New Republic editor-at-large Beinart delivers a cri de guerre that seems tailor-made for—well, maybe Hillary Clinton, if not the DNC.
American liberals have erred in thinking that because American power is vulnerable to being used immorally, American power should not be used at all. Beinart wistfully admits to having supported the invasion of Iraq, hoping that it might “produce a decent, pluralistic Iraqi regime,” but allows that he was mistaken. Still, he adds, the classic liberalism of the Cold War period posed what Arthur Schlesinger called “the vital center” between the poles of communism and fascism, and it made no bones about being activist and interventionist and using force where needed. It also placed great faith in international development, in the belief that relieving the world of poverty and want was a positive instrument for building peace and making friends, a very far cry from Bush and company’s avowed lack of interest in nation-building. Just so, Beinart writes, John F. Kennedy—who was only sort of a liberal, at least at first—proclaimed that the core of America’s Middle East policy ought to be “not the export of arms or the show of armed might but the export of ideas, of techniques, and the rebirth of our traditional sympathy for and understanding of the desires of men to be free.” Civil rights at home and anti-totalitarianism abroad: The formula barely survived Kennedy, for the New Left of the 1960s dismantled Cold War liberalism and disconnected its ideals from “the struggle for freedom around the world,” a mantra the right cynically took over. Modern liberals, the author adds, have tended not to have much to say about national security. But, he insists, they can take the high ground—and even the White House—by mastering the topic.
So, Beinart concludes: civil rights at home and anti-jihadism abroad. We’ll see how the idea plays out in the 2006 debates, but his prescription will surely find takers.