Democratic Party Platform Expedition Part III: Foreign Policy

by Benjamin Studebaker

Welcome to the final installment of our journey through the Democratic Party platform. Regular readers may recall that last time we addressed a variety of social and legal issues. Today we finish up with the platform’s foreign policy content.

This section of the platform opens, as so many of them have, with a description of something the Obama administration already did and is proud of–namely, removing US troops from Iraq. The only promise regarding future behaviour is that the democrats will seek to build:

a robust, long-term strategic partnership with a sovereign, united, and democratic Iraq in all fields – diplomatic, economic, and security – based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

This sounds nice, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means in real terms, other than that we will attempt to stay friendly with the Iraqi government. That sounded like a given, though, so there’s nothing new here.

As with previous sections of the platform, this one also includes anecdotal quotes from various people claiming to have benefited from administration policies that eat up space that should be occupied by clear policy proposals.

There is a section on Al Qaeda, in which the platform boasts of the killing of Osama bin Laden. It also talks glowingly of how the administration abandoned the rhetoric of the “global war on terror” in favour of a more targeted (and, incidentally, drone-based) attack on individual members of Al Qaeda. The republicans actually criticised the Obama administration for abandoning the use of the phrase “war on terror” in their platform–a point of disagreement, but unfortunately one on an utterly trivial matter.

The platform does describe the administration’s current plan to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014, arguing that Romney has been both for and against the war’s end date and has at times implied that the soldiers would remain their indefinitely. There are a variety of Romney quotes on the subject circulating around the web, many of which say entirely different things.

The platform then takes a very interesting and controversial position regarding nuclear weapons–it argues for getting rid of all of them. To this end, it emphasises harsh sanctions against Iran and North Korea, and extended cooperation with Russia on disarmament. There are many arguments quite persuasive in nature that argue that nuclear weapons serve a doomsday function that reduces the threat of conventional war by making the costs of waging it untenable for nations, the most famous of which have been made by Kenneth Waltz on numerous occasions. Personally, I am inclined toward Waltz’s view, and have expressed that view previously on this website.

Like the republicans, the democrats discuss the threat of cyber attacks–though the republicans emphasised a more aggressive, attacking strategy, while the democrats emphasise defence.

Biological weapons, climate change, and transnational crime all are given billing and air time by the democrats. None were paid much heed in the republican equivalent. The position taken on biological weapons is more or less the same as the nuclear position. On climate change bit emphasises continued efforts to reach a global agreement to control emissions (though such talks have, to this point, been unsuccessful). As for transnational crime, apparently the administration has a strategy against it that involves targeting of their financial sources of income. The details are, understandably, rather thin.

The platform then makes a move rather similar to the republican equivalent–it offers a set of policies on each region.

Like the republicans, the democrats emphasise the need for continued friendship and partnership with Europe, though the democrats’ section on Europe is a bit longer than the republicans.

The section on Asia promises to upgrade and improve allied defences in the region, and cooperation with said allies in the South China Sea, a point of contention, as China contests some of those allied states for dominance over that sea. The democrats scold China for human rights violations, but otherwise strike a more conciliatory tone than the republicans–they seek cooperation with China on a wide range of issues. The republicans devoted a bit more platform length to discussion of Asia than the democrats do here.

The platform then moves to the Middle East, where it reaffirms support for Israel with absolutely no criticism of settlements, blockades, or wall building, taking the exact same position as the one the republicans took. Very little of the Middle East section talks about anything other than reaffirming support for Israel–the republicans were somewhat more comprehensive, if memory serves.

In the Americas, the democrats promise more cooperation to combat drug trafficking, and that’s about it.

In the Africa section, the democrats actually throw in a Kony reference:

We will continue to partner with African nations to combat al-Qaeda affiliates in places like Somalia and to
bring to justice those who commit mass atrocities, like Joseph Kony.

Given the Invisible Children video from a few months back that lied and manipulated the facts about the ongoing conflict in Central Africa to drum up support among web users unversed in African politics, throwing Kony’s name in is a sickening political ploy and demonstrates a lack of seriousness on the part of the democrats in their discussion of Africa.

There is a point of distinction in that the democrats express continued support for the United Nations, while the republicans railed against it.

There is mention of the Eurocrisis and expression of confidence in the European leadership’s ability to solve it (I perhaps would not be so confident, based on present evidence). It is commendable that the Eurocrisis receives mention–the republicans left it out.

Like the republicans, the democrats express support for free trade, though they also emphasis fairness as a second criterion, one the republicans did not mention.

The platform expresses a desire to increase investment in developing countries in order to create new markets and new demand for American products, laudable enough.

There is praise for George W. Bush in this platform, surprisingly–the democrats approve of the Bush administration’s work in Africa combating AIDS, claim to have continued funding and expanding those operations, and promise to continue to do so going forward.

The platform also promises more aid to poor nations to help them expand agricultural production and avoid food shortages, as well as continued strong aid to states impacted by natural disasters.

The platform promises to maintain American military superiority by giving the military a rest from deployment, eliminating outdated Cold War infrastructure in favour of new investment, while simultaneously reducing defence spending.  Given the large gap between the United States and its nearest defence spending contributors, this sounds feasible.

The platform concludes with a section on “universal values”, detailing various principles the democrats seem to believe all nations should follow. It that sounds neoconservative, it’s because it is. These principles apparently include religious and political freedom, democracy, women’s rights, LGBT rights, opposition to human trafficking, internet freedom, and so on. While many of these are things I personally find appealing or desirable, I find this desire to universalise them disturbing in light of America’s last decade of history. The platform says of these principles:

The President and the Democratic Party believe that nations that embrace these values for their citizens are ultimately more prosperous, peaceful, and friendly to the United States than those that do not.

There is a thin line between advocating for what you believe is right in foreign policy and trying to make the world over in your own image over the opposition of other people. Democrats used to stand for allowing other countries to be different and do their own thing–while this section does not definitively state otherwise, it is cause for pause.

Overall, the foreign policy sections of the two platforms strike me as a case of exaggerating differences. More or less the exact same policies are called for in both platforms, with the emphasis merely being placed differently. Neither party really intends to make the election about foreign policy, so both stick it in at the end of their platforms and pretty much write the same things about it.