Global Outreach: Speaking to the Awakening World
Second, while progressives fight to open up and diversify the halls of power in America and abroad, conservatives are uncomfortable with broadening access to decision-making tables. Where popular movements cannot be ignored as epiphenomenal, conservative realists urge governments to get their people under control, as if they could put the genie back in the bottle. The only way to do so is by force, and so conservatives end up wishing nostalgically for police states that can curtail civil liberties in order to ensure order and stability. For instance, Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan declared that the “Egyptian demonstrations are the reprise of Iran’s 1979 radical revolution” and called on the United States to “stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform.” Israel’s current plight is exacerbated by such conservative “friends.” Instead of helping Israel craft a strategy to address its new, fraught reality as one democracy among others in a neighborhood where popular movements are unfriendly, such conservatives pretend to protect Israel by dreaming of a return to dictatorship nearby, a short-term “solution” that would simply add to Israel’s danger when the lid blows off again.
Conservatives, of course, are not all realists. Neoconservatives do care about people in other parts of the world, and they give real weight to ideas, ideologies, and civil society. But they also see the United States as a shining city on a hill that can bring its light to backward peoples. While progressives laud the uniqueness of America’s creed, they see it as a work in progress. We are forever striving to create “a more perfect union”—and so it is patriotic to draw on the best ideas from anywhere, including other countries, in order to improve America. After all, that’s what our founding fathers did when they borrowed democracy and liberalism from European philosophers.
But neocons make the third conservative mistake by subscribing to an American exceptionalism that sees America as immutably better than all other societies. This belief makes it impossible for neoconservative policy to lead to their desired results in this new world. For instance, while neocons like democracy and individual empowerment in theory, they want it to be made by America, look like American practice, and follow American values. This is at stark odds with the views of newly empowered individuals. Egyptian activists, for example, are refusing American help with their democracy—after all, America was responsible for keeping their dictator in power for decades. Legitimacy matters a great deal to citizens in formerly colonized countries—and America must be aware of its history if it is to earn legitimacy. For neocons, however, American legitimacy is simply—wrongly—assumed.
The conservative belief in a static American greatness prevents them from seeing how much developing economies are learning from one another and leapfrogging ahead. Some of the most innovative companies and social technologies are coming from the developing world, from firms that produce $2,000 cars and $35 tablet computers, to transformative services such as tele-health care and the transformation of cell phones into mobile banks. The developing world is not only the recipient of our largesse—it is also home to innovators from whom we can learn and entrepreneurs with whom we need to compete. Tariffs and jingoism won’t change this new reality; we need to invest in our citizens’ education and equip them to compete.
The Empowered Citizen
Progressives, in contrast, have long seen individuals and groups of individuals as the fundamental actors in world politics. The international-relations philosophy of liberalism, described best by Princeton professor Andrew Moravcsik, sees government as simply the configuration of individual and group interests, not a black box that stands outside and apart from the individuals within a state. The moral philosophy of liberalism takes this a step further: Individuals, not governments, are the only entities with moral standing and legitimacy.
Many of the left’s core principles work well in this new world. Liberals believe that all people have fundamental human and civil rights that governments may not violate. We have long backed protection for the marginalized parts of society, measuring the health of the community not at its apex, but at its base. We also believe that countries are interdependent—and that, therefore, America is better off when others are better off. Instead of a zero-sum game, modern progressives see a world in which peace, justice, and stability abroad support stability at home.
These core values provide guidance to how the United States should proceed in this awakening world. First, governments must take the power of civil society seriously and begin to reach out to civil societies in other countries. This allows us to capitalize on opportunities, such as the Arab Spring, and also to meet new threats. For instance, threats from empowered individuals such as members of the Al Qaeda network have diffused leadership. When the head of such an organization is cut off, it does not die—instead, it tends to become hydra-like, sprouting multiple heads. This feature of self-organizing networks, which are growing in prevalence thanks to the Internet, means we need more connections with more parts of society, so that we may recognize when such groups and ideologies arise, and have ways to understand and infiltrate them and block their growth.
Post a Comment