Elizabeth Warren and Foreign Policy

Written By: - Date published: 8:45 am, January 9th, 2019 - 17 comments
Categories: China, defence, Donald Trump, International, us politics - Tags:

On the remote chance that Senator Elizabeth Warren makes it to be Presidential contender in 2020, she’s set out some foreign policy thoughts in the respected journal Foreign Affairs.

I’m going to pick out some quotes and have a stab at their relevance to New Zealand. The nice initial signal is her view that successful modern societies are built around institutional foundations of democratic principles, commitment to civil and human rights, accountability of government to citizens, are bound by the rule of law, and are focused on economic prosperity for all. But she tracks the major shift since Reagan:

(I)n recent decades, Washington’s focus has shifted from policies that benefit everyone to policies that benefit a handful of elites. … the United States took on a series of seemingly endless wars, engaging in conflicts with mistaken or uncertain objectives and no obvious path to completion. The impact of these policy changes has been devastating.”

It’s impossible to imagine either Bill or Hillary Clinton or President Trump offering that kind of apology. This overwhelming focus of resource and effort onto military invasion has pulled in so much resource that it has beggared all other U.S. state-led policy innovation or implementation. And then Warren acknowledges the global impact of that concentration of public resource by noting that “Every decision the government makes should be grounded in the recognition that actions that undermine working families in this country ultimately erode American strength in the world.”

But what she needs to get to next is how her version of modern liberal society as defined by the institutions I listed above, can still be turned to salvage globalisation. It really does sound like she’s read Stiglitz’ Globalisation and its Discontents.

She starts:

The globalisation of trade has been tremendously profitable for the largest American corporations. It has opened up opportunity and lifted billions out of poverty around the world.”

That is particularly true of the fast-evolving smaller countries like Australia and New Zealand who quickly adapted colonial contacts into international networks backed by robust political institutions. For New Zealand, that really accelerated once the World Trade Organisation set a common global framework for our international commodity trade sector in 1995.

But Warren  points out that pro-trade policymakers were too “willing to sacrifice American jobs in hopes of lowering prices for consumer goods at home and spreading open markets abroad.” She’s not going full Naomi Klein on IMF intervention and Washington Consensus liquidation of the public sector, but there’s little hints in that direction.  Warren is clear that austerity, deregulation, and privatisation were polices that “reduced faith in both capitalism and democracy and left governments with fewer fiscal levers when economic crises hit.” Those policies meant there has been less and less faith that the virtues of democratic institutions will deliver superior economic results than under authoritarian rule. So by the time the 2008 global financial crash came around, “it only confirmed what millions of Americans already knew: the system was rigged against working people.”

But she believes the damage to democracy from the U.S. version of globalised militant capitalism can be changed for good. Clearly that’s important if she’s going to have a believable message that is an alternative to President Trump’s direction. She still needs to set out an optimistic, expansive, Democratic vision for America in the world. After all Donald Trump campaigned against the same rigged system, and she needs a similarly popular message but also one that is profoundly different to Trump’s.

So. “A new approach should begin with a simple principle: U.S. foreign policy should not prioritise corporate profits over American families.”

Wouldn’t it have been great if Helen Clark had stated that before going in to the New Zealand – China FTA? Warren proposes ensuring workers are meaningfully represented at the negotiating table, with such agreements use to raise and enforce labour standards.

Who knows, if a Warren Presidency had a decent Senate and a Congress majority, and maybe a couple of Supreme Court appointments, maybe it would be time to revisit the Sherman Act, and the Glass-Segal Act.  An awful lot of stars would need to align, and the banks will fund her Democratic and Republican opponents as far as they can.

An example of a Warren Presidency re-regulating the U.S. economy in key oligopolies would be a great international example to our own government to grow a regulatory spine at the same time as it grows our economic muscle.  

Warren is remarkably doveish on the use of the U.S. military. Like Trump, she wants to rapidly withdraw and decrease U.S. military presence across the world, but again has to differentiate herself from Trump’s similar message. Warren adds a lot more facts and figures to Trump’s own anti-interventionist rhetoric, but she now has President Trump’s own record to evaluate:

As president, he has expanded the United States’ military footprint in Somalia to establishing a drone base in Niger. … he has undermined a successful nuclear deal with Iran … failed to roll back the North Korean nuclear program, and seems intent on spurring a nuclear arms race with Russia. These actions do not make America safer.”

She is a very strong believer in multilateral nuclear arms control. Most could agree on that, but her stance on military intervention is too similar to Trump’s to make it much of a campaign differentiator. Her opposition to the Pentagon’s budgets may mean some states that would otherwise be safe for Democrats might come more into play as large military bases and military contractors feel a perceived threat to jobs and security of tenure.

Warren is very different to President Trump in that she supports the State Department in order to reprioritise the role of international diplomacy over military agency, and the real need to regain some of the friends that the United States used to have:

As we face down antidemocratic forces around the world, we will need our allies on our side.”

Which does rather beg the reasonable question for a small state like ours: what might we get out of that? There must be more to strategic alliances than good will. If Trump and Warren were facing off in debates and their approach to foreign military intervention was that similar, why not just both agree to come out and simply renounce that old term “manifest destiny”? Certainly Warren needs her own phrase to replace the melancholic rage of “Make America Great Again”.

I’m sure we all have suggestions for her.

But her main foreign policy plank is simply to be good at domestic policy and to let that do the main talking for the United States. That’s her strength: domestic policy, same as Obama. She wants to start reversing falling life expectancy with better access to healthcare (but doesn’t say how). She wants to reverse the gutting of environmental regulations and addressing climate change (but doesn’t say how). She wants to reverse the educational opportunity gap (but doesn’t say how). She wants a progressive tax system, and a government that is not for sale to the highest bidder. Complete silence on immigration. Nothing specific on financial institution regulation, leastways not in this article – and that is the most important set of policies for New Zealand because we are at the total mercy of largely unregulated international banks.

Unfortunately for Warren the U.S. economy is absolutely booming with Trump and there appears to be no institutional reason for it – except  that massive tax cut for the wealthy delivered by Trump. So her standard tie between liberal institutional virtues and prosperity is going to be a really hard electoral sell.

Warren is clear that the primary threats to American democracy are from China and Russia, but more broadly from the authoritarian compact of multinationals with autocratic rule:

Democracy is running headlong into the ideologies of nationalism, authoritarianism, and corruption. … In China, President Xi Jinping consolidates his power and talks of a ‘great rejuvination’, while corporations that answer to the state make billionaires out of Communist Party elites.”

That is indeed objectionable, but many U.S. politicians and lobbyists struggle to wake up remembering which entity they are working for on any given day.

Warren doesn’t stretch beyond the obvious corporate-state interface either. The antitrust measure that would make Five Eyes citizens sit up straight is a laws ensuring no branch of military intelligence will ever under any circumstance be allowed to get in to the back end of a private human data company network. That’s the foreign policy that would show that the Pentagon really can be regulated again, and show citizens under autocratic control that the United States has superior ideals to their own. That might also enable Five Eyes citizens such as ourselves to trust the state’s powers again. Warren is on safest ground just complaining about the general rise of authoritarian states and their feudalist corporate fealties, not so good on fresh wells of political idealism.

There’s nothing Green New Deal in this piece. It’s more a positioning as consistently anti-corporate, anti-Pentagon, pro-regulation, pro-democratic institution, and pro-worker. Pretty similar to Corbyn. But awfully similar in tone to Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” and appeals to rustbelt workers. These are the solid tropes of a strongly left-leaning Democrat.

The most relaxing thing to me about the article was that this was a candidate with a collaborative nature, a brain, using actual facts and examples, who was honestly analysing current and historic failings and advantages of America foreign policy. That’s someone Prime Minister Ardern could deal with.

17 comments on “Elizabeth Warren and Foreign Policy”

  1. ianmac 1

    Perhaps Elizabeth Warren would have a fighting chance to instigate her beliefs but for the all powerful Lobby groups and the huge impact of candidate sponsorship. In NZ the growth of big donors is a tiny disquieting example of the power of donors operating in the USA.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Wouldn’t it have been great if Helen Clark had stated that before going in to the New Zealand – China FTA?

    Or Ardern/Winston/Shaw before signing the TPPA. That’s another agreement that will see NZ families worse off for the benefit of US corporations.

    Like Trump, she wants to rapidly withdraw and decrease U.S. military presence across the world, but again has to differentiate herself from Trump’s similar message.

    Personally, I think its time that we had an international law that prevented a country having military bases outside of its own borders. A country does not need to extend its military outside its borders except in time of war.

    failed to roll back the North Korean nuclear program

    This may come as a surprise but under international law no country has a right to do that. Since the DPRK’s withdrawal from the NPT they have the right to develop whatever nuclear program that they want to.

    As we face down antidemocratic forces around the world, we will need our allies on our side.

    The US needs to start with facing down the anti-democratic forces in the US – specifically the GoP and most businesses.

    Which does rather beg the reasonable question for a small state like ours: what might we get out of that? There must be more to strategic alliances than good will.

    Should we really be that selfish? Asking only what we can get out of it?

    But her main foreign policy plank is simply to be good at domestic policy and to let that do the main talking for the United States.

    And that should probably be true of every state.

    As I’ve said before if a country sets their domestic policy and then trades only with other countries that meet or exceed those domestic policies then we actually start a race to the top. The complete opposite of the what the WTO, IMF, WB and FTAs have achieved.

    Nothing specific on financial institution regulation, leastways not in this article – and that is the most important set of policies for New Zealand because we are at the total mercy of largely unregulated international banks.

    We could regulate inside NZ ensuring that we’re not at their mercy. But I’m sure that someone will point out that we can’t do that because of existing agreements.

    Which just tells me that we need to get out of those agreements. They’re not doing us any favours by preventing us from making our lives better.

    A government doing what’s right for the country and not what the international business community want is more likely to get it right.

    • cleangreen 2.1

      100% well said Draco.

      “Or Ardern/Winston/Shaw before signing the TPPA. That’s another agreement that will see NZ families worse off for the benefit of US corporations.”

      The ”global criminal greedy cabal’ see the world as their own self fashioned spoil now to rort and rape the poor !!!!!!

  3. Brutus Iscariot 3

    I wonder if the presence of an actual left-winger arguing against US imperialism in the Middle East, will cause the Blairite automatons of the Standard to rethink their kneejerk criticism of Trump’s Syria pullout.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      There is some good reasoning as to why the US shouldn’t pull out of Syria now that they’ve gone in and fucked it up. They should stay and protect people that they’ve supported in their attacks upon Assad.

      • Brutus Iscariot 3.1.1

        Under those criteria, the US would probably still be in Vietnam.

        I mean they’re still in Afghanistan after 17 years, right?. Defeating the might of Hitler’s Germany only took 6 years. That says to me that they’re still engaged in fool’s errands.

        Then there’s the observation that if the trillion dollar military overspend since Bush’s folly had been spent on domestic welfare, Trump might never have spawned.

      • francesca 3.1.2

        Protect who?
        Al Queda? AKA Al Nusra
        HTS which is the latest incarnation of Al Nusra?
        The FSA backed by Turkey ?
        Are you talking about the Kurds?
        They haven’t been attacking Assad, they invited the SAA in to Manjib
        Kurds when they’ve got US backing , Syrians when they want Assad’s protection .

        https://www.france24.com/en/20181228-syrian-army-deploys-manbij-kurds-ypg-turkey

        http://www.arabnews.com/node/1427021/middle-east

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.2.1

          The US should not have gone in there. They most definitely should not have encouraged others and they shouldn’t have supplied.

          They did all these things and now they have responsibility to those people whether what those people did was right or wrong.

          I’m actually in favour of the US and all other nations pulling out. Let the people there sort their own shit out.

    • SPC 3.2

      Why?

      The concerns at the betrayal of the Kurds have now been met by a delayed withdrawal that enables the Kurds to work with the Syrian government to protect Syrian terriotry from a Turkish incursion.

      If POTUS also works with Russia to co-sponsor a UNSC resolution condemning any Turkish incursion to the east of the Euphrates this would uphold Syrian sovereignty against the nation most intent on subverting it – Turkey (Saudi Arabia 2nd).

  4. I see some themes emerging here.

    Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump both want to withdraw the U.S. military from the Middle East and – presumably close their bases there – but Warren is not yet distinguishing her platform from that of Trump.

    Donald Trump – albeit for purely Trumpian reasons – wants to put his America first.

    We have Winston Peters wanting to put New Zealand First, though I wonder now if he really means HIS New Zealand first.

    As Draco correctly points out countries that put themselves first by setting domestic policies and only trading with those that meet or exceed those standards a race to the top can start. A race to the bottom, the exact 180 degree opposite is what we are engaged in now.

    If Warren wants to put America first, some big internal enemies are going to have to be faced down.

    The driver of these enemies is dollars. Dollars. Dollars and more Dollars.

    Would Warren be prepared to introduce Universal Health Care? Perhaps, but before then she has to convince Americans not to listen to the conservative line that it is a massive socialist spend up taking away all of their hard earned dollars.

    Would Warren be prepared to look at the massive wastage in the Pentagon before she supports what seems like a prerequisite for every U.S. President: permit at least one big defence spending increase in your tenure? Tough, because all Presidents have to look tough on national security.

    But perhaps the most difficult I think actually come from the deeply entrenched political system and the mass of – to use a Michelle Boag term – “Dead wood” in both the Congress and Senate, that has subsequently accumulated. Get the dollars out of here and there might be some progress.

  5. NZJester 5

    Elizabeth Warren is beholden to her corporate sponsors and has already put in rules to shut down the progressives in her own party who do not take corporate money and want a fair shake for the actual voters they represent.

  6. Dennis Frank 6

    I liked your last two paragraphs. If there was ever an establishment politician to be worth choosing, she fits that description. And I see you are doing a critical evaluation, not just talking her up.

    I can’t see her capturing the zeitgeist by failing to present herself to the public as a problem-solver, but merely presenting as a caretaker of business as usua,l intent on marketing herself as Trump minus the character flaws.

    According to Wikipedia, she is on record as supporting the Green New Deal. Why not campaign on that basis? Ok, it would be spun as too radical by opponents, but it would capture the zeitgeist. Being bland is not a good leadership strategy.

  7. Macro 7

    Actually Elizabeth Warren has already released much of her economic policy with draft legislation aimed at a corporate charter that places people before profit. Sorry I can’t link to this for the full details as I haven’t yet figured out how to do that on my phone 🙁
    But I think that that,together with what she has just announced,places her squarely to the left in terms of what is possible and electable in American politics.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      This one?

      Warren Introduces Accountable Capitalism Act

      Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act to help eliminate skewed market incentives and return to the era when American corporations and American workers did well together. The legislation aims to reverse the harmful trends over the last thirty years that have led to record corporate profits and rising worker productivity but stagnant wages.

      • Macro 7.1.1

        Yes that’s it. OK it’s not aimed at removing Capitalism. That would be a bridge too far in the States right now. But the intension is clear that it needs to be regulated. And the inclusion of the workers is also a step in the right direction.

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