Democrats Unveil Draft Foreign Policy Platform With Promises to End “Forever Wars” and “Regime Change”

The draft platform is a sign of how far the party’s center of gravity has shifted in four years.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Chase Center July 14, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Chase Center on July 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

New draft text of the Democratic Party’s 2020 platform calls for bringing “forever wars to a responsible end” and pledges to end the U.S. role in the conflict in Yemen — a sharp reversal from the Obama administration’s policy of arming and assisting the Saudi-led intervention.

The 80-page text, first reported by the Washington Post, is a sign of how far the party’s center of gravity has shifted in four years. The draft was released Tuesday evening to the more than 150-member platform committee for an amendment process. It will likely be ratified at the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee next month.

With lengthy sections on racial justice, immigration, climate change, and health care, the document hews closely to many of the policy recommendations produced by a Biden-Sanders unity effort earlier this month. But that unity report largely left out foreign policy, which is where some of the Democratic platform draft’s most significant departures from the 2016 platform lie.

“I think the platform shows that they’ve taken a number of important progressive foreign policy priorities on board,” said Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders. “There’s a lot to celebrate here, both in terms of where the party is moving on these issues, and of a broader unifying vision for the country.”

“There’s a lot to celebrate here, both in terms of where the party is moving on these issues, and of a broader unifying vision for the country.”

The draft text includes a section on scaling back the military’s involvement in Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations around the world. The text says Democrats support a “durable and inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan” that prevents Al Qaeda from sheltering in the country, and pledges to “right-size our counterterrorism footprint,” including by working with Congress to repeal use-of-force authorizations which presidents including Barack Obama have cited as an expanding legal basis for counterterrorism actions in many different countries. As vice president and on the campaign trail, Joe Biden has argued that the U.S. should reduce its military presence in Afghanistan while maintaining a role for special operations.

When the Democrats released and ratified their 2016 platform, it was widely hailed as the most progressive in the party’s history. But on foreign policy, the document was very much a product of the Obama era: celebrating the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and condemning Donald Trump’s plan to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The draft text for 2020 shows Democrats doing more to distance themselves from Trump — denouncing him for failing to get the U.S. out of wars, accusing him of “further militariz[ing] our foreign policy,” and saying that his decisions “brought the world closer to catastrophe.”

The 2020 platform also goes further in its commitments to scale back military intervention, progressive activists told The Intercept. “It is important that every voter sees that the Democrats are committing to be the party of diplomacy, while Donald Trump has lied about ending the forever wars and instead brought us to the brink of new military conflicts,” said Alexander McCoy, political director for the progressive veterans’ group Common Defense, in an email.

The draft platform also says that confrontation with countries like China should not primarily be militaristic, and celebrates diplomacy as a “tool of first resort.” Unlike the 2016 platform, the draft explicitly condemns “regime-change” policies, particularly with respect to Iran. “Democrats believe the United States should not impose regime change on other countries and reject that as the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran,” it reads, referencing the Trump administration’s policy of cheering on the collapse of the Iranian government.

“As is always the case with platforms, the proof will be in the actions that follow.”

In another departure from 2016, the draft also suggests reducing the defense budget, saying, “we can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less.” The 2016 platform promised to focus on waste and fraud in Pentagon spending — but didn’t specifically say that the budget top line should decrease.

That element of the platform could receive pushback from others in the party. Just yesterday, a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives helped defeat a measure to reduce the Pentagon’s spending authorization by 10 percent — which would not even have brought the budget down to where it was at the end of the Obama administration.

Stephen Miles, executive director of the D.C.-based group Win Without War, told The Intercept that the suggestion to reduce defense spending in the text is important, but that it doesn’t reflect just how much military spending has increased since Trump took office.

“We were already at near-record levels of spending before that spending spree started,” Miles said. “So it’s a step in the right direction. But the president has sprinted in the wrong direction.”

“As is always the case with platforms,” Miles added, “the proof will be in the actions that follow in a Democratic administration or a Democratic caucus.”

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