As a buzz of tweets about Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s possible 2020 election run have surfaced in the past few days, a particular meeting has resurfaced in the minds of many progressives. In 2017, O’Rourke met with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel political action committee, and affirmed his support for Israel in a tweet expressing that he learned “how the United States can continue to support our important ally in the region.” As many progressives identify as pro-Palestine, O’Rourke’s status as their hero is being questioned. Why are we just now learning or re-learning about this seemingly important policy stance after his Senate race has ended?
It’s because Democrats don’t love to talk about foreign policy. Despite its importance to American voters, it has never been a rallying cry for the Democrats. Instead of drawing attention to the civil war in Yemen or political instability in South and Central America, Democrats have been talking a lot about who might run in 2020: O’Rourke, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and the list goes on. The election is still about two years off, but potential candidates are already speaking explicitly about their prospects. This buzz is indicative of our current political state, in which sensationalism akin to Hollywood gossip and iconic personalities often overshadow policy concerns.
That is not to say 2020 isn’t important — curtailing Donald Trump’s presidency should definitely be a prominent Democratic aim. As we inevitably focus our attention on 2020, I hope Democrats will hone in on foreign policy and national security as a key part of their campaign effort.
The Democratic Party has long been ambivalent on foreign policy, which makes it a very difficult issue to unite our base around. Issues such as the U.S. alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the war in Iraq and intervention in war-torn Syria have left Democratic politicians on opposing sides. There is not quite a salient divide, as Democrats don’t emphasize these subjects enough to stir up huge controversy within the party.
While Democrats love to focus on health care and economic justice, national security concerns consistently rank among Americans’ top three concerns. The way we choose to engage in Yemen and Syria will have a large impact on our national security for years to come. Thus, Trump’s reckless engagement in these areas should be a major focal point for Democrats, but we instead continue to allow Republicans to attack us on the grounds of being weak and dovish.
More important than the smart political strategy that strong Democratic foreign policy could be, these issues are of great moral consequence. The Yemeni Civil War is the largest humanitarian crisis of our time, and the country is quickly headed toward famine. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to manufacture and ship arms to Saudi Arabia to keep bombing innocent Yemeni civilians. As long as Democrats claim to be on the side of social justice, they must hold our leaders accountable for the blood on their hands.
Thankfully, a new class of Democrats like New York incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota incoming Rep. Ilhan Omar are starting to look abroad in their fight for justice and call attention to the plight to which we are contributing. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, has also taken on the project of encouraging Democrats to talk about national security by creating the National Security Action, an organization dedicated to “shining a light on” the Trump administration’s dangerous foreign policy and constructing a Democratic vision.
While Trump continues to praise Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin-Salman, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other murderous despots, the Democrats have a prime opportunity to call out Republicans for their complicity in both financing murder of foreign civilians and creating a more dangerous world for Americans. Though the issues feel more abstract when they’re far from American shores, it only takes a smart communications team to connect the dots and transform this into a key messaging tactic. Americans should feel secure in their decision to vote for Democrats, knowing they are the best party to serve their interests domestically and abroad.
Margot Libertini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.