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All the little Wilsons

By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday December 19, 2006 03:48 PM

There's a wonderfully comic kaffeeklatsch of self-important thumbsucking over at TPM Cafe about this "concert of democracies" scheme that recently floated out of the Woodrow Wilson school of international affairs, at Princeton, midwifed by ten pages' worth of professors, think-tankers, Pentagonians, and the odd journalist. They're all such mighty thinkers, these folks, and the noise of little mental wheels spinning is enough to deafen you.

The Princeton document weighs in at a hefty 96 pages, and it is written in a slightly more sprightly style than the average Foreign Affairs article -- perhaps one of the odd journalists lent a hand on the wordsmithing. Still, it's pretty soporific. Fortunately, the TPM Cafe popularizers have broken it down into digestible little amuse-bouche nibbles, suitable to the attention spans of the Netroots. Here is Rachel Kleinfeld, director of something called the Truman National Security Project, who is shown top right above:

For a progressive politician, ranking national security priorities should offer two things: One, a hard-headed assessment of our top threats and challenges, and how he or she will address them--to prove seriousness of purpose and the necessary toughness on national security. Two, a vision of progress that offers hope, optimism, and a show of how America can lead as part of a team.

The latter is an indespensible part of a progressive presidential candidate's political portfolio. It is that vision, that show of difference between the left and the right in our view in what will keep our nation secure, that the country is hungry for. It also offers a middle way between unilateralism (leading with no team) and the permission-slip style multilateralism that the electorate tells pollsters they prefer, but then votes against time after time. Being a quarterback within a like-minded team provides a positive role for America....

Rachel's homely sports analogies definitely strike a more demotic note than James Lindsay, lower left, but he too is clear enough:
So why not improve existing institutions? We should. But don’t get your hopes up that such reform efforts will be enough, especially when it comes to the UN. It is chic to blame the UN’s problems on the United States. Kofi Annan did just that today in a valdevictory speech in Harry Truman's hometown. But even if Washington were on its best behavior the UN would continue to disappoint its fans because what is touted as its great strength is also its great weakness, namely, the fact that it is a universal organization....

But why a Concert of Democracies? One reason is effectiveness. Simply put, democracies possess the greatest capacity to shape global politics. They have the most potent militaries. (The 20 largest democracies account for three-quarters of all defense spending.) They dominate the global economy....

A second reason is legitimacy. The UN is often presumed to have the monopoly on legitimacy [but] would anyone seriously argue that efforts to stop the slaughter in Darfur lack legitimacy because Sudan, China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea refuse to go along?

In short, what we have here is a thoroughly Wilsonian project -- wonderful, really, how institutions like Princeton University and the Democratic Party can maintain such a remarkable level of consistency in their patterns of thought and behavior across the chances and changes of almost a century. The 96-page doorstopper even manages a stylistic echo of Wilson's own smarmy grandiloquence:
America must stand for, seek, and secure a world of liberty under law. Our founders knew that the success of the American experiment rested on the combined blessings of order and liberty, and by order they meant law.

Internationally, Americans would be safer, richer, and healthier in a world of countries that have achieved this balance – mature liberal democracies. Getting there requires:

Bringing Governments up to PAR: Democracy is the best instrument that humans have devised for ensuring individual liberty over the long term, but only when it exists within a framework of order established by law. We must develop a much more sophisticated strategy of creating the deeper preconditions for successful liberal democracy – preconditions that extend far beyond the simple holding of elections. The United States should assist and encourage Popular, Accountable, and Rightsregarding (PAR) governments worldwide.

...Had enough? I don't want to make anybody ill. In a less seraphic register, the report notes that
At their core, both liberty and law must be backed up by force. Instead of insisting on a doctrine of primacy, the United States should aim to sustain the military predominance of liberal democracies and encourage the development of military capabilities by like-minded democracies in a way that is consistent with their security interests. The predominance of liberal democracies is necessary to prevent a return to destabilizing and dangerous great power security competition; it would also augment our capacity to meet the various threats and challenges that confront us.

America must dust off and update doctrines of deterrence.... America should develop new guidelines on the preventive use of force against terrorists and extreme states.... The preventive use of force against states should be very rare, employed only as a last resort and authorized by a multilateral institution – preferably a reformed Security Council, but alternatively by the existing Security Council or another broadly representative multilateral body like NATO.

There's some inadvertent comedy in that last line, don't you think? "Preventive force" needs to be exercised through a multilateral institution -- and in a pinch, any one we can find will do.

These profs, in the course of blueprinting the latest New World Order, have not neglected the home front:

The United States must build a stronger protective infrastructure – throughout our society, our government, and the wider world – that helps prevent threats and limits the damage once they materialize. In our society, we must strengthen our public health system, repair a broken communications system, and reform public education so that students attain the skill sets required to achieve our national security objectives. In our government, we need to create “joined-up government;” de-politicize threat assessment; integrate relevant but neglected portfolios, such as economics and health, into the national security policy-making process; and reach out to the private sector. In the wider world, we must work through networks of security officials to contain immediate threats before they reach our shores and should consider defining our border protections beyond our actual physical borders.
Education for national security! "Networks of security officials!" I have always felt that the professorate has much in common with the police, but seldom have I seen the family resmblance so clearly displayed.

Note, one and all: these are the "progressives."

Comments (9)

Holy John Hoyt! I can't believe you braved the great vortex of ennui that is TPM Cafe and lived to tell the tale! That place is renown for the lethal dullness that flows like a toxic miasma from every page. I thought only the undead pwoggie wonk-wannabes that inhabit the place could survive more than a few minutes of that turgid prose.

You're a braver man than I, Gunga Din!

And not one mention of repainting crosswalks.

J. Alva Scruggs:

It's a sad vision that looks impoverished and hopelessly overwrought next to the wingnuts'.

Jim Ritter:

The "progressive" wing of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton has always been marked by a Realpolitik as strongly imprinted as in its conservative wing. They are, after all, in the business of training the future leadership of the "moderate" wings of our "two" parties.

By the way, could part of the reason for the soporific nature of the report be linked to the fact that it is designed and produced by Rebecca Dull?

Is it enough to bring democracies up to par? Wouldn't Wilson himself have demanded at least a birdy? And wacky pants?

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what a birdy is, so if I'm wrong, it's not my fault.)

royal paine:

me and the jaybro
are down here in florida
for a hebrew xmas

father Refined :
no more wilson pix
till after the new year


i like that amazon top right
she's got stones

" a hard-headed assessment of our top threats and challenges, .... seriousness of purpose ... the necessary toughness ..."

ps by jsp
where's the "too proud to fight " ????
that is a Wilson mode too

Actually, I'd really dig the idea of a Concert Of Democracies, but only if the parking lot outside the hall is full of partying hippies who'll sell me a fresh hot burrito, a cold beer, a really sweet tie-dyed shirt or some loose joints.

But, who am I kidding? Jerry's been dead for eleven years.

I imagine they had a real nice lunch, tho.

js paine:

too proud
to cut and run
too proud
to fight

"...The example of America
must be a special example.
The example of America
must be the example
not merely of peace
because it will not fight
but of peace
because peace
is the healing and elevating influence
of the world and strife is not...
There is such a thing as a man
being too proud to fight;
there is such a thing
as a nation being so right
that it does not need
to convince others
by force that it is right.

st woodrow

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