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The Weird Conventional Wisdom About the 2020 Democratic Candidates and Foreign Policy

The conventional wisdom that Democratic candidates aren't saying anything interesting about foreign policy is just wrong.
The Weird Conventional Wisdom About the 2020 Democratic Candidates and Foreign Policy

Janan Ganesh makes an uncharacteristically lazy argument:

Several months into the race, almost none of the 20-plus hopefuls has said anything of note about foreign policy. The one candidate to define himself by the subject, congressman Seth Moulton, is trailing badly. The one most steeped in it, former vice-president Joe Biden, hardly brings it up. The party is as rich with ideas as it has been for a generation — universal healthcare, plans for climate change abatement — but they are either domestic or only tangentially international. There is plenty of diplo-waffle about respecting allies and recovering lost honour, but it all feels pro forma. It is not the pacifism or the isolationism or the realpolitik that is striking here. Those, at least, would count as policies, or at any rate impulses. What stands out is the indifference.

This claim that the 2020 candidates are not talking about foreign policy is untrue, but the belief that they are ignoring the subject is nonetheless spreading quickly. The fact that Rep. Moulton is mentioned here as the “one candidate to define himself by the subject” is weird, because the same can be said about Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard’s focus on foreign policy is so intense that it might almost be called a foreign policy-only campaign. The difference is that Moulton is a very conventional center-left Democrat with pronounced hawkish leanings, and Gabbard is definitely not that. Of course, as I have said a couple times before, these are not the only candidates that have been talking about these issues. Have they not said anything “of note”? That seems hard to credit. Just last month, Beto O’Rourke gave an interview to The Nation that included several notable remarks about war powers and foreign intervention.

To suggest that Bernie Sanders has been indifferent on matters of foreign policy would be especially bizarre, since he has done more than any of the other declared candidates over the last two years to challenge the Trump administration over the war on Yemen and support for Saudi Arabia. The antiwar Yemen resolution earlier this year was a very important rejection of current U.S. policy and our involvement in an illegal war, and Sanders had a leading role in getting that resolution passed. Notably, Yemen and the intense foreign policy activism surrounding the resolution fight go unmentioned. As usual, the war on Yemen may as well not even exist for how little attention it still receives. For a column lamenting supposedly growing indifference to international affairs, this is quite an omission.

The conventional wisdom that Democratic candidates aren’t saying anything interesting about foreign policy is just wrong. It also ignores that progressive academics and activists have been very busy working on rethinking and reimagining U.S. foreign policy over the last few years, and those ideas have clearly been influencing some of the 2020 presidential campaigns. That is where most of the energy and creativity on foreign policy right now can be found. Have the candidates been treating foreign policy with indifference, or have foreign policy observers and pundits simply not been paying attention to what they’re saying? The latter seems to be the case.



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