Home/Daniel Larison/The 2020 Democratic Field and Foreign Policy

The 2020 Democratic Field and Foreign Policy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, secular Puritan scourge from Massachusetts (Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock)

Tom Friedman worries that Democratic candidates aren’t talking enough about foreign policy:

But one issue has been largely absent: foreign policy — the potential use of force, great-power competition and the management of alliances that will be more important during the next presidency than it has been in three decades.

Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t heard any of the Democrats running on the argument that he or she is the best person to answer the White House crisis line at 3 in the morning.

Friedman definitely missed a lot, because several of the declared Democratic candidates have had plenty to say about foreign policy and their ideas for how to improve the way the U.S. engages with the rest of the world. I can only assume that Friedman hasn’t been paying attention for the last two years. Elizabeth Warren wrote an article for Foreign Affairs and delivered a speech outlining her ideas, and Bernie Sanders has spent the last few years leading on a number of important issues, especially U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen. His speeches were the subject of a Jamelle Bouie column last month. No matter what one thinks of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s views, there is no question that she has been deeply engaged in thinking about U.S. foreign policy and has made the rejection of what she calls regime change wars a central theme of her candidacy. The other candidates may not have been quite as vocal as these three, but I doubt they have been mute. If Friedman’s column were a real effort to analyze the foreign policy platforms of various Democratic presidential candidates, this would be a huge oversight. Since the column is really just a glorified press release for his friend’s new book, I suppose we shouldn’t expect very much.

The problem that Friedman has with the Democratic field is that they aren’t talking about the things he thinks they should. For example, he warns about supposedly “resurgent” regional powers, and he weirdly groups Iran with major powers Russia and China, but since he hasn’t paid any attention to what the candidates have been saying he doesn’t know that Sanders and Warren have both addressed this question in different ways in their public remarks. Indeed, they have talked about it so much that some progressives are concerned that they are framing their foreign policy views too much in terms of a Cold War-style clash. Daniel Bessner and Udi Greenberg write:

Most alarmingly, Warren and Sanders’s dualistic understanding of international relations uncomfortably echoes the Manichaean vision of the Cold War, the same framework they hope to replace.

If Sanders and Warren hadn’t already been talking about these issues for months, there would be nothing for others to criticize. Friedman can’t engage with any of this because he seems genuinely unaware that it exists. That tells us that he doesn’t have a very good read on what Democratic candidates and activists are talking about, and he has no idea that they have been working on crafting a progressive foreign policy agenda for at least the last two years. Then again, why would he? Friedman has been too busy making excuses for Saudi war criminals and recycling tired cliches to notice any of this.

The problem here isn’t just that Friedman does his usual poor job as an analyst, but that he is also doing a huge disservice to his readers and to the broader foreign policy conversation by being completely oblivious to a very active debate among Democrats on these very issues. According to Friedman, Democratic candidates aren’t ready to answer the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call, and he claims they “all prefer to let it ring and hope that it’s a wrong number.” That’s not just insulting and dismissive, but it is also lazy and simply false. Perhaps if Friedman spent more time researching the candidates he ignorantly disparages, he wouldn’t end up making such silly arguments.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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