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We Need Liberals Now!

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
October 28, 2011
The Daily Beast


Liberals, progressives, left wingers, and even sometimes moderates—the center and left of America's political circus—barely register on the power scale of U.S. foreign policymaking. That's been true since World War II, with a brief exception at the end of the Vietnam War. The general public, the media, and the foreign policy establishment consider the center left too starry-eyed for international evils, too weak as negotiators, and too fearful to use military force. But whatever their reputation, they are the ones today, practically the only ones today, who are asking the essential policy questions—about domestic versus international priorities, the utility of land wars in inhospitable countries, the role negotiations need to play with adversaries. Those are the issues that truly matter now. They (moderates like Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, Strobe Talbott of Brookings, and Jessica Mathews of Carnegie, as well as liberals like House Democrat Howard Berman) deserve a full hearing by the media, Congress, and the public. Otherwise, we're just going to get a lot more of the same bombastic rhetoric from right wingers and neoconservatives. That chest thumping makes no sense anymore, and we can't afford it. But it's precisely the chest thumping that's still getting most of the attention.

On Afghanistan, the moderate-liberal coalition managed to produce a decision by President Obama and his NATO counterparts to relinquish the burden of combat by the end of 2014. Even then, it's far from clear what that means. Thousands of troops could remain for training and other missions. Worse yet, moderates and liberals don't even possess the clout to push conservatives to answer the key questions: why more war in Afghanistan makes sense when terrorists abound all around the globe. how on earth U.S. vital interests are involved when Afghans barely fight for themselves and when it's unclear if we're fighting for or against Pakistan. Isn't the burden of proof on those who want more of the same?

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