With each moment that the crisis in the Middle East escalates, we hear its political implications echoing in our heads, "Democrats lose, Democrats lose, Democrats lose..." For if there is one thing we know for certain, it is that the...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 07/24/2006


With each moment that the crisis in the Middle East escalates, we hear its political implications echoing in our heads, "Democrats lose, Democrats lose, Democrats lose..."

For if there is one thing we know for certain, it is that the Bush administration makes policy decisions with a single goal in mind:  maintain power at any cost.

And so, despite what we think about Israel or Palestine or Hezbollah or Lebanon or Arabs or Jews or War or Peace--we can all agree on this:  the goal of the Bush Administration is to ensure that radical conservatives never again lose power in the United States.   And our first purpose as a Progressive movement is to make sure that does not happen.

With that in mind, as a Progressive, as a blogger--as an American--I say: It's time to bring on Clark.

Clark: A Symbol Of Success In Regional Conflict Resolution
A while back I wrote a Frameshop article arguing that there are currently 3 competing frames in the Democratic party to define what the United States is doing in the Middle East.  Of these three, the 'regional conflict' frame associated with General Wesley Clark is perhaps the most overlooked and undervalued.

But as the Middle East begins to look more and more like a regional conflict, the need for a strong Democratic voice that speaks to that dynamic is every more pressing.

An overviw of Clark's position on Iraq:

Frame:   The "Regional Stability" Frame
Major Proponent:   Wesley Clark
Key Points: - Iraq is a regional conflict.
  - The U.S. occupation of Iraq has isolated Iraq from its neighbors.
  - Success depends on U.S. catalyzing regional cooperation.
  - As long as we refuse to engage in regional diplomacy, Iraq will not be stable.

The term 'Iraq' in this position translates into the broader term 'Middle East' with each day that the crisis escalates--making Clark's view of the situation as a 'regional conflict' all the more valuable.

Consider this excerpt from Clark's Op-Ed that ran in the Op-Ed" about Iraq in the Washington Post Aug 26,  2005, and which is increasingly relevant today:

In the old, familiar fashion, mounting US casualties in Iraq have mobilized increasing public doubts about the war. Now, more than half the American people believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. They're right. But it would also be a mistake now to pull out, start pulling out, or set a date to pull out. Instead we need a strategy to create a stable democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq - a strategy the Administration has failed to develop and articulate.


From the outset of the American post-invasion efforts, we needed a three-pronged strategy - diplomatic, political, and military. Iraq sits geographically on the fault-line between Shia and Sunni Islam - and for the mission to succeed we will have to be the catalyst for regional cooperation. Iraq cannot be "isolated from its neighbors and tensions in the region. We needed to engage Iraq's neighbors to insure that a stable, democratizing Iraq was not a threat to them, to isolate Iraq from outside supplies, leadership, and manpower, and to gain from them resources and support to alleviate the burdens on the US.

And so the Clark position begins with the idea that a quick and simple 'pull out' would not help--a position that many Progressives react against with anaphylactic shock, and undestandably so.  But Clark's vision of what is happening in Iraq is part of a much, much broader idea and calls into question a very basic reality:  Progressive calls to pull out of Iraq would still leave U.S. forces in the Middle East.   

When the frame is regional--as it clearly is for the nations directly involved--then the solution of  'pulling out of Iraq' is not really a solution, but a shift. 

Among other things, Clark's 'regional conflict' frame reveals a weakness in the Progressive position on 'pulling out of Iraq immediately'--what to do once U.S. troops are no longer in 'Iraq,' but still in the region.

The key to understanding what Clark brings to the table is his use of the word and idea of 'diplomacy.'  As he continues in the above quoted Op-Ed (empahsis here added by me):

The US should form a standing conference of Iraq's neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects, and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. Iraq's neighbors should be asked to assist. This will also provide a better opportunity for meaningful back-door discussions of Iran's nuclear program, Syria's interests in Lebanon, and Turkish interaction with the Kurds in Iraq. The US should tone down its raw rhetoric for US-style democracy as an answer to all problems and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. A public US declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would also be helpful in engaging both regional and Iraqi support at this point.

Now, the magic leap in Clark's argument--of course--is that these three diplomatic innovations would require first that Democrats take back the power to carry out diplomatic missions (e.g., the White House).   But if we just imagine that success alread in place for a moment, we can see the great potential of Clark's vision to transform the entire dynamic in the Middle East.

The 3 Steps Implicit  in Clark's 'Regional Conflict Resolution' Frame
Step 1: The United States convenes a permanent conference on peace in the Middle East.
Currently, most Progressives are operating under the illusion of the great man theory of Middle East diplomacy. 

Ask any Progressive how to get started on Middle Eastern diplomacy and they will say something like, "Bring in [insert name of great Democrat]."   Bring in Jimmy Carter!  Bring in Bill Richardson!  Bring in Bill Clinton! Bring in Madeleine Albright.   

Nobody answers, 'Establish a permanent diplomatic body whose sole purpose is to maintain constant diplomacy.'  But this is what Clark's frame suggestively implies.

This idea of permanent diplomacy in the Middle East is interesting because it gets us away from the trap of thinking that the goal of diplomacy is an all or nothing solution.

I am not a diplomat by training, but I know enough about foreign relations to understand that diplomacy is not a finish line,  it is a process.  The goal of diplomacy is not to end it--but to never end it.  Success in diplomatic relations has been achieved when diplomatic relations become permanent.

And so all the Progressive talk about 'big man' diplomacy is--in effect--backwards.  Clark's frame would rectify that.

Step : The United States tones down or even ends the rhetoric of U.S.-style democracy as the key to the future of the Middle East
This next step is easier for most Progressives to see, but Clark's frame makes it apparent that the 'big table' around which we must convene a peaceful Middle East cannot be set with American dishes (so to speak).

The heavy-handed Bush rhetoric on 'Democracy' is a big part of the problem because it smacks of imperialism.  'We want you to stay exactly as you are--just be American-style Democracies--but other than that, exactly as you are.'  All that must go. 

Instead, Clark argues for a transformatioon on a variety of fronts that people can accept without having to embrace an ideological vision with a stars-and-stripes backdrop:  economy, military training, and smaller political structures.

Successful diplomatic institutions, in other words, are based on loose principles not strict principles.  They invite possibilities, not limit them.

Step 3: The United States gives a public declaration of no permanent bases in the region.
This last  step may seem like a very self-centered thing to do, but it seems essential to stopping regional conflict.

Without a public declaration that the United States intends to leave the region without taking ownership of it through permanent military bases--everything we do or say in the region will fail.

We must be honest brokers.  We cannot, in Clark's frame, ask people to return to their borders and respect the national borders of others--all while we build Burger King franchises in covertly built permanent  U.S. military bases.

And that clarity of purpose and elimination of duplicity from our diplomatic efforts is the real moral strength of Clark's vision.

Conclusion:  Bring On Clark To Save Lives and Drive The Debate
So we see how turning to Clark at this moment would both save lives and drive the political debate towards a more Progressive vision. 

And returning back to our opening concern:  bringing on Clark now would cut off the movement Conservatives as they attempt to roll this Middle East escalation into electoral gains in 2006 and 2008.

The Clark frame?  Here are the key points again:

View of the situation:

  • Isolation between Middle East states is the problem
  • Success in the Middle East depends on regional cooperation
  • Regional diplomacy is the key

Key points of action:

  • Convene a permanent diplomatic conference in the region
  • Cease imperialist rhetoric of 'U.S. Style Democracy'
  • Disavow permanent U.S. bases in the region

© 2006 Jeffrey Feldman

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© Jeffrey Feldman 2006, Frameshop

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