Friday, April 28, 2006

The Good Mea Culpa

The Moose ponders the "Good Fight."

Peter Beinart is a very thoughtful and often insightful writer. The Moose was particularly impressed with Beinart's penetrating piece on recovering the tradition of the tough Democrat titled, "A Fighting Faith." that was published in New Republic over a year ago.

Beinart trenchantly argued that it was essential for the party to take on the neo-isolationist left who were the heirs to the tradition of Henry Wallace. Identifying with the tradition of Neihbur, Truman and Humphrey, Beinart argued that Democrats must regain the mantle of willingness to use both soft and hard power in the war against the Jihadists.

Beinart has attempted to elaborate on his thesis in the forthcoming book tilted, "The Good Fight." Unfortunately, what is noteworthy about the book is not its pugilism but its apology. Beinart seems to have taken the approach to the left that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

The book opens in the introduction (and in a later chapter) with a full-throated mea culpa on the Iraq war. One is certainly entitled to second thoughts (mercy, the Moose has his over the years). And the Bushies have made many errors in this war. But, Beinart now finds no moral nor strategic value in removing Saddam. He believes that the porous sanction regime could have been sustained. It evidently matters nothing that one of the worse tyrants of the twentieth century has been removed from power.

And Beinart does not address the question of whether any President, in the aftermath of 9/11, could have tolerated such a rogue tyrant who had used and was seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Apparently, it is inconsequential that the man who created the rape rooms, the children's prisons and the mass graves is gone. What matters is that America was hubristic and the occupation was severely flawed.

It is not entirely persuasive that strong Democrats are the ones who "redeploy" when the war takes a bad turn. And what does it mean to be a contemporary version of a Truman Democrat, anyway? According to Beinart it just requires that one recognize that there is a war against Jihadism, and presto, you are a credible hawk. Who in the party would disagree?

The book offers little about what course America should take other than essentially embrace public diplomacy, offer more development aid and express more humility. Jimmy Carter could embrace that agenda. Soft power and public diplomacy are fine - but how do we deal with the Iranian mullahs obtaining nukes - offer more U.S. humility?

There is much that is valuable in Beinart's work and it is certainly a worthwhile read. The history of the battles of yesterday is instructive. But, what about the present threats? The book offers little that would distinguish a tough Democrat from the lefty crowd.

Beinart makes an important point that Cold War liberals wisely linked muscular liberalism at home with progressive economics at home. The cause of justice was universal. On the other hand, the faith of 50's liberals in international institutions is not necessarily relevant today. The UN of then is not the UN of now. Yes, we are flawed, but the many tyrannies that comprise the UN are hardly the ones to sit in judgment and guide our foreign policy decisions.

The book attempts to make the case for a revival of the Truman liberal tradition that was launched at the Willard Hotel in the late 1940s with the creation of the then hawkish American for Democratic Action. Yet, Harry Truman never went south on the Korean War - nor did he ever have second thoughts about confronting communist threats.

Beinart's contemporary strong Democrats may have more in common with the McGovernites of the '70's than the Trumanites of the '40s. To be more precise, this is the tradition of the late Allard Lowenstein - an anti-war patriot, who was the original McGovernite.

Of course, one does not have to reach back into the pantheon of Democratic heroes to find a tough Democrat. Today, Senator Joe Lieberman carries the standard of Truman Democrats. And Hillary continues to stand by her support of the war and has taken a tough stance against Iranian nukes. Unlike the two 2004 Democratic standard-bearers, they have not reversed their position on the war once it became unpopular.

The weathervane behavior of Senators Kerry and Edwards on the war is illustrative of the Democratic problem on national security. They supported the war from the beginning when it was popular. Then they voted against funding for the war when candidate Dean was in the ascendancy. And now, they have renounced the war when it is unpopular - as has Peter Beinart.

Oh, if we only had the luxury of knowing then what we know now. And you wonder why Democrats have not been trusted with national security?

Indeed, there is a need for a bold call-to-arms for the Democratic vital center. Unfortunately, this book isn't it. What will be noteworthy is its abject apology for a just war.

Dean lost the Democratic nomination, but Deanism dominates the party. The left is ascendant and the center isn't holding. The central national security problem of the Democrats is that the activists, bloggers and even many leaders of the party view President Bush as more of an enemy than the Jihadists, mullahs and Zaqawis who seek to do us harm. Unfortunately, in the face of this dynamic, Beinart has softened his stance in contrast to the much tougher stand he took in the article upon which this book is based.

Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman's courageous consistency has prompted the left to attempt to drive the most prominent, and one of the few remaining Truman Democrats out of the party. It is fine to urge Democrats to shun Michael Moore. It would be finer to now mount a defense of a Democrat who truly represents the legacy of those Democrats who met at the Willard Hotel so long ago.

That is the good fight.
-- Posted at 8:14 AM | Link to this post | Email this post