This diary is a convergent response to two recent diaries. One, by Chris Bowers at MyDD, addressed the use of code words by Democratic hawks to attack other Democrats on security issues-painting them as hopelessly out of the mainstream, when, in fact, it is the hawks who are in the small minority.  However, they still control the beltway debate. The other, by Booman at Booman Tribune, was an attack on framing. My first diary responding to Booman saw him repeatedly mischaracterize what framing is, over and over and over again. In this diary, I take a different approach.  I discuss Lakoff’s use of framing to articulate a different foreign policy vision– one that actually resonates with what the American people already believe… and with proven foreign policy success. This is badly needed, because not only do advocates of withdrawal lack media access, they also lack a common framework of understanding. And that, ultimately, is what framing is all about. Messaging is entirely secondary.
Codes Words And The Delusions of Democratic Hawks

In his diary Code Words at MyDD, Chris Bowers wrote about the Democratic hawk code words “credibility on national security.”  He wrote:

“Credibility on national security” is actually DLC-type code for “continue neo-con military policies, especially in Iraq.” The majority of people who seem to be trumpeting that Democrats are lacking “credibility on national security” are Democrats. They are, without fail, Iraq hawks.

While the Democratic hawks argue “that Democrats are losing elections because they hold unpopular positions on the use of military force,” Bowers goes on to point out that it’s the hawks who are in the unpopular minority position, with withdrawal favored by anywhere from 63-33 to 58-34 in a number of different polls.  

Indeed, Chis could have noted, the whole reason Bush and the neocons lied about Iraq is because the American people would not have supported going to war against Iraq if they told the truth. A poll (pdf) in February, 2003, by the Project on International Policy Priorities (PIPA) found the American people very deeply split about there perceptions regarding Iraq, with strong majorities responding to arguments on both sides.  But the underlying outlook remained surprising firm:

A very large majority either favored the position that the US must get UN approval and the support of its allies (52%) or should not invade Iraq at all (15%).

The next month, another PIPA poll (pdf), in the wake of the invasion, tried to see if increased support for the invasion was “simply a `rally around the President’ effect.”  In a summary of their findings regarding the UN, PIPA wrote:

Continuing Strong Support for UN
Despite the failure of the UN to approve action against Iraq, a very strong majority believes that this has not diminished the importance of the UN, and that in the future the US should feel no more free than before to use force without UN authorization. A modest majority would like to see the UN, rather than the US, govern a postwar Iraq, and very strong majorities favor the UN taking the lead in dealing with Iran and North Korea. A very strong majority rejects the idea that the US should seek to punish other members of the UN Security Council that did not support the US position.

Thus, even though the country rallied round the flag after the invasion of Iraq started, they did not change their fundamental attitudes which opposed the underlying neo-con logic.  This majority opposition to the neo-con logic corresponds quite well with the levels of support for withdrawing from Iraq.  Those favoring withdrawal now were never in favor of a US occupation in the first place.  They are an overwhelming majority of the American people.  They do not want an American empire. They want an American republic.

Bowers concludes:

If you are unable to realize that the current way the military is being used in Iraq is mistaken and destructive, like the vast majority of the nation already has, you have no credibility on national security. And if you can’t realize that simply avoiding the issue will compound this problem even further, then whatever credibility on national security you once had will erode away entirely. If national security is one of the two thresholds that political parties must meet before voters will even listen to them, then right now the only group of people meeting the national security threshold are those in favor of withdrawal. And if you can’t recognize that by now, then, at long last, it is time that you just suck it up and accept it.

The Need For A Clear Alternative

This already was a big problem for John Kerry.  It’s one of the reasons he didn’t beat the pants off of Bush.  He failed to enunciate a clear critique of Bush’s conduct of the war and to offer a clear picture of how and why he would do things differently.

The irony here is that, beneath all the muddle, Democrats as a whole represent the overwhelming majority position, while the neocons remain little more than a cult, which just happens to hang out at the White House and the inner sanctum of the Pentagon.  What’s lacking, however, is clear explanation of what the Democrats stand for and why.  Even they don’t understand this themselves. And that’s where the need for framining comes in.

In a comment in my recent diary on, Parker commented, in part:

    Every person and every politician uses frames…some are just better than others.

    Oh… here is what Truman had to say… count the frames…Address on the Occasion of the Signing of the North Atlantic Treaty:

    The purpose of this meeting is to take the first step toward putting into effect an international agreement to safeguard the peace and prosperity of this community of nations.

        It is altogether appropriate that nations so deeply conscious of their common interests should join in expressing their determination to preserve their present peaceful situation and to protect it in the future.

    What we are about to do here is a neighborly act. We are like a group of householders, living in the same locality, who decide to express their community of interests by entering into a formal association for their mutual self-protection.

The neocons do not believe in neighborly acts or neighborly behavior.  They believe in “my way or the highway.”  They believe in telling “Old Europe” to get lost, when Old Europe was trying to warn us, for our own good, that we were rushing into another Vietnam based on phantom evidence.

But even Truman’s words here are just part of the picture.  For our deepest belief is not in alliances of good guys versus bad guys.  Our deepest belief is that all nations belong in community together. That we should all be good neighbors.  That we should promote a world in which nations act according to a set of moral norms, as neighbors in a healthy neighborhood do.  A world like this is far more stable, secure, prosperous and just than a world in which nations operate strictly out of narrow self-interest-even if they do have strong alliances based on narrow self-interest.  Such alliances are likely to be strong only until they are needed most.

Here’s the irony.  The narrow self-interest model is what the old-fashioned model of realpolitik is based on. But reality has changed.  And even though the foreign policy establishment uses that model and its language, the world itself has changed irrevocably since the end of World War II.  We are not just an inter-connected world.  We are a world of world citizens, people with family, business, work, professional and organizational ties that transcend borders on a regular basis.

The neocons want to go back to WWII, when the US was king of the world. But that’s just crazy talk. That world is gone for good.  Yet, part of the reason that the neocons got so far is that their basic model–that of national “rational self-interest”–is the one that the foreign policy establishment still clings to, despite the fact that it’s not what the world’s people believe in, and it’s not how the world actually works anymore.

Here’s the kicker: the best way to understand this, to really, really understand it, to get it deep in your bones, is to approach it in terms of framing.

Framing Foreign Policy-Moral Norms

Foreign policy is usually conceived in terms of national self-interest-either militarily or economically.  In his paper “The Mind and The World: Changing the Very Idea Of American Foreign Policy” (pdf), George Lakoff argues that a wide range of relatively new concerns–the environment, women’s rights, labor rights, human rights, genocide and lesser levels of violent ethnic conflict, children’s issues, indigenous rights, global public health, economic sustainability and global poverty and powerlessness–are not given the priority they deserve because they don’t fit into the tradition framework of national self-interest.  They sound like a laundry list of unrelated concerns, Lakoff notes.  But they aren’t.

Instead, Lakoff points out, they are part of a new framework, a framework of moral norms.  Just as we want to live in a community governed by moral norms, he argues, we want to live in a world governed by moral norms as well.  There is a practical side to this, as well as a purely moral one-we are safer, happier and more secure in case of adversity when we are part of a moral community guided by shared norms.

Moral norms clearly fit into the Nurturant Parent model, which Lakoff has shown is the source of liberal values underlying positions across a wide range of issues.  They are about caring for others, fairness and protection–all aspects of moral nurturance.  Obviously, the older concerns of national self-interest have their place.  We can do little to create a just, norm-based international community if we are too poor to have influence and too weak to resist invasion by others.  The Nurturant Parent model values strength for precisely this sort of reason: in order to nurture others, one must be strong oneself.  But the question is whether strength is an ultimate end in itself, or a means to achieve something greater–the creation and sustenance of a nurturant, benevolent world that is also in our own higher self-interest.

Lakoff puts it like this:

The US is the only superpower — it has superior air power, enough bombs to destroy the world, and is wealthier than any other nation. But that does not make the US really secure. Its wealth and military security are threatened by the possibility of the collapse of markets elsewhere, and by events internal to other countries:

    a. “rogue nations” harboring and supporting terrorists,
    b. the sale of nuclear weapons and missiles to such nations,
    c. large flows of immigrants fleeing oppression,
    d. global warming and other dangers to the world ecology, and
    e. looking bad in the “court of world opinion” (which could effect trade and hence wealth and military treaties).

Two key approaches to international moral norms concern the creation of international agreements, treaties and conventions, and intervention when norms are being violated.  Moral states control their own violence, and thus do not require outside intervention.  In addition, Lakoff notes:

Moral states:

    a. don’t commit genocide or engage in ethnic cleansing
    b. don’t oppress their own people
    c. don’t let paramilitary groups prey on their own people
    d. don’t let their people starve
    e. don’t tolerate corruption on a scale massive enough to destabilize the economy.

Upholding such norms is important to the international community, and violations may justify intervention, though that is a serious step, and alternatives short of intervention are always to be preferred.

A Clear Example: The Bush-Gore Foreign Policy Debate

Lakoff illustrates the problem with communicating this vision by examining the Second Presidential Debate in the 2000 Election.  In it, Vice President Gore attempted to articulate a norms-based foreign policy vision, but he lacked the necessary language and the understanding of how language works to do so.  And the lack of language reflected an underlying lack of clarity about the nature of the vision itself.  It was not deeply grounded in a clear and compelling model of the underlying logic.  It had not been fully and coherently framed in Gore’s mind.

The debate began with the moderator, Jim Lehrer, asking candidates Bush and Gore in turn if they had framed any guiding principles for exercising American power-economic, military or diplomatic.   Bush responded by focusing on “the best interests of the United States,” while Gore said that our greatest national strength comes from our values–“what we stand for in the world”–and that we should be guided by them.

However, Gore proved unable to consistently explain what he meant, and was quickly reduced to defending “nation building”-the framework that Bush used to describe Gore’s position.  Gore defended “nation-building” valiantly, pointing to the lessons learned from the aftermath of World War I, and the post-World War II response of the Marshall Plan.  He then asked, and answered: “what did we do in the-in the late 40’s and 50’s and 60’s? We were nation building. And it was economic. But it was also military.”  

The example was a good one, but the language he used was not.  The Marshall Plan, NATO, and other international arrangements we entered into after World War II were something much more than nation-building-they were investing in the creation of an international normative order.

Lakoff puts his critique thus:

At this point Gore had accepted Bush’s reframing of his foreign policy position as “nation-building”. He walked into a trap. Most people were forced to ask themselves a simple question: Who should build nations? The common sense answer seems obvious: the people in those nations, of course.

Indeed, after World War II, the nation-building per se was largely done by the citizens of the ravaged nations-even Western Germany after a relatively short period of time.  Our most valuable contribution was guiding the overall international direction in which this nation-building took place, nurturing the development of a normative international order.  We extended plenty of assistance, of course, but we were not in charge of the rebuilding efforts-the people of Western Europe were.   Thus, even though Gore pointed quite correctly to a major example of what foreign policy can and should be, he lacked the language to talk about it properly.  And he lacked the language because he lacked the underlying frame. What we were actually doing was nurturing an emerging normative world order.

Lakoff also points out two more sources of confusion.  First, with Gore unable to define a norms-based vision, Bush was able to blur the lines by supporting “debt relief” where “the return is good” and, of course, in our interests.  Second, the moderator, further blurred things by framing the question in terms of which overseas interventions each of the candidates supported.  If Gore had first managed to explain his moral vision, this question could have helped clarify its consequences.  But without such an explanation, it simply reduced foreign policy back to the same narrow terms of military and economic decisions in our own self-interest–back to Bush’s frame.  Naturally, debating within Bush’s frame meant that Bush would win the debate, maybe not in the conventional sense, but in the sense that mattered: he had people thinking with him, and thinking that Gore’s position was unfocused, incoherent, manipulative, etc.–all of which are natural results of seeing that position from inside of Bush’s frame.

Three conclusions are in order here:  First, there is nothing really new or controversial about a normative foreign policy, although many of the elements in it are relatively new, and there is considerable disagreement over there substance and how to include them.   But the basic concept of a normative foreign policy is firmly established.  Second, we are utterly lacking in a language to describe what we’ve already been doing for over half a century–much less for what we must do if we are to rid the world of terrorism.

Third, we lack the language because we the lack the proper conceptual framework. The fundamental problem is a conceptual one.  It is not a matter of communication, much less emotional or psychological appeals.  We have not thought through the vast transformations that have happened since the end of World War II.  We are still trying to see them in old terms, in an old framework that cannot adequately explain them.  What we are actually doing is far in advance of the high-level models we are using to think about global affairs.  But we cannot intelligently generalize what works to meet new challenges without thinking through those new models, and then applying them. This is a problem of framing.  We cannot organize the content properly if we do not have the proper frame.

Models For Action

In considering how to get this point across, Lakoff turned to the question of what models we have for taking action.  The challenge here is to see what models we have in our own community lives, and how they can be translated into the world community of different peoples and nations.  Here is a list that Lakoff proposes:

  • The Example setter: lives by moral norms and promotes them by setting an example.
  • The Mentor: helps others achieve autonomy.
  • The Community builder: brings diverse parties together to get things done.
  • The Leader of the work crew: gets the job done through cooperation.
  • The Team Player does whatever the team needs, without considering self-interest. Or he may identify his self-interests with the team’s self-interest,
  • The Team captain: a team leader by virtue of being an exceptional team player.
  • The Caretaker: Responsible for the children; committed to their future.
  • The Protector – of the powerless and oppressed,
  • The Respectful person: values the diversity of others.
  • The Honest broker: Someone known to be fair-minded, who can help in negotiating disputes.
  • The Pragmatist who cares: Faces reality; takes care of himself; does all he reasonably can for others and for the community
  • The Partner: shares responsibility and risk.

Clearly, there are many different roles available to us as models for international cooperation and building a international community based on moral norms.  Once we realize what a moral norms foreign policy requires, there is no shortage of examples or experience for us to draw on–and there’s no need to choose between them either.  Different roles can be taken on as the situation requires.  What’s more, translating from the individual in their community to our country in the world community, we have an added degree of flexibility–we can easily take on more than one role at a time in the same situation, via different government programs, private initiatives and joint ventures.

Constructing a world community governed by moral norms would be a virtually impossible task if we had to start from scratch.   But fortunately, as these examples show, we have plenty of experience to draw on.  This should hardly be surprising, given the enormous growth of international organizations since the end of World War II, both governmental and non-governmental (NGOs).  The reservoir of models we have in our everyday community lives has undoubtedly been a significant contributing factor in the growth of what has come to be called international civil society.

What Gore Could Have Said

Knowing that such resources exist, Lakoff offered an example of how Gore could have responded to articulate a clear moral norms vision of foreign policy.  This is the response he wrote:

The foreign policy difference between myself and Governor Bush is profound and fundamental. It can be stated in a simple, straightforward way: Should the world be governed by moral standards, standards of humane conduct – or should it be governed by self-interest?

Governor Bush stands for a world where self-interest reigns and where America just looks out for itself. I stand for a world governed by international moral standards, by American values worth giving to the world. Certain of those standards are clear. The world cannot be governed by genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Governor’s father, President Bush, refused to intervene in Bosnia when Milosevic’s henchmen began a systematic program of oppression, torture, rape, and extermination. He said it was not in America’s self-interest to intervene, just as Governor Bush has just said that America’s foreign policy should be governed by self-interest.

But I see America as a moral force in the world. We intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo because it was the right thing to do. We intervened in Haiti because it was right-because a fledgling democracy needed a fighting chance against the paramilitary thugs left over from the previous dictatorship. We intervened in Somalia because it was right-because we could not stand by and see millions left to starve, and our intervention saved half a million lives.

Those are the right values and world affairs should be governed by those values, not just by self-interest. If America ignores those values and just looks out for itself, how can we expect other nations to live by international standards-moral standards that define humane conduct? American leadership must be moral leadership and set an example for the rest of the world.

The governor is so focused on self-interest that he confused moral leadership with nation-building. Only the nations themselves can engage in nation-building. Only we can provide the kind of moral leadership the world needs to make most nations good nations.

Clearly, there is a vast difference between this vision and the one animating the Bush Administration-as well as the one animating Democratic hawks.  As long as we buy into self-interest frame, there will be no way for the Democrats to beat the Republicans on national security, no matter how crazy the GOP position becomes.  

This is the lesson of Iraq:  no matter how bad it gets, no alternative is no alternative.

We need a fundamentally different vision of what we are about.  And that cannot even be conceived without the work of framing, whether we call it that or not.


A great deal more could be said on this topic.  On the one hand, PIPA has amassed a great deal of polling data over the years that shows continuing support for the cooperative, multi-lateral approach that is best understood in terms of the moral norms framework.  On the other hand, a strong case can be made that the entire history of the Cold War has been fundamentally misunderstood by our foreign policy establishment.  The claim that “Ronald Reagan won the Cold War” is just the tip of the iceberg of this misunderstanding.   We did not win the Cold War by standing up to the Russians, but by being true to ourselves.

Two early documents laid out blueprints for the Cold War. George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” from Moscow, and NSC-68, drafted primarily by Paul Nitze.  These are brilliantly analyzed and compared in a paper, “Kennan’s Long Telegram and NSC-68: A Comparative Analysis,” by Efstathios T. Fakiolas.  While superficially similar-both warn against the threat of Soviet militarism-the two documents differ sharply in their conception of the nature of the Cold War struggle. NSC-68 sees it primarily as a military contest between two self-interested superpowers.  The Long Telegram sees it in terms of moral communities: we will win in the long run by being true to our values, and creating a global moral order that the Soviets will ultimate want to be a part of.  

While Fakiolas sees these both within a realist framework, he identifies two variants.  Nitze operated within the “billiard ball model,” in which all actors were isolated, self-interested actors. But Kennan within the “tectonic plates model,” which allows for considerable cohesion among groups of nations, with other actors playing significant roles as well. Fakiolas explains:

the main assertion of the tectonic plates model is that even though states are the most important protagonists in world politics, there exist many other non-state actors; the distribution of power determines the outcomes in many fields of international system to the extent that the interaction of states structures varying patterns of behavior; for the world is not “zero-sum,” and the opportunity for mutual cooperation is most often present.

It is quite sensible to see the tectonic plates model as reflecting some aspects of Lakoff’s normative model, aspects that turned out to be key in terms of Cold War history, even if the two models retain significant differences.

The irony is that NSC-68 became the working model for winning the Cold War. But it failed.  We won the Cold War in spite of NSC-68, not because of it.  When we followed it, we ended up with disasters like Vietnam. Instead, we won the Cold War because of the reasons laid out in the Long Telegram.  It was, in the end, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley, Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground who won the Cold War.  

They created a vibrant culture that people in the Soviet Block yearned for. It inspired the Checkoslavakian group Plastic People of the Universe. And their suppression inspired the beginnings of the civil society movement, which eventually toppled the Checkoslavakian government at the end of the Cold War.  In turn, the cross-border alliances between Western European peace and human rights activists and the civil society movements of Eastern Europ-of which Checkoslavakia and Poland were the vanguard-were inspirations for Michael Gorbachov, and his initiatives for Glasnost and Perestroika, which eventually ended the Cold War.

But that’s a topic for another diary.

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