from bands of unaccountable militants to brutally repressive governments, with civilians paying the price. Congress members should demand an end of massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other U.S. allies carrying out brutal wars across the Middle East, and they should call for an end to the practice of arming non-state proxies who kill even more people. They should call for a U.S. arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Israel (which presents a whole other set of arms-related challenges), while urging Russia to stop its arms sales to Syria, Iran and Pakistan. Given the power of the arms industries in the United States, arms embargoes are the most difficult—but perhaps the most important—part of ending the expanding Middle East wars.
Progressives in Congress should demand real support for UN-sponsored and other international peace initiatives, staffing whole new diplomatic approaches whose goal is political solutions rather than military victories—and taking funds out of military budgets to cover the costs. The goal should be to end these endless wars—not try to “win” them.
Israel-Palestine: The most important thing for candidates to know is that there has been a massive shift in public opinion in recent years. It is no longer political suicide to criticize Israel. Yes, AIPAC and the rest of the right-wing Jewish, pro-Israel lobbies remain influential and have a lot of money to throw around. (The Christian Zionist lobbies are powerful too, but there is less political difficulty for progressives to challenge them.) But there are massive shifts underway in U.S. Jewish public opinion on the conflict, and the lobbies cannot credibly claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole.
Outside the Jewish community, the shift is even more dramatic, and has become far more partisan: Uncritical support for Israel is now overwhelmingly a Republican position. Among Democrats, particularly young Democrats, support for Israel has fallen dramatically; among Republicans, support for Israel’s far-right government is sky-high. The shift is particularly noticeable among Democrats of color, where recognition of the parallels between Israeli oppression of Palestinians and the legacies of Jim Crow segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa is rising rapidly.
U.S. policy, unfortunately, has not kept up with that changing discourse. But modest gains are evident even there. When nearly 60 members of the House and Senate openly skipped Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech when he came to lobby Congress to vote against President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the sky didn’t fall. The snub to the Israeli prime minister was unprecedented, but no one lost their seat because of it. Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to protect Palestinian children from Israel’s vicious military juvenile detention system (the only one in the world) now has 29 co-sponsors, and the sky still isn’t falling. Members of Congress are responding more frequently to Israeli assaults on Gaza and the killing of protesters, often because of powerful movements among their constituents. When Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz acknowledged the divide: “While members of the Republican Party overwhelmingly expressed support for the move, Democrats were split between those who congratulated Trump for it and those who called it a dangerous and irresponsible action.”
That creates space for candidates and newly elected officials to respond to the growing portion of their constituencies that supports Palestinian rights. Over time, they must establish a rights-based policy. That means acknowledging that the quarter-century-long U.S.-orchestrated “peace process” based on the never-serious pursuit of a solution, has failed. Instead, left and progressive political leaders can advocate for a policy that turns over real control of diplomacy to the UN, ends support for Israeli apartheid and occupation, and instead supports a policy based on international law, human rights and equality for all, without privileging Jews or discriminating against non-Jews.
To progress from cautiously urging that Israel abide by international law, to issuing a full-scale call to end or at least reduce the $3.8 billion per year that Congress sends straight to the Israeli military, might take some time. In the meantime, progressive candidates must prioritize powerful statements condemning the massacre of unarmed protesters in Gaza and massive Israeli settlement expansion, demands for real accountability for Israeli violations of human rights and international law (including reducing U.S. support in response), and calls for an end to the longstanding U.S. protection that keeps Israel from being held accountable in the UN.
The right consistently accuses supporters of Palestinian rights of holding Israel to a double standard. Progressives in Congress should turn that claim around on them and insist that U.S. policy towards Israel—Washington’s closest ally in the region and the recipient of billions of dollars in military aid every year—hold Israel to exactly the same standards that we want the United States to apply to every other country: human rights, adherence to international law and equality for all.
Many supporters of the new crop of progressive candidates, and many activists in the movements they come out of, are supporters of the increasingly powerful, Palestinian-led BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, that aims to bring non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel until it ends its violations of international law. This movement deserves credit for helping to mainstream key demands—to end the siege of Gaza and the killing of protesters, to support investigations of Israeli violations by the International Criminal Court, to oppose Israel’s new “nation-state’ law—that should all be on lawmakers’ immediate agenda.
Afghanistan: More than 100,000 Afghans and 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in a U.S. war that has raged for almost 17 years. Not-Yet-President Trump called for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but within just a few months after taking office he agreed instead to send additional troops, even though earlier deployments of more than 100,000 U.S. troops (and thousands more coalition soldiers) could not win a military victory over the Taliban. Corruption in the U.S.-backed and -funded Afghan government remains sky-high, and in just the past three years, the Pentagon has lost track of how $3.1 billion of its Afghanistan funds were spent. About 15,000 US troops are still deployed, with no hope of a military victory for the United States.
Progressive members of Congress should demand a safe withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, acting on the long-held recognition that military force simply won’t work to bring about the political solution all sides claim to want.
Several pending bills also would reclaim the centrality of Congress’ role in authorizing war in general and in Afghanistan in particular—including ending the 2001 AUMF. Funding for humanitarian aid, refugee support, and in the future compensation and reparations for the massive destruction the U.S.-led war has wrought across the country, should all be on Congress’ agenda, understanding that such funding will almost certainly fail while U.S. troops are deployed.
Iran: With U.S. and Iranian military forces facing each other in Syria, the potential for an unintentional escalation is sky-high. Even a truly accidental clash between a few Iranian and U.S. troops, or an Iranian anti-aircraft system mistakenly locking on to a U.S. warplane plane even if it didn’t fire, could have catastrophic consequences without immediate military-to-military and quick political echelon discussions to defuse the crisis. And with tensions very high, those ties are not routinely available. Relations became very dangerous when Trump withdrew the United States from the multi-lateral nuclear deal in May. (At that time, a strong majority of people in the United States favored the deal, and less than one in three wanted to pull out of it.)
The United States continues to escalate threats against Iran. It is sponsoring a growing regional anti-Iran alliance, with Israel and Saudi Arabia now publicly allied and pushing strongly for military action. And Trump has surrounded himself with war-mongers for his top advisers, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who have both supported regime change in Iran and urged military rather than diplomatic approaches to Iran.
Given all that, what progressive elected officials need to do is to keep fighting for diplomacy over war. That means challenging U.S. support for the anti-Iran alliance and opposing sanctions on Iran. It means developing direct ties with parliamentarians from the European and other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, with the aim of collective opposition to new sanctions, re-legitimizing the nuclear deal in Washington and reestablishing diplomacy as the basis for U.S. relations with Iran.
It should also mean developing a congressional response to the weakening of international anti-nuclear norms caused by the pull-out from the Iran deal. That means not just supporting the nonproliferation goals of the Iran nuclear deal, but moving further towards real disarmament and ultimately the abolition of nuclear weapons. Progressives in and outside of Congress should make clear that nuclear nonproliferation (meaning no one else gets to have nukes) can’t work in the long run without nuclear disarmament (meaning that the existing nuclear weapons states have to give them up). That could start with a demand for full U.S. compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for negotiations leading to “nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”
Iraq: Congress has largely abrogated its responsibilities even as the 15-year war initiated by the United States continues. Progressive policymakers would do well to join the existing efforts to end—not replace, but cancel—the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, and reopen congressional debate, with the goal of ending funding for war in Iraq once and for all. When President Obama withdrew the last troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, stating that “war in Iraq ends this month,” many assumed that the authorization ended as well. But it was never officially repealed and had no expiration date, and three years later Obama claimed that the then-12-year-old authorization justified the war against ISIS in Iraq. While Trump has relied primarily on the 2001 AUMF, the Iraq-specific authorization of 2002 remains in place and should be withdrawn.
There will also need to be negotiations between the regional and global actors that have been waging their own wars in Syria, wars that have little to do with Syria itself, but with Syrians doing the bulk of the dying. That means support for the UN’s and other internationally-sponsored de-escalation efforts, and serious engagement with Russia towards a permanent ceasefire, as well as the arms embargo. U.S. policy should include absolute prohibitions on Washington’s regional allies—including Saudi Arabia and Turkey—sending U.S.-provided arms into Syria. And progressive supporters of diplomacy should also maintain pressure on the United States to back multi-lateral diplomatic processes organized by the UN and others—on humanitarian issues in Geneva, and political issues in Astana. Cutting the United States’ multi-billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Turkey and other U.S. allies involved in the Syrian wars would also lend legitimacy to U.S. efforts within those diplomatic processes to press Russia to stop providing arms to the Assad regime.
In the meantime, progressives in Congress should support many of the same policies for Iraq as for Syria: withdraw the troops and special forces, stop the assassination program that is the heart of Washington’s “counter-terrorism” campaign and cease sending arms. Congress should end funding to force the closure of the network of small “forward operating bases” and other U.S. military bases that may remain in U.S. hands in Iraq despite earlier agreements to turn them over to the Iraqi government. The U.S. must figure out new ways to provide financial compensation and support to the people whose country and society has been shredded by more than a dozen years of crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions bookended by two devastating wars (Desert Storm, starting in 1991, and the Iraq War, starting in 2003)—while somehow avoiding the further empowerment of corrupt and sectarian political and military leaders.
Yemen and Saudi Arabia: The ongoing Saudi-led war against Yemen reflects the most deadly front of Saudi Arabia’s competition with Iran for regional hegemony. The United States is providing indirect and direct support, including U.S. Air Force pilots providing in-air refueling so Saudi and UAE warplanes can bomb Yemen more efficiently, and Green Berets fighting alongside Saudi troops on the border, in what the New York Times called “a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.”
Yemen: the world’s largest humanitarian crisis by Peter Biro © European Union 2018
The U.S.-backed Saudi war against Yemen has also created what the UN has declared the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis. Congress’ first action must be to immediately end all U.S. involvement in the war. Next, Congress must reject all approvals for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as long as they continue to bomb and blockade Yemen.
Ending these arms sales may be a serious challenge, given the power of the arms manufacturers’ lobby, Israel’s strong support of Saudi Arabia against Iran and the fact that Saudi Arabia remains the top U.S. arms customer. But recent efforts and relatively close votes in both the House and Senate, while not successful, indicate that challenging the longstanding process of providing the Saudis with whatever weapons they want may be closer to reality than anticipated. The House called the U.S. military involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen “unauthorized.” Reps. Ro Khanna, Marc Pocan and others have introduced numerous House bills in recent months aimed at reducing U.S. arms sales and involvement in the Saudi-led assault. In the Senate, a March resolution to end U.S. military involvement in the Yemen war failed by only 11 votes, a much narrower margin than anticipated. Progressive candidates and new members of Congress should support all those efforts, and move further with a call for ending the longstanding U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, especially military sales and support for the Saudi-Israeli partnership against Iran.
A Quick Glance at Some Other Policy Questions
North Korea: Progressive elected officials will need to support Trump’s diplomatic initiatives, challenging mainstream Democrats willing to abandon diplomacy because Trump supports it (however tactically or temporarily). Progressives will also need to condemn U.S. military provocations that undermine that same diplomacy, and build public and congressional support for the inter-Korean diplomatic moves already underway. That should include pushing for exemptions in the U.S.-imposed sanctions that would allow inter-Korean economic and other initiatives to go forward. Progressives in Congress can also play a major role in supporting people-to-people diplomacy with North Korea, and they can lead the way in replacing the current armistice with a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War.
Africa: Across the continent, there is an urgent need to reverse the militarization of foreign policy, including reducing the size, breadth of responsibilities and theater of operations of AFRICOM. The wide-ranging but unauthorized and largely secretive special operations and other military actions across the continent violate not only international law, but U.S. domestic law as well.
Latin America: In Latin America, there is an urgent need for a new anti-interventionist policy, not least to stop the current attempts to take advantage of serious domestic crises in Venezuela, Nicaragua and elsewhere. Progressives will need to challenge the U.S. economic and foreign policies that create refugees from Central America in particular (including the consequences of the U.S. wars of the 1980s), even while fighting to protect those migrants seeking safety in the United States as a result of those earlier policies. Regarding Mexico, Congress needs to fight for a U.S. position in trade negotiations that is not based on economic nationalism, but rather on making sure that Mexican workers and U.S. workers are both equally lifted up. Left policymakers will also have the chance to play a leading role in forging a new relationship with Mexico’s just-elected progressive President Lopez-Obrador.
All of the areas where U.S. wars are or were underway, as well as places where U.S. economic and climate policies have helped create crises threatening people’s lives, also become areas from which migrants are forced to flee their homes. U.S. policymakers must acknowledge that U.S. policies are direct causes of the refugee crises that exist in and around the war zones and climate crisis zones of the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere—and that the refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and the far fewer trying to come to the United States, are a consequence of those policies. So progressive candidates and policymakers should support massive expansion of funding for these victims of war, including humanitarian support in their home regions and acceptance of far greater numbers of refugees into the United States. They must directly challenge the xenophobic policies of the Trump administration that include the Muslim Ban, the separation of children from their families at the border and the vast reduction in refugees accepted into this country. In Congress, that might include introducing bills to cut funding for ICE or eliminate the institution altogether.
Finally, progressive candidates and elected officials will need to continue to craft policy proposals that recognize what happens when the U.S. wars come home. This requires more voices in Congress challenging the military budget because it’s used to kill people abroad and because the money is needed for jobs, health care and education at home. It means challenging Islamophobia rising across the United States because of how it threatens Muslims in the United States and because it is used to build support for wars against predominantly Muslim countries. It means exposing—on the floor of the House and beyond—the fact that the Muslim bans targeted primarily countries the United States was bombing, sanctioning or stationing soldiers in. And it means being clear that protecting refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants has to include ending the wars that create refugees in the first place.
Certainly, we shouldn’t expect every progressive or even every socialist running for national office to become an instant expert on every complicated piece of U.S. foreign policy. And for those running for state and local office, there may seem to be even less urgency. But we’ve seen how the Poor People’s Campaign, with its inclusion of militarism and the war economy as one of its four central targets (along with racism, poverty and environmental destruction), has demonstrated to all of our movements the importance of—and a model for—including an anti-war focus within multi-issue state and local mobilizations. The Movement for Black Lives has created one of the strongest internationalist and anti-war platforms we’ve seen in years—including calls for cutting the military budget, supporting Palestinian rights, stopping the Global War on Terror and the so-called War on Drugs, ending the militarized U.S. interventions across Africa, and linking U.S. military and economic policies with the rise in Haitian and other—predominantly Black—immigration.
Immigrant rights activists are linking movements for sanctuary (and against ICE) with opposition to the wars that create refugees. Campaigns are underway to reject the training of U.S. police by Israeli police and military forces. Battles are being waged to get local law enforcement agencies to refuse Pentagon offers of weapons and equipment left over from U.S. wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These campaigns all play out at the local and state level.
So especially for those running for Congress, but really for all candidates at every political level and venue in this country, there is a clear need for a strong, principled position on at least a few key foreign policy issues. And the key to making that happen still lies with our movements.
Published by the Transnational Institute under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 license.