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Shared delusions: Both major political parties lack coherent foreign policies

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Mainstream politicians fail America’s soldiers every day. There are reasons why Congress flirts with single-digit approval ratings. Nonetheless, the problem is bigger than any collection of individual personalities in the House or Senate. The game itself is rigged, hostage to a two-party system that offers the populace false, binary choices.

Now, most Americans primarily care about “kitchen table” issues — economics, culture and other domestic concerns. But the arbitrary division of foreign and domestic policy is itself a false dichotomy. The foreign and domestic overlap in countless ways, and Americans ought to cease the artificial division. In the 21st century, what’s global is local and vice versa.

And there’s reason for concern.

{mosads}Here’s an inconvenient truth rarely whispered in Washington: when it comes to foreign policy, neither Democrats nor Republicans possess a coherent strategy. Instead, each party peddles promises while careening from one election to the next. Never mind that their policies hardly stand up under even basic scrutiny. It’s not about truth, or logic, but rather what sells. Both the GOP and Dems are in the sales business — attracting customers, counting votes, keeping the machine running. Governing takes a back seat.


Problem is, people die — U.S. soldiers and foreign civilians alike — when the parties’ comforting rhetoric confronts the cruel test of reality. And the Middle East, Uncle Sam’s favorite battleground of late, has its own particularly harsh reality.

Quite frankly, both parties’ delusional visions rest on impossible promises of wealth, power and prosperity at no real cost to the populace. No tough choices, no sacrifice, no compromises.

Despite all the partisan rancor, the Democratic and Republican visions share so much. Both promise an exceptionally powerful United States leading the world in nearly all fields — military, economic, cultural and ethical. Both assure us the United States can defeat “terror,” to ensure the citizenry absolute security at home and abroad. And, of course, both promise to achieve national grandeur in perpetuity.

The Republican version is particularly vexing, given the GOP’s supposed devotion to fiscal discipline. Mainstream conservatives promise slashed income taxes but record-breaking military spending. More weapons, more soldiers, more bases, more … well, war. You don’t need an advanced degree in finance to wonder how that checkbook could possibly balance. Enter the big lie of perpetual growth. Republicans assure us that never-ending tax cuts will not decrease government revenue because an unshackled economy will endlessly expand. The super wealthy will invest in America and the GDP will skyrocket. We can afford America’s military interventions and, besides, we have no choice — “Better to fight them over there than back home, right?”    

Every time it’s been tried — i.e., the Reagan ’80s — the deficit ballooned and the growth turned out to over-promise and under-produce. But who needs inconvenient facts?

The Democratic fantasy isn’t much better. Theirs sometimes comes across as marginally more nuanced, but at root it’s the same: America can, and must, lead the world. Except, the Dems would balance “soft” power with the hard, and be “smart” overseas. Yet they also mean to significantly ratchet up entitlement spending with universal health care, free college and more.  That’s all well and good, but from where does the money come? Dems will agree to modest tax increases on the super rich, but little else. And they sell their safety-net-strengthening but would never entertain any dismantling of the American empire or the national security state. They want to appear “tough” on terror and dare not shrink the size of the military, because that would spell political suicide.

In one key respect the Republicans and Democrats are the same. Both parties specialize in positivity, in unflinching optimism. You really can have it all! It’s an inherently American disease — exceptional nation, exceptional aspirations.

The tragedy is that America’s military is mired in countless counterproductive quagmires from West Africa to South Asia. These are unwinnable wars, yet to listen to mainstream public debate you’d never know it; in the media, we’re treated to silence.

That’s because there is no veritable anti-war or anti-interventionist political party in mainstream American politics. There are few “restrainers” serving at the federal level, and why should there be? Unlike guns, pharma, big energy, even pro-choice cultural activism, there’s no money in the restrainer constituency. There aren’t many wealthy donors highly concerned with excessive American intervention overseas. It hardly touches their wallets, and the all-volunteer force seems to skip over their sons and daughters.

Nevertheless, there is hope somewhere off in the distance. An alliance could be struck. Sure, they’ll be strange bedfellows, but it’s high time the Rand Paul-style libertarian Republicans make common cause with the far-left Democrats to lead America out of the swamp of perpetual war to a sustainable foreign policy that Americans could truly be proud of.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Maj. Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer, a former history instructor at West Point, and served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.”  Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

Tags Afghanistan War Democratic Party Middle East Rand Paul Republican Party

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