I guess that this is as good a day as any to talk about counterterror policy. So, as part of his plan to release as many policy proposals as possible so as to come across as better prepared than Obama despite having significantly less relevant experience, John Edwards has proposed an uncommonly silly idea: the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization. Matt Yglesias loves it:
I like the basis of the thinking behind it, namely the idea that the rise of transnational terrorism can and should be a locus for increased levels of international cooperation. Here, for example, we see a proposal for a new multilateral organization that it would be perfectly reasonable for Russia and China to enthusiastically join (unlike a Concert of Democracies) and where countries like Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil would have a chance to step up and take a leading role in the world stage in a way that would also be a constructive one.
What’s wrong with CITO isn’t international cooperation; if you think that Edwards is the only Democratic candidate who thinks multilateralism is a good idea, I have a bridge to sell you. What’s wrong is that it’s only focused on terrorism. Edwards, despite his much-hullaballooed rejection of the war on terror label, apparently believes that terrorism is enough a problem to justify a whole new international organization, and the time, effort, and money needed to set it up and operate it. Terrorism, of course, isn’t nearly that important; if I were to make a list of our foreign policy priorities, “stopping terrorism” would come preciously close to last. By calling for CITO, Edwards buys into the Republican fallacy that we should throw all our resources at a fairly tiny menace. This isn’t serious policy; this is an attempt to look tough.
But it’s worse than that, really. CITO was announced along with the Marshall Corps, a group of civilian experts serving in a reserve capacity for reconstruction purposes. Neil the Ethical Werewolf, the blogosphere’s premier Edwards backer, makes the obvious analogy:
I love the way these things are named — “CITO”, which recalls NATO, and the “Marshall Corps”. However terrible our policies in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa were during the Cold War, we did a very good job in dealing with the USSR and the Eastern Bloc countries, with the Marshall Plan being our best strategic move of the entire Cold War. We knew that direct military action would lead to catastrophe, so we contained them and engaged them culturally for decades.
And that’s how we won. When the Berlin Wall fell, it wasn’t crushed by American tanks, but picked apart by young East Germans who wanted to live as we did. That’s how our struggle against Islamic extremism will end as well — not with invasions and military conquest, but with new generations turning away from extremist views. It’s good to see Democrats alluding to the wisdom of that strategy, and it’s great to see them proposing a similarly wise strategy that meets the challenges of our era.
This is bad. Like Norman Podhoretz bad. John Edwards, more than just treating terrorism as more than the paper tiger it is, treats like another Cold War. This is the same kind of thing Podhoretz does, that Rumsfeld does, that James Woolsey does. It’s a common far-right talking point, it’s ridiculous on the face of it, and it’s more than a little dispiriting to see a major Democratic contender embrace it.