A New, Transpartisan Voice In Foreign Policy

Transpartisan Note #123

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

On February 26, The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft cohosted (with Foreign Policy magazine) a foreign policy event in Washington, D.C. focused on ‘A New Vision for America in the World’. (Featured in Transpartisan Note #122.)  Co-sponsored by Charles Koch and George Soros, the Quincy Institute proclaims itself a new, transpartisan voice searching for an engaged, internationalist foreign policy that does not depend on fighting endless wars.

General David H. Petraeus, former Commander of the U.S. Central Command and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, led the discussion by describing the military’s role in what is sometimes called a ‘strategic concept of peace’.  The conference, following Quincy’s mission, aimed at presenting an alternative to this vision, based on ‘military restraint and vigorous diplomacy’ and the pursuit of peace.

Transpartisans seeing political relationships through the Four-Quadrant Matrix believe that solutions are strongest when they integrate values from all quadrants, bringing together all ideologies.  Integrating the quadrants first depends on avoiding binary (‘either-or’) views, while seeking common ground in apparently opposing positions.

Gen. Petraeus is an ideal subject on which to built a transpartisan dialogue.  Although he presented a case for a strong military role, his widely-read 2006 article on the fourteen principles of counterinsurgency warfare explored important non-military activities, which he noted in his talk are essential to ‘military’ victories in irregular warfare.[i]

His first principle relies on a widely-quoted statement by T.E. Lawrence, writing in 1917:

‘Do not try to do too much with your own hands,’ Lawrence wrote about the Arabs.  ‘Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. . . .  [T]he work . . . may take them longer and it may not be as good as you think, but if it is theirs, it will be better.’

The idea here is that what they do is more important than what you do.  This insight is crucial for promoting empowerment of people, especially in traditional societies, to play an active – even primary role – in promoting democracy, development, and especially security.

It is widely believed, even in ‘difficult’ places like Afghanistan, that when a community owns a school or a well, people will protect it from terrorists and insurgents. The central element is ownership – ownership of what they do and also from deciding what to do.

The importance of ownership is evident in Hernando de Soto’s pioneering work on property rights for the ‘informal sector’ and also in the work of Educate Girls Globally, promoting shared community ownership of government schools.  Both experiences promote empowerment of passive, preconscious traditional people to become active, self-determined community citizens.

Where people are strongly influenced by traditional cultures, their passivity makes them vulnerable targets for insurgents, thus creating ‘vacuums’ for military force to fill.  When people are passive, diplomacy, even if ‘vigorous’, is a weak instrument for promoting peace.  When they become active citizens, protecting what they own, they present no targets, thus greatly reducing the need for military action.

We believe Quincy will succeed in its transpartisan mission by focusing attention on empowering citizens for nation-building, democracy, and security.  Pursuing this objective, their greatest challenge will not be to change the attitudes of military leaders like Gen. Petraeus, but to promote development of capacity in our governmental institutions, both military and civilian, to promote citizen empowerment as a major objective of foreign policy.

[i]  LTG David Petraeus, “Learning Counterinsurgency: Observations from Soldiering in Iraq”, Military Review, January/February 2006.

(Feature image of Gen. Petraeus taken from the Twitter feed of the Quincy Institute.)

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