Archive for August, 2011

A Victory for Liberal Foreign Policy

President Obama might not like to gloat about his foreign policy victories, but he deserves recognition for them. The toppling of the Gaddafi regime is a rare triumph for American foreign policy in recent years. Without the leadership of President Obama, the rebels would have been squashed in Benghazi and the country would have remained in the control of Gaddafi for the foreseeable future.

While America has lost thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, not a single American troop was killed during the combat mission in Libya. The result was the removal of one of the world’s longest-running dictatorships and an irritant to its region. Gaddafi will not be missed by anyone.

The Libyan mission has shown what liberal foreign policy looks like. Out are the neo-conservative go-it-alone attitudes. In are coalition-building, limited military air support and willingness to aid those in distress with supplies. The mission won international approval at the United Nations. Other Arab nations even supported the NATO mission.

Aside from having political support from the international community, the United States allowed NATO to take the lead role. Not only were our European allies encouraged to participate, the French were the ones to initiate bombing. Costs were shared between nations as well as responsibility and risks. While the United States spent over $1 trillion between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the cost of removing Gaddafi is unlikely to pass more than a few billion dollars.

This is a welcome change from the Bush administration when the United States was burdened with nearly everything, from the loss of life to military expenditures. Yet President George W. Bush and administration officials readily took credit for events that he had very little involvement in, such as the thwarting of potential terrorist attacks and “mission accomplished” in Iraq. Eight years later, the country is still in Iraq, although thanks to President Obama, we will have all troops out by the end of this year.

While the fighting is mostly over, Libya now has the potential for a democratic state. The people of Libya will be able to decide their own destiny – without having put a single American troop on the ground. Just as important for the United States, our foreign policy has shifted under President Obama from a neo-conservative rush to war to a liberal coalition-building approach that topples dictators without engaging our military in decade-long war.

Democrats Win By Defending Middle Class

President Obama is holding up remarkably well against his potential Republican challengers, despite low approval ratings. The economy is in a state of disarray with wild swings in the stock market and evidence that we may be heading into a second recession. Politically, it could not happen at a worse time for the president as he gears up for re-election.

However, history shows that when Democrats stand for middle class voters, they win elections. Franklin D. Roosevelt won four consecutive terms as president in the 1930s and 40s, despite entering during the Great Depression, which did not completely end until our entrance into World War II. A lot of this had to do with the public’s trust in the president that he was looking out for their interests against a Republican Party that looked out for big-business.

Wisconsin is a prime modern-day example of this. Republicans rode into office in 2010 with a message about economics and jobs. They quickly turned towards dismantling unions, a traditional protector of the middle class, despite the fact that they never even ran on it. The result: a historic six Republicans in the state senate faced recall elections. Two of them were defeated and the other four were all under 60% in traditionally Republican districts. Democrats moved from a 19-14 minority with little power to a 17-16 minority that will effectively stop radical legislation.

Rick Perlstein, author of the new book Nixonland, writes about how defending the social safety net helps Democrats to win elections:

…there’s also a story in Nixonland about how the Democratic Party wins, why it loses and the good things that happen when the party gets the formula right. I surely hope Obama did not miss it.

It concerns the two major axes upon which major national elections get fought. Sometimes they become battles over the cultural and social anxieties that ordinary Americans suffer. Other times they are showdowns about middle-class anxieties when the free market fails. Normally, in the former sort of election, Republicans win. In the latter, Democrats do—as we saw in 2008, when the tide turned after John McCain said “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

I hope that the president learns a thing or two from Perlstein’s book. His move towards what he perceives as the political middle with incessant talk about deficit-cutting has hurt his standing among middle class voters. There is no doubt that the country faces long-term deficit issues, but the jobs picture is far more serious and urgent. President Obama should pivot towards jobs by unveiling a bold and detailed jobs plan while at the same time defending programs like Social Security and Medicare that the middle class rely on. Take it to the American people. Dare the Republicans in Congress to rebuff your plan. Not only would it be good politics, it would be good for the country to see real economic leadership. We need it.

Stock Market Reacts Violently to a Bad Debt Deal

It’s quite common to hear a Republican politician to use the phrase that “the market knows best”. They should be alarmed then to see the reaction that the market has had to their manufactured debt ceiling crisis and the deal that came out of it. We are coming off the worst day for the Dow since 2008, a drop of over 500 points. Only barely did the Dow manage to avoid a nine day losing streak, which would have been the worst performance since 1978. The stock market is now down 10 percent from its April highs.

For a party that loves to effusively talk about the wisdom of the market, the past month’s stock slide should be a wakeup call. The Hoover economics that Republicans in Washington have subscribed to, cutting spending at a time when job growth is at best anemic, is putting the country at risk of a double-dip recession. Don’t take my word for it though. I am only a Political Science major. Take the word of economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman.

He warned in July that the debt ceiling deal envisioned by Republicans would “damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.”

Krugman warns that focusing on reduced deficits during a period of slow economic growth is essentially like throwing water on a fire that’s barely burning anyway (the economy). He writes:

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

Indeed, slashing spending while the economy is depressed won’t even help the budget situation much, and might well make it worse. On one side, interest rates on federal borrowing are currently very low, so spending cuts now will do little to reduce future interest costs. On the other side, making the economy weaker now will also hurt its long-run prospects, which will in turn reduce future revenue. So those demanding spending cuts now are like medieval doctors who treated the sick by bleeding them, and thereby made them even sicker.

The bottom line is that the economy is in rough shape. Instead of treating the problem and attempting to stimulate growth, Republicans are the medieval doctors treating the sick by bleeding them. The stock market has reacted by contracting. At first stocks dove on fears that the United States might default due to Tea Party extremists holding the debt ceiling hostage. Now the stock market is tanking because of an uncertain economy that the debt ceiling deal did nothing to solve. In fact it only made matters worse.