Training progressive voices for national security
There was some good news on the national political front last week – the military policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” officially expired, and President Obama hailed it as a triumph of progressive values.
BARACK OBAMA: No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country that they love. That’s why I believe this is the right thing to do for our military; that’s why I believe it’s the right thing to do, period.
Many people welcomed the president’s words. But former Air Force officer Paul Clarke thinks there’s still a long way to go. Clarke is a former White House press office under former presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. He now works with the Truman National Security Project, runs what he calls “boot camps” to educate progressive thinkers on how to connect with the military and effect change. KALW’s Holly Kernan asked him to describe the Truman Project.
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PAUL CLARKE: The Truman National Security Project is a leadership training institute and the idea is to train the next generation of progressives in how to speak to national security issues, based on progressive understandings and progressive values.
HOLLY KERNAN: And how do you define national security from a progressive point of view?
CLARKE: National security is about obtaining a certain level of use and interest around the world. That is to say, as we continue to have prosperous stable world, which we are an active member of. So it speaks to everything. It talks to the military, it talks to economic issues, it talks to democracy and democratization. It talks to the idea that we need to have alliances in the world, and we need to be an active partner with the nations.
KERNAN: So did you get the sense that the progressive voice was missing in that discussion?
CLARKE: Yes, it has been. I think it sort of culminated in the George W. Bush years with the neo-cons essentially leading us down the garden path on these two wars, one of which was Iraq, which was totally unnecessary and foolishly executed. The Afghanistan War, which by most viewed as necessary but also poorly executed.
So what really happened was that we had the Vietnam experience. Before the Vietnam experience, there was no gap between progressives and the rest of the conversation about national security. But those on the right, after Vietnam, became pragmatic, saying, "We won't talk about issues like democracy because it makes us look soft.” And the other side said, "I'm cynical about the use of American power and I despise the way we have used our military and America shouldn't push their interests on the world.” So these sort of things have sort of quieted the progressive side of the equation. What we had, instead, was a militarized version of what and how to perceive national security. We used the name Truman because Harry Truman was a great example, as he was the president at the very end of World War II. He looked at the world and asked how to design international institutions: How do we prevent the second world war, and the third? And how do we define prosperity and common goals among our neighbors in the world?
Some of it was by looking for security, for example, creating NATO in response to the Soviet threat. But also, some of it was creating the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was money spent by the American taxpayer to get the European economies back up and running. So they'd have security again, but also be able to buy products and become healthy economies again following the devastating war.
KERNAN: What kind of pushback do you get when you speak with say, military officials or national security experts?
CLARKE: Well, in general, they are on board with the idea. Progressive eyes are one of the two major strains we have had on our foreign policy for forever. It's just been on the wane for a while. By the way, this is San Francisco, California; this is where the UN was signed.
KERNAN: The Declaration of Human Rights.
CLARKE: That's right, done in 1948. So there is that history, there are two tracks. You have the military, the strong military that Truman believes we need a strong military and a strong intelligence. It doesn't mean we have to use it all the time; it just means we have a strong capability. In addition to that, you work on developing other things: You build alliances; you make opportunities in the world. Instead of cutting up the pie, you make it bigger. That's the basic idea that came out of World War II. It was accepted by people of all political stripes. But since the Vietnam War, a sort of militarized version represented by the Neo-cons, among others, has sort of stifled the progressive side.
KERNAN: You say with the Truman Project that global warming is a national security issue.
CLARKE: Oh yes, we are right on board with the country's national security institutions: the CIA, the State Department, the Department of Defense. Three- and four-star generals who say that our energy dependence is our challenge in the world, that it militarizes our foreign policy. The changing climate is something that the military is going to have to respond to.
For example, in a country like Bangladesh, a country that suffers from monsoons that threaten millions of people – they're looking towards the future. A lot of military people have found that there's a relationship between how we behave in the world and our impact on the world, and our national security interest.
KERNAN: We've just past the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and you were active duty at that time. And that event really led to major changes in national security. What were you thinking and feeling at the time?
CLARKE: Well, the advent of 9/11, as many people have said, changed the world. But the way we approached the new challenge was our worst instincts. We went back to perceive everything as a threat. We failed to see that different things in the world provided different types of threats. Because Saddam Hussein supported some levels of terrorism, we somehow associate him with 9/11. And we decided the solution to that was to invade the country.
It was a slippery slop in thinking that the world was against us. The reality is that most of the world is for us; the rest of the world wants to make sure that this type of terrorism doesn't take over anywhere, let a lone the U.S. There was a change in the national security system. But we weren't smart about how we did it. For example, the use of torture – that hurt us in the practical sense, but was also against our values. So the response we took was essentially what led to the creation of this project. We need to be strong, certainly, but we need to have strong principles as the beginning point, but have them in a way that reflects the values we have as a society.
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