Kaplan on Beinart

KAPLAN ON BEINART….I’ve already written several posts about Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight, which argues that modern liberals should look to Cold War liberalism of the past for foreign policy guidance in the present. In the current issue of the Washington Monthly, Fred Kaplan argues that this analogy finesses a critical issue:

In several respects, The Good Fight is a valuable book. Beinart is right in urging liberals to craft a foreign policy more inspiring and substantive than the clerkish “competence” promised by Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. But I wish that he had grappled more fully with the context of many liberals’ vacillations on national-security policy ? the tension, which nobody seems to know how to resolve, between the protection of American interests and the expansion of American ideals. Bush pretends that there is no tension ? that our interests and our ideals are synonymous. Beinart indulges in the same pretense, though from a different angle.

In fairness to Beinart, this is a tension that pretty much every leader of every liberal democracy in history has had to deal with, and no one has come up with a way of squaring this circle yet. A bit of mushiness on this point, along with a recipe for at least maneuvering a bit closer to a consistent answer than George Bush’s, is probably the most we can ask for.

More tellingly, Kaplan suggests that Beinart’s entire analogy of the Cold War to the war against jihadism is a stretch:

Beinart writes, “The brave Middle Eastern liberals who are fighting for democracy and against Salafism need us. They need our money, our expertise, and our example, just as anticommunist liberals and socialists did in Western Europe more than a half-century ago.” The comparison is iffy. America shared the same Enlightenment background ? and the same enemy in the Soviet Union ? as those Western European liberals, most of whom, by the way, were also heads of state. It’s unclear who these “Middle Eastern liberals” are. Certainly they don’t occupy positions of political power. In any case, to the extent they do need us, they may not want us and, in many cases, they can’t openly say they do. This isn’t to say they’re not worth seeking out and supporting ? only that it’s a far more problematic task. Historical appeals to the Marshall Plan and NATO don’t really resonate.

If that’s the case, though, it’s back to square one, since it means that neither conservatives nor liberals are close to elucidating a solution. That may be true, but it’s a discouraging thought.