Which is to say, foreign policy isn’t just an important issue ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but right now. Candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, if she wins the general election in her heavily Democratic district, may find themselves in control of the House of Representatives—in a position, in other words, to exert some influence over the president. That makes the left’s foreign policy vacuum all the more glaring.
The problem isn’t so much that left-wing candidates for Congress haven’t spelled out foreign policy positions on their websites—though that’s largely true—but that there’s little infrastructure to supply them with ideas once they take office. “There’s been an enormous failure by the progressive left, in terms of foreign policy-making think tanks. I mean, there’s just barely anything,” a senior Democratic congressional staffer told The New Republic. “The Democratic establishment—and I don’t want to just use that term because I think it’s broader than that—hasn’t been invested in foreign policy-making in the way that they should have.”
Washington has a bipartisan interventionist bent, to varying degrees. George W. Bush started two disastrous wars that still aren’t over. Barack Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, and took steps to wind down the U.S. military’s involvement there, but vastly expanded Bush’s drone war, killing an estimated 324 civilians. Obama used airstrikes to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi in 2011; Libya is now a failed state, an outcome that likely influenced Obama’s decision not to intervene in Syria. And congressional Democrats have voted along with Republicans at pivotal moments. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran spurred significant opposition from hawks in his own party, and during the Bush years, few Democrats opposed the invasions of either Afghanistan or Iraq. Representative Barbara Lee, now running to become the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, cast the lone vote against the Authorization of Military Force in 2001.
But it’s not always clear what a left-wing alternative to establishment policy would look like. In a 2014 piece for >Dissent, Princeton academic Michael Walzer noted that there are many lefts, though some positions do seem consistent. Socialists, social democrats, and left-tilting populists tend to favor a domestic focus—to call for an expansion of the welfare state, for instance, rather than costly military adventures. “This is what I will call the default position of the left: the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy. How many times have we argued against foreign adventures and unnecessary wars by insisting that our fellow citizens would do better to focus energy and resources on injustice at home?” Walzer wrote.
There have been a few recent efforts to translate left ideas into concrete foreign policy positions. Our Revolution, an electoral group founded by veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, echoes Walzer’s thesis in its foreign policy platform. It urges officials to “move away from a policy of unilateral military action, and toward a policy of emphasizing diplomacy, and ensuring the decision to go to war is a last resort.” It also demands the closure of Guantanamo Bay and encourages fair trade and the provision of humanitarian assistance; its solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is to ask Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza and its settlement activity on Palestinian land.
This news has been published by title PBS Puts Forward Left Wing Agenda
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