WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday proposed a set of new capabilities that are necessary to carry forward a progressive foreign policy. In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Murphy specifically laid out four concrete ideas for how progressives can close the perceived national security gap with Republicans, and maintain America’s role in the world.
“We have seen a major opening for Democrats to seize on the issue of national security. Trump won the election, in part, by selling himself as a deal maker who could get big things done with Iran and North Korea, on nukes, with China and Europe, on trade with Mexico on the wall. But Americans are now coming to grips with this realization that none of those deals are getting done. It's the most potent indictment of those dealmaker claims,” Murphy said.
Murphy continued: “The foundational crisis that the next president will face is that his or her foreign policy toolkit, the levers that the president can press to try to protect and advance our interests abroad… Our obsession with defense build ups, in a world where the most significant threats to the United States are not conventional military threats, and our refusal to create capacities that meet our enemies where they exist—this destines to slide us into global irrelevance unless we figure out a new way to meet modern threats with modern capabilities.”
Murphy is the author of “Rethinking the Battlefield,” a comprehensive road map for rebuilding our foreign policy in order to keep pace with the global challenges we face.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
“Well, thank you very much, Margaret, I'm excited to spend some time with you here on stage. Thank you to all my friends at the Council for having me back once again and for all the great work that you do to keep the foreign policy community connected to Congress here in Washington.
“I want to talk to you a little bit this morning for about 10 minutes or so about the future of what I will call progressive foreign policy with an eye towards the next administration. In the two democratic debates that we've had so far, if you count generously, candidates have spent about 30 minutes talking about foreign policy out of nine hours of the debates, that's less than 6% of the time on stage, and only two of the candidates have released anything that could be fairly characterized as a foreign policy plan. And we've seen a lot of plans from candidates.
“I get that primary elections generally aren't decided on international issues and this one probably isn't going to be different. But if tonight's debate plays out like the first two, I'm going to actually start getting worried for my party for two reasons.
“First, I just think that Democrats that are running for president have a civic responsibility to flesh out their vision for the world before they sit in the Oval Office. If Congress remains divided, then it's going to be foreign policy where the next president has the most discretion. And I want a president who has given some real deep thought to these big hairy questions of how America intersects with the world before they get there.
“But second, I think in the last few months, and indeed just in the last few weeks, we have seen a major opening for Democrats to seize on the issue of national security. Trump won the election, in part, by selling himself as a deal maker who could get big things done with Iran and North Korea, on nukes, with China and Europe, on trade with Mexico on the wall. But Americans are now coming to grips with this realization that none of those deals are getting done. It's the most potent indictment of those dealmaker claims. Trump's casual flirtation with war with Iran and his waffling on troop levels in the Middle East have made Americans really worried that Trump can keep us safe.
“Now, Democrats maybe can't completely close the national security gap with Republicans that traditionally exists. But Trump gives us reason to try, because if we did, we can make more progress on this gap this election than in the past and that might make the difference in 2020.
“So here are a few thoughts to chew on, a little unsolicited advice for the small cadre of foreign policy thinkers who are advising our 2020 candidates.
“First let me make a simple argument and it's this: there is almost no important domestic progressive value that can be advanced without a foreign policy compliment. You care about repairing America's broken democracy? Well, the better China gets at exporting the tools of tyrants, the less check Russia feels on its effort to manipulate foreign elections, then the less healthy our own democracy becomes. You want to focus on immigration? Well, the less involved America is in fixing broken countries in Central America, the more refugees show up at our borders. And guess what, the xenophobic nationalist movement is indeed global. When anti-immigrant parties score victories in Europe, it strengthens the hand of similar movements here. Your priority is the climate? Well, you can't save the earth without global engagement. And rejoining Paris is just the easy part. After that, we need a massive global diplomatic effort to convince countries to comply.
“My point is this: even for the Democratic candidates who say it's time to focus on American problems, our issues don't exist in a vacuum. If you care about democracy, or human rights or the environment here, then you have to care about these fights everywhere, and you need to be engaged on them everywhere. But of course, there's another reason for America to reenter these values fights. The world is a safer place the more people have access to self-determination and freedom of speech and protection from persecution or discrimination. The ideas that undergirded the post-WWII order have not suddenly come undone. Democracies still tend not to attack each other. Countries where women have equal rights to men, they breed fewer terrorists. Participatory democracy and open economist are still the best protection against instability.
“And of course, progressives should never cede ground about which party or political movement cares more about protecting America. We put our nation's security first, and that's why we think that we should put democracy promotion and human rights and climate change back at the center of American foreign policy.
“Now, really, in some ways, that's the easy stuff – elevating our game on these critical topics. Here's the tougher sled, and it's what I want to spend just a little bit more time talking to you about this morning. The foundational crisis that the next president will face is that his or her foreign policy toolkit, the levers that the president can press to try to protect and advance our interests abroad, is basically a 1988 Ford Taurus on a road that is crowded with shiny new Teslas and Land Rovers. Our obsession with defense build ups, in a world where the most significant threats to the United States are not conventional military threats, and our refusal to create capacities that meet our enemies where they exist—this destines to slide us into global irrelevance unless we figure out a new way to meet modern threats with modern capabilities. Now, before I go through a few of these new tools that the next president is going to need in order to be successful, let me give you just two examples of how our current toolbox is totally failing American national security interests. First, let's look to Ukraine, where a new reformist president, who I met in Kyiv for the first time last week is trying to deescalate tension with Moscow.
“The American response to Russian aggression in Ukraine has been mostly a military one because that's what we do. $4 billion a year in new troop and equipment deployments to Eastern Europe. Radar systems, Javelin missiles, troop training packages for Ukraine, but Putin doesn't change his behavior. Why? Well, because Putin actually doesn't want to march his army on Kiev, he wants to politically and economically destroy the country, so that they eventually tire out and decide to cut a deal and return to Russia's orbit. Brigades and missile systems aren't a bad idea, it just can't be our only idea. Putin delights when we spend $4 billion on military hardware and virtually nothing to try to break his energy grip on Europe or his attempts to hack into and disrupt the Ukrainian economy, or to use bribery to undermine an already corrupt political system. We're not meeting Putin where he sits in Ukraine and the region.
“Second, let's look at how the American government today is dealing with the global information war. China, Russia, North Korea, terrorist groups, they're all putting billions of dollars into manipulating information flows around the world, especially in sensitive political environments.
“Now, it's taken us way too long to catch up. But finally, a few years ago, Senator Rob Portman and I passed legislation establishing a new center in the Department of State, the Global Engagement Center, to combat global propaganda. Now, that's the good news. The bad news: the money's not in the State Department. The money is in the Department of Defense. And so the Department of Defense is quietly ramping up its anti-propaganda messaging operations, because well, they're the only ones who have the money to do it. Now, it would be more effective to empower voices in countries on the front lines of Russia or China's information wars rather than American military bureaucrats. With small budgets, you can only afford to entertain small ideas. So we're not thinking about funding high-quality content to help independent media outlets, or funding a Russian language version of Al Jazeera that could be a real alternative to Russian satellite channels.
“There are hundreds of other examples of how badly we bungled our smart power tools. But the bottom line is this: the obsolescence of the American foreign policy tool kit is the real crisis, and building a new tool kit serves progressive values in two ways. First, it allows us to more effectively fight for democracy and human rights and climate, which are both domestic and global priorities for progressives. But creating more effective national security capabilities and relying less on the bluntness of raw military power and arms exports, it will get us into less dumb wars and military conflict. That's a progressive value as well.
“Now listen, we shouldn't let our guard down. We're never immune to a conventional military attack, and neither are our treaty allies. And I do believe that peace comes through military strength, and I'm not arguing for a massive downsizing of our military budget. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when military spending comes at the expense of creating capabilities that actually meets the threats that we face.
“So what do we need in this new foreign policy is a progressive foreign policy tool kit. I’ll end with just a few ideas. Number one, we desperately need more economic leverage around the world. In the Cold War, there were two superpowers but frankly, we didn't need to be that nimble to win economic friends because your only other choice was the communist Soviet. Not so today, the Chinese, the Indians, the newly semi-capitalist Russians, the Gulf States, everyone is looking to win friends over to their value system based on economic relationships, and we're losing out.
“Consolidating our international development agencies, it was a nice start, but we need to supercharge the investments that America, still the world's biggest economy, can offer other nations. For instance, the Chinese are developing a model where they midwife a technology in their closed, government subsidized and controlled the economy, and then they release it onto the world at a dirt-cheap price. Now we need to have an answer to what China has done with 5G and what they're going to do with advanced batteries and AI in the next decade. And it can't just be a robust campaign of shaming other nations who partner with Chinese companies. We need to put real public dollars, ideally in coordination with the Europeans, behind partnerships with Western companies who want to develop true competitor products to Chinese tech exports.
“Number two, progressive shouldn't be afraid of new multilateral trade deals. Free trade can be a progressive idea. Now we should rework the Trans Pacific Partnership so that it's less friendly to corporations and more friendly to workers and the environment. But it's a mistake for progressives to not see trade policy as critical statecraft. We can use trade agreements as a way to export our values and our interests. We shouldn't forsake this tool just because we signed some bad trade deals in the past.
“Number three, let's get really serious about supporting existing democracies and fighting corruption in all countries, whether or not they're democratic. If you total up all the money that the U.S. Department of State spends annually on protecting democracy and fighting corruption abroad, it's about two and a half billion dollars. Now that sounds like a lot of money. But that's as much money as the Department of Defense spends in two days. And it frankly pales in comparison to the amount of money that China and Russia and others are leveraging to undermine fragile democracies. So how do we do this? Well, here's just one idea. Let's create a new category of foreign service officers dedicated to fighting corruption abroad, so that every single embassy in the world has one or more dedicated American staffers that are working on putting and protecting the rule of law first, and from attack.
“Number four and last, we need to harden the State Department and USAID. I always think back to this trip I took in 2011 when I was visiting Western Afghanistan. And we met with a capable group of Army commandos, who were protecting Afghan farmers from attacks by the Taliban. And that was great. What was not so great? The farmers that they were protecting, were growing poppy, and selling it to the Taliban, who now with this American protection at least paid for the crop instead of having the Taliban steal it. What those farmers really needed were agricultural advisors to help them grow another crop and Afghan speaking political advisors to help them negotiate a détente with the Taliban once the poppy supply disappeared. But because all we can do in dangerous conflict zones is deploy 20 year old commandos, we are stuck guarding the poppy fields for the enemy. Or in Syria, where during most of the conflict over the last decade, you know how many State Department advisors we've had side by side with our thousands of soldiers there? One. General after general tells us Syria is a political not military problem. So why don't we have diplomats there? Well, because we haven't developed any real hybrid class of diplomat warrior. Despite the general failure of soldiers to do effective diplomacy, that can change and progressives should lead that effort. And these are just four ideas that are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new capabilities to meet Russia and China extremist groups where they lie.
“But the lack of creativity in American foreign policy today is maddening to me. But as I said, so is the lack of attention to serious national security thinking amongst leading Democrats. And if we don't start thinking outside of the box about how to bring progressive values to the world stage, then no matter how the next president reorients American priorities, he or she won't actually be able to effectuate new goals with the same military heavy toolkit that exists today, recognizing the new realities of the threats that we face and shifting our capabilities to meet these threats - that should be the goal of progressive foreign policy. This shift will benefit progressive values at home and keep us from falling into more ill thought out wars of choice abroad.
“Thank you very much for your time this morning and I really look forward to a good discussion. Appreciate. Thank you.”