Noemie Emery of the Weekly Standard called it the ‘Democrats’ Week from Hell’.
Emery was referring to the week that led to the Iraqi elections on 30th January 2005, to a week that seemed to validate the Bush Doctrine, to a week that, according to the current administration, stood as a turning point in the history of the Middle East and in the history of United States’ foreign policy. More recently, democratic rumblings in Lebanon and Egypt have poignantly exposed the accuracy and irony of Emery’s article. In this new year of democratic reform, it has become increasingly difficult to be a Democrat – or at least a certain type of Democrat. The critics of military intervention, prevention, and invasion now face an unsettling reality, a political reality in which liberal democracy may, despite their many protests, emerge from US ‘unilateralism’.
While this time has been hellish for the some Democrats, such as Howard Dean and John Kerry, it has been more bearable for others. Today, in the polarised climate of American politics, it is easy to overlook this fact and to forget a not-so-distant time in the 1980s in which Democrats and Republicans laid the foundations of a robustly interventionist foreign policy and an active national security strategy. It is the intent of the members of The Henry Jackson Society to recall this period of bipartisan activity, to resurrect the vision of international relations that flourished during this time, and to provide a forum in which to discuss the execution of this vision in the global political space. More specifically, the society seeks to provide an even-handed appraisal of America’s international position, paying attention to its shortcomings, its successes, and its future prospects. Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, a Democrat from Washington elected to the US Senate in 1952, provided both the inspiration and the intellectual grounding for this project. His legacy may, once again, give life to the Democratic Party.
Senator Jackson might have frowned on the triumphalism that has recently emerged in certain neoconservative circles, but he would have been far more critical of the Democratic naysayers who still noisily object to the political restructuring of the Middle East. Before Bush and Cheney, before Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, Jackson acknowledged the connection between this democratic restructuring and the possibility of curtailing acts of international terrorism. In July 1979 in Jerusalem, he said:
I believe that international terrorism is a modern form of warfare against liberal democracies. I believe that the ultimate but seldom stated goal of these terrorists is to destroy the very fabric of democracy. I believe that it is both wrong and foolhardy for any democratic state to consider international terrorism to be ‘someone else’s’ problem… Liberal democracies must acknowledge that international terrorism is a ‘collective problem’.
Since the autumn of 2001, American policy makers and the American public have come to the painful and immediate realisation that terrorism is not ‘someone else’s problem’. This does not, however, mean that it is exclusively an American problem or necessarily a problem to be handled by the sharp end of US foreign policy. The ‘collective problem’ to which Jackson referred still calls for collective solutions. The United States must heed this call. It must continue to organise collective responses to international terrorism and political oppression, and must be willing to devote the diplomatic, economic and military resources necessary to extend the scope of civil liberties and liberal democratic practices.
Extending these liberties and practices, however, can be risky business. The United States may risk its international reputation, its economic stability, and the lives of its citizens and soldiers. These are, however, calculated risks – risks worth taking in particular places at particular times. Libya, Darfur, Egypt and Syria may be the particular places. Now may be the particular time. The ‘forward strategy’ proposed by the Bush administration, however, must not jeopardise the vision of liberal democracy, the very ideal that it seeks to ‘push forward’ in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. The United States, while avoiding the apologetic stance that some leftists would wish it to adopt, should also avoid being confused with the non-representative and authoritarian regimes that it seeks to reform. This will, undoubtedly, be a difficult balancing act.
At the end of the Cold War, the Jacksonian tradition was marked by its ability in negotiating these tenuous situations and may again help to reshape America’s current political scene. In matters of foreign policy, Jackson effectively mediated between moral conviction and moral arrogance, between democratic interventionism and imperialism. He successfully bridged the apparent – if not real – divide between a belief in cultural centrism and a belief in an active US military posture. He understood a fact that many contemporary figures of the political left still understand: being a Democrat means supporting environmental stewardship, supporting trade unions, and defending domestic minorities. Jackson, however, also understood a fact that has been widely forgotten, one that might be remembered to significant effect: being a liberal Democrat involves advocating democracy, extending liberal values to a global demos.