Last year, we were inundated with stories about Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and his push to be a voice for a “progressive” foreign policy. Here’s how Murphy explained his post-Iraq, liberal vision to the Atlantic last year (emphasis mine):
But where Trump’s “America First” mantra proved a relatively simple and effective sell for voters, Murphy shuns slogans; he repeatedly resisted when I asked him to encapsulate his worldview. The tensions in his vision go beyond the fact that he uses hawkish language like “forward-deployed” to advocate for dovish policies. His central argument is for a dramatic de-emphasis on military power in U.S. foreign policy, and yet he won’t entertain the thought of cutting the defense budget.
[...]What’s progressive about his philosophy, Murphy explained, “is that it’s an answer to how we exist in the world with a big footprint that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the Iraq War.”
“American values don’t begin and end with destroyers and aircraft carriers,” he told me. “American values come by helping countries fight corruption to build stability. American values flow through tackling climate change and building energy independence. American values come through humanitarian assistance whereby we try to stop catastrophes from happening.”
You would think that Murphy’s desire for a “dramatic de-emphasis on military power” might gel with President Donald Trump’s flirtation with withdrawing troops from the Korean peninsula, but you’d be extremely wrong. On Wednesday, Murphy and fellow Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth filed a bill that would prevent Trump from making that decision unless the secretary of defense agrees with the move.
Why, exactly, do we need a bill to ensure we have troops in South Korea at all times, even as the two Koreas seem closer to reconciliation than ever before?
This is just the most recent example of a cognitive dissonance which has allowed Democrats to acknowledge that Trump is a threat to the fabric of democracy while making sure he stays on a permanent war footing. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised Trump’s move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which helped lead to the Israeli Defense Forces slaughtering innocent Palestinian protesters, and he opposed the Iran deal before he half-heartedly opposed Trump’s withdrawal from it. In April, Senator Tim Kaine joined Trump critic Republican Bob Corker to unveil a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would grant the president broad new powers to wage war in six different countries, as well as more power to indefinitely detain people, including U.S. citizens, without charges or a trial.
And in March, 10 Senate Democrats helped the Senate GOP kill a resolution that brought together ideological opposites Bernie Sanders and liberatarianish GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah to force a vote on withdrawing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. (Murphy also sponsored the resolution.) The U.S. continues to support both the war and the atrocities of the Saudi-led coalition in that war; last week, the UN estimated that up to a quarter of a million people could die as a result of Saudi Arabia’s attack on the port city of Hudaida.
Earlier this week, the coalition bombed a Doctors Without Borders facility in Yemen, which Murphy highlighted on Twitter:
When you consider that Murphy’s push for increasing foreign aid apparently doesn’t include North Korea, a country where UNICEF says up to 60,000 children face starvation partially because of sanctions, it’s a little difficult to take his brand of progressivism seriously. (Last year, Murphy argued for more sanctions on North Korea as a way to force them to the negotiating table.)
The Murphy-Duckworth bill in response to Trump’s offhanded remark about troop withdrawal from South Korea is a legislative manifestation of a somewhat surprising liberal backlash to Trump’s summit. In addition to the view that Trump gave away too much in his negotiations with Kim Jong-un, a lot of people were mad about Trump’s warmness towards a “murderous dictator,” as if that isn’t something that we’ve always done. Still others, like Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, were extremely mad about the North Korean flag being given equivalence to the U.S. flag, because of course the only good and correct way to do diplomacy is to neg the other country:
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF that amounted to a declaration of war on Afghanistan— and has since been used as barely legal cover for American intervention in a host of other countries—had a decidedly different response.
“We have an opportunity to build permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, stop nuclear proliferation in its tracks, and ensure greater respect for human rights in North Korea,” Lee said. “We need to ensure that this summit is more than just a photo opportunity. In the coming months, it is critically important that the U.S. continues the momentum towards a specific, concrete deal to address the many issues before our two nations.”
However wrong Murphy is in his execution, he is right in diagnosing the problem. Domestic issues like healthcare and higher education and wage issues lacked a prominent political voice or voices arguing for the left position prior to 2015, and that’s about where the left sits on foreign policy and anti-imperialism today.
But just as the Sanders campaign and what’s followed it can’t be seen in a vacuum—with the success of his campaign being foreshadowed by movements like the Fight for $15 and Occupy Wall Street, as well as the successes and failures of the Affordable Care Act—a robust left response to America’s fundamentally broken foreign policy isn’t just going to appear out of nowhere. As these things tend to go, unfortunately, it’ll probably only happen when we’re on the brink of another war.
Lee is proof that there’s another way besides soulless neoconservatism, liberal “pragmatism” that permits doing just a little imperialism, or just being a clueless dipshit who stumbles ass-backwards into something resembling diplomacy. And until America gets the anti-imperialist movement that the world so desperately needs, we could sure use more Democrats like her.
Update, 12:10 PM ET: This article has been updated to clarify that Murphy was a primary sponsor on the failed Yemen resolution.