July 29, 2004

Platform Plagiarization Watch

I've taken a look at the Democratic Platform and, in particular, its stances on two of the most pressing foreign policy challenges of the day: Afghanistan and Iraq. My conclusion: the Democrats offer nothing that Bush hasn't already. Put simply, they've basically cribbed this Administration's Afghanistan and Iraq policies.

Don't believe me? Well, let's take a closer look. ( Here's a link to the platform-warning, PDF).

On Afghanistan, the Democratic Platform states that "nowhere is the need for collective endeavor greater than in Afghanistan." (By the by, I'm not sure that's right, an implosion in Iraq would likely have even more disastrous effects than one in Afghanistan, at least in the immediate term, but let's put that aside for the moment).

So anyway, what is offered up by way of a new and improved Afghanistan policy?

Here's the key text from the Platform:

We must expand NATO forces outside Kabul. We must accelerate training for the Afghan army and police. The program to disarm and reintegrate warlord militias into society must be expedited and expanded into a mainstream strategy. We will attack the exploding opium trade ignored by the Bush Administration by doubling our counter-narcotics assistance to the Karzai government and reinvigorating the regional drug control program.

Sounds great, huh?

Except we're doing all of the above already.

We're expanding NATO forces outside Kabul (more here on so-called PRTs being beefed up). We are already accelerating training for Afghan army and police. The so-called DDR program has already gone "mainstream" (whatever that means) with the U.S. as largest donor. And yeah, opium trade is on the rise--but the Bush administration is also invigorating its counter-narcotics efforts and "reinvigorating" the regional drug program. Read this testimony by the Assistant Secretary of State for Counter-Narcotics Robert Charles about our efforts alongside the Brits--who are leading the effort in this area.

So nothing new to see here folks, move along.

Now, how about Iraq? It merits a full two pages in the platform. The first page (at p. 8) rehashes a lot of the mantras of the past year: the case for WMD was "badly exaggerated" (true, but why then was Dick Gephardt standing side by side with Dubya, spearheading Congressional authorization of the war and ostensibly also thinking the WMD intel was a 'slam dunk') no true "international coalition" (except for the U.K., Australia, Italy, Spain (dare I mention them?), Netherlands, Poland, Japan, S. Korea--and, more quietly, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait among many others); and Graydon Carter talking points about a shortage of bulletproof vests on the ground (go to West Point, where I visited four years back, and take a little unofficial poll of the cadets to see which party they think takes better care of the military).

Now there are some fair points too: we didn't go in with "sufficient forces" and our plan to "win the peace" could have been much better--our assumptions were way over-optimistic and the transformationalists at the Pentagon didn't understand peacemaking requires lots of grunts on the ground (it's interesting to note, isn't it, that the platform speaks of winning the "peace"--conceding, to a fashion, that the fabled "major combat operations" are actually really over....).

But let's look at the all-important specific policy prescriptions the Democrats plan to bring to the table in Iraq. As you'll see, with one unimportant exception (a High Commissioner), it's like my analysis of Afghanistan above--ain't nothing new!

To win over allies, we must share responsibility with those nations that answer our call, and treat them with respect. We must lead, but we must listen. The rewards of respect are enormous. We must convince NATO to take on a more significant role and contribute additional military forces. As other countries, including Muslim majority countries, contribute troops, the United States will be able to reduce its military presence in Iraq, and we intend to do this when approrpriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence.

All well and good--but we're already striving to do so. Question: How will Kerry be better at it? Because Jacques will play warm cuddle and work the phone lines to Algiers with more alacrity? Whatever, let's be serious.

Second, we need to create an international High Commissioner to serve as the senior international representative working with the Iraqi government.

Ah yes, the Yasushi Akashi approach to solving tough geopolitical problems. Look, we've already bent over backwards vis-a-vis giving Lakhdar Brahimi mega-leeway on smoothing out electoral modalities with the likes of Ayatollah Sistani. What will appointment of a High Commissioner accomplish, precisely?

I mean, don't get me wrong, it sounds great guys--and the Davos wing of the Forbes party will doubtless be cheered by all the high falutin' contact diplomacy ring of it all. But what difference will it really make on the ground or for Iraq? Pretty much zilch--as the UN Special Envoy is already doing this same job.

At the same time, U.S. and international policies must take into consideration the best interests of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people desperately need financial and technical assistance that is not swallowed up by bureaucracy and no-bid contracts, but instead goes directly into grassroots organizations. They need to see the tangible benefits of reconstruction: jobs, infrastructure, and services. They should also receive the full benefits of their own oil production as quickly as possible, so as to rebuild their country and help themselves as individuals, while also reducing the costs of security and reconstruction on the American taxpayer and the costs of gasoline to American consumers. And they need to be able to communicate their concerns to international authorities without feeling they are being disrespected in their own country.

Call this the Halliburton clause of the Iraq platform plank. "No-bid contracts" bad; "grassroots oganizations; good (snag a Nader voter!). Oil to the people, man! (that's, of course, already stated U.S. government policy on Iraq) Oh, and get those prices down at the pump over here too, while you at it...

No folks, this isn't a serious attempt to think about how to better deliver services and the benefits of reconstruction to the Iraqi people. It's simply a recitation about how those balding white guys at Halliburton are enriching themselves on the backs of the Iraqi people for the benefit of Dick Cheney and assorted oil multinationals. And I'm just not buying this tired and lame Democratic talking point.

Finally, the last Iraq related item from the Dems:

America also needs a massive training effort to build Iraqi security forces that can actually provide security for the Iraqi people. It must be done in the field and on the job as well as in the classroom. Units cannot be put on the street without backup from international security forces. This is a task we must do in partnership with other nations, not just on our own.

Folks, the whole point of the recent NATO Istanbul summit was to 'train and equip' Iraqi forces "with other nations." Now, some Iraqi cadets might have to trek all the way to the Paris suburbs to be trained in crack gendarmarie tactiques--but other NATO countries will be likely providing on the ground training.

Again, nothing new here. It's being done already. And, you know, the Democrats must realize that. After all, why else would they feel compelled, in the platform itself, to write: "They [Bush Administration] are now taking up the suggestions that many Democrats have been making for over a year."

But, er, that's not quite right.

It's the Democrats who are taking up the Iraq policies the Republicans adopted about half a year back during the strategic re-think post the bloody travails of last April in Iraq.

Or am I missing something?

Posted by Gregory at July 29, 2004 12:32 PM

Or am I missing something?

Yes, because Democrats were saying these things before the war.

Posted by: praktike at July 29, 2004 02:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In any case, with the platform, you're looking at a document that was watered-down and negotiated with Team Kucinich by Sandy Berger.

Well, Kooch has been mollified, and Berger ain't on the team anymore.

More broadly, however, platforms means approximately diddly squat. Heck, in 2000, we weren't doing nation-building anymore and were still gearing up for some imaginary future war with China.

Posted by: praktike at July 29, 2004 02:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with praktike on the timeline. It seems, in many respects, that the Democrats are adopting the policies that the Republicans adopted from the Democrats.

As for the Halliburton clause, I think there is some validity to the claim that we have not been as effective as we could have been in delivering contracts to Iraqis themselves. Greater employment and economic boon for the populace gives them a stake in stability and jobs reduce idle hands, and we know what those are for. To say that economic consideration for American and allied corporations played no role in this is naive. Although many of the Halliburton screeds are hyperbole, it does not mean that they, and other corporate interests involved in the reconstruction, are above reproach.

Many of the problems with the process were compounded by the dismissal of the enormous army, flooding the country with disgruntled, armed and unemployed citizens. De-Baathification, overseen by Chalabi, was also probably over-broad even reaching to the level of school teachers being laid off.

One of the lessons from this conflict is, keep as many people employed as possible, and try to allocate the resources reserved for reconstruction to the country in question, and a greater share than we have.

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 29, 2004 04:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, this guy agrees with Greg:


Posted by: praktike at July 29, 2004 06:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Uh...er...wasn't that "Howard" Dean not "John Dean"?

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 29, 2004 06:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"They should also receive the full benefits of their own oil production as quickly as possible, so as to rebuild their country and help themselves as individuals, while also reducing the costs of security and reconstruction on the American taxpayer and the costs of gasoline to American consumers."

It may start as Halliburton clause, but
doesn't this say the war was for oil ?

The Iraqis need to pay their own way by pumping oil, gettting money, then using their money to rebuild.

Posted by: J_Crater at July 29, 2004 06:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I haven't read the whole platform, but that oil clause is atrocious! It's as if the DEMOCRATS are the party of shedding "blood for oil".

Democrats, it's not our oil.

Posted by: Arjun at July 29, 2004 07:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am grateful to David Adesnik for directing me to Laura Rozen's report of a Democratic foreign policy forum featuring Richard Holbrooke, Rand Beers, and others.

Unfortunately, I share Mr. Adesnik's sense of feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

What do you all think.

Posted by: Arjun at July 29, 2004 08:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's a little rude of me to post three times in a row, so I'll try to show more restraint from now on.

For an undecided voter (like me) who is worried about the foreign policy direction of the Kerry Administration, plagiarism (if it is plagiarism) is reassuring, and it doesn't matter who's copying whom.

Posted by: Arjun at July 29, 2004 09:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good point Arjun. If the criticism is: Kerry is weak on defense, and Bush is strong in this area. And the evidence is that the Kerry platform is exactly like Bush's, then that is a logical curiosity.

And post away. No shame.

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 29, 2004 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


For an interesting look at some foreign policy strategies from Democrat Joseph Biden (certainly a Kerry confidant) check out this link. I think Biden is on to something, and it is not underwhelming. At least in my opinion:


Posted by: Eric Martin at July 29, 2004 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric Alterman has explained that the French are not anti-American, but rather simply anti-Bush.

This may be true to a limited extent. However, it is not entirely true. For some reason, the French government seems to believe it has a duty to counter U.S. policies, regardless of who is in the White House.

For example, the government of France was not always cooperative with the U.S. during the Clinton Administration. Indeed, President Chirac was particularly unhelpful during the Clinton Administration's 1998 confrontations with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

Posted by: Arjun at July 30, 2004 07:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey Arjun,

Did you check out that Biden link? I'm interested to hear your take on it. Biden is and well be central to the Kerry foreign policy team, so if you want a glimpse into that arena, this is an excellent opportunity.

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 30, 2004 03:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A future war with China may not be imaginary.

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