THE BLOG

Progressive National Security: The What and the How

May 20, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Progressives have a tremendous opportunity -- and a real challenge -- on national security this cycle. The public has decisively rejected the Bush administration's national security framework. But nothing in the public discourse gives non-expert Americans a clear understanding of what the alternatives might look like. What do they see in the media? Overwhelmingly militarized images of a world in chaos -- suicide bombers, cyclones, insurgencies -- where the US is usually the only actor portrayed responding.

Without the levers of executive power at their disposal, and a razor-thin margin in the Senate, progressives have thus far been unable to give the public a clear understanding of what we stand for on national security or how we would pursue national security goals differently. With this reality, and with national security at the center of the 2008 election, it is imperative for progressives to present a clear vision of what the alternative is, not only in order to roll back the failed policies of the past, but in order to lay out a coherent and pragmatic foreign policy framework for tomorrow.

One way to fill that gap is for progressives to begin setting out the core ideas that underlie our theory of national security -- and then share specific policy positions and critiques that show what those core ideas would mean, and how they would produce results different from what we have seen in recent years. The thinking behind this two-part approach is simple: there's a crying need for sophisticated, pragmatic, deep policy thinking that returns serious, non-hyped discussions of security issues to the public eye. The challenges we face -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, energy, to name just three -- have no magic solutions and will be with us for years to come. Yet there's also a need for clear-sighted, unadorned talk about why we make the choices we do and what kind of nation we want to be. That is a debate that is much less technical, but no less important, than the details of our policy in Pakistan's borderlands or how many gallons of alternative fuels we can produce by 2015. Everybody, however much or little time their lives give them to think about national security, can join a debate about what kind of country we want to be.

To that end, the National Security Network has developed and released a series of policy briefs, providing basic facts and a progressive narrative on foreign policy and national security. The analysis and recommendations form a comprehensive approach and provide a shorthand version of the best thinking and messaging -- an essential progressive foreign policy resource for the public, political leaders and activists.

Four core themes unite the briefs, which themselves examine eight policy areas--Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, the military, terrorism, energy. The four themes offer a simple, but profound foundation for a smarter, saner, progressive foreign policy approach.

Embrace core sources of American strength:
For decades, our ability to ensure our security and promote our values rested on the global embrace of Americans, admiration of our democratic institutions, and a willingness to accept our leadership with the expectation that it would serve the global good. In the past seven years conservatives have squandered or ignored our most precious assets, and we need to reclaim them. Projecting America's core values abroad is key to reversing this and successfully implementing a sustainable progressive foreign policy.

Value our moral authority and credibility:
Americans care deeply about our values and expect our leaders to reflect them. We must lead so that others will follow. In the absence of our moral authority and credibility, our allies won't send troops to Afghanistan, critical multilateral initiatives to address terrorism or reduce the threat of nuclear weapons will flounder, our business partners will no longer welcome our investments, and people struggling for freedom will no longer believe that we share their values. The restoration of our international prestige and global reputation establishes the foundation for an effectual foreign policy future.

Use all our tools -- tackle complex problems with smart, comprehensive solutions: Americans know instinctively that our lives are connected with the lives of others, and that we're at our best when we work with others to tackle the most difficult problems - tracking terrorists across borders, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, fighting diseases like smallpox and AIDS, and stopping global warming. Our political leaders must reflect these realities we know about ourselves, and should be expected to foster cooperation to serve our interests and values.

Demonstrate good stewardship of our military might -- respect and transform the military: Our mix of military capabilities must be rebalanced away from the structures of the last century and toward missions like counterterrorism, counter-insurgency, and homeland defense. America's greatest military asset is our men and women in uniform. Maintaining a strong volunteer military means meeting the needs of those who serve - better training and equipment for soldiers in the field, proper care for family members, and better health care for veterans. Strong national security should not be hindered by mismanagement and corruption. That means more stringent oversight on how money is spent, and better accountability.

As Americans across the country and in every walk of life examine with increased interest these critical issues this year, we believe this project forms a central piece of a new progressive foreign policy for America and fosters a fresh, progressive approach to national security. Our hope is that this revives advocacy and establishes a fundamental progressive education, providing a blueprint from which our nation can once again be a fair but firm presence in the world.