Howard Dean Signals Right

After the Ecstasy, Foreign Policy

His Council on Foreign Relations remarks were simply a variation on his first major foreign policy address, at Drake University in February.

"Three decades after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo," he said, "the United States continues to consume 40 percent of the world's oil. That is a failure of American policy and an unacceptable danger to the American people. Because it means we are sending billions of dollars annually to countries financing radical educational systems that teach young people to hate Christians, Jews, and Americans. That is crazy, because we know these schools are prime recruiting grounds for terrorists."

"We're not dependent on oil from the Middle East because they've blackmailed us," said David Mack, vice president of the Middle East Institute. "The problem is our addiction to overconsumption of hydrocarbons."

An insurgent with an unimaginative center?
photo: Shiho Fukada
An insurgent with an unimaginative center?

Dean's commitment to energy conservation, renewable resources, and the environment is well known. But his attempts to link such efforts to national security strike some as opportunism.

"His description of Saudi Arabia is simplistic, but so is everybody else's," said Mack. "This is a cheap shot that all these politicians engage in."

Maybe the campaign is not yet getting sophisticated advice."If he becomes the nominee," said Gergen, "the heavyweights of foreign policy will gravitate toward him." And Gergen admits that as the "heavyweights" join the campaign, progressives will probably be left out in the cold.

"Dean's main foreign policy credential is his passion toward opposing the war and the drive toward empire,"said Bennis. "In that context, it matters what else he stands for."

Early in his campaign, Dean stirred controversy discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Part of this, of course, is just the nature of debate about the conflict.

But much of the confusion stems from an interview he conducted with The Forward newspaper last fall. When asked to characterize his opinions on the Middle East, he said, "At one time the Peace Now view was important but now Israel is under enormous pressure. We have to stop terrorism before peace negotiations . . . I don't do things for political reasons. I'm very loyal to my friends."

Dean said that his views of the conflict "are much closer to AIPAC"—the hawkish American-Israel Public Affairs Committee— than to the Jewish coexistence lobby Peace Now.

Activists started an Internet petition to get Dean to explain his views, which they see as a troubling predictor of future foreign policy. Less scrutinized, but perhaps no less important, is his thumbnail ethnic analysis of the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have assets that are often misunderstood," he said that day at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They have a high level of education. Palestinian women play a more significant role in government than in almost any other Arab society, and a large number of Palestinians have significant experience with democracy, having lived in Europe, the United States, and of course a million-strong Israeli-Arab population having lived in democracy for over 50 years."

It is possible to parse any politician's speeches and find mistakes, and there are those who say some of Dean's gaffes don't necessarily augur badly.

James Zogby, head of Washington's Arab-American Institute (AAI), says he was initially troubled by Dean's response to one of his questions at the Council on Foreign Relations. Zogby had asked Dean how he would handle comments from the religious right disparaging Arabs and Muslims. Dean replied that he would "stand up" against it but that he also felt "it should not have to be a white Christian president of the United States whose burden that is."

"We've got to ensure," he said, "that moderate Muslims everywhere stand up to the extremists and terrorists in their ranks."

In subsequent conversations with Dean, Zogby said the candidate apologized, and explained there was no ill intent. Dean will be speaking at an October AAI conference.

Jacques Englestein found fault with Dean for "supporting Israel, but not supporting the Palestinians." He also criticized the candidate for not speaking out against the so-called separation wall—the wall the Israeli government is building ostensibly to deter attacks by militants. Many have accused the Sharon government of using the wall to annex more Palestinian land. Even George Bush, in a joint appearance with Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, said, "It is very difficult to develop confidence [between the two sides] with a wall snaking through the West Bank."

"Security is a great thing," said Englestein. "But this is a land grab."

Publicly, Dean has said only that "some degree of separation between Israelis and Palestinians is probably necessary." He is expected to take a more defined stand on the issue.

And Englestein is optimistic that his group's presence at the rally and their attempts to contact the campaign may yet bear some fruit. "Our job here today," said Englestein, "is to make sure these ideas percolate up."

The former governor from Vermont is a foreign policy work in progress. The broad strokes articulated in his speeches include a vision for the restoration of American multilateralism, increased international cooperation, respect for the global environment, and a bid to unify the world. Considered from a lofty perch, Dean promises a different world than the one delivered by George Bush and his colleagues in government.

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