More Beinart

Check out Eric Alterman's response here. He isn't quite throwing his hat in the ring as to an alternative organizing principle for liberal foreign policy, but its a good show nevertheless. Of note is this paragraph:
Can Beinart point to any evidence that the US government possesses the knowledge, authority or cultural sensitivity necessary to perform this historically unprecedented operation? Does Beinart really believe that the Arab masses are yearning to be freed in order to catch the last episode of Desperate Housewives? Such naïve hubris about America's ability to remake other cultures to our liking at the point of a gun is what underlay the decisions that cost us 58,000 lives in Vietnam and wrought death and destruction across Southeast Asia for more than a decade. In the persons of Paul Wolfowitz and other alleged "idealists" in the Bush Administration, it has reared its ugly head again, and produced tragic results. Now Beinart wants to run the same damned movie with liberal credits at the end. Are American liberals really cursed to make this same mistake over and over like one of Pavlov's poodles?
One issue the Beinart debate has revealed is that liberal hawks seriously need to get their house in order before they can start leading the Democratic party at large. This issue--the neoconservatives' Muslim domino theory, we'll call it--is perhaps the biggest sticking point. No matter how swift our critiques of Bushian warmaking, this angle is an enduring vulnerability for liberal hawks, who have had a tough time articulating why Iraq is not Rwanda or Kosovo. The key to that distinction--a fundamental appreciation for the limits of military force and the practical reasons why it is a last resort--is still perceived as a less worthy rationale than the neocons ironclad "Bad Man? Send Marines" logic.

As Alterman points out, however, that distinction is intrinsic to the liberal approach to foreign policy, and key to drawing a line between the smart things about the cold war and the pointless, shameful things:
In fact, just as the liberal realists of the 1950s whom Beinart so admires opposed the excesses of conservative US foreign policy--including CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala--so too did liberal realists argue in 2001 that the US government was not availing itself of the best approaches to fighting Al Qaeda. New Yorker reporter Nicholas Lemann surveyed a group of them and came away with a remarkably consistent--and painfully prescient--set of analyses. "Military power is not necessary to wiping out Al Qaeda," Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School at Harvard told Lemann. "It's a crude instrument, and it almost always has effects you can't anticipate.... This is ultimately a battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world. When your village just got leveled by an American mistake, the conclusions you draw will be rather different from what we'd want them to be." Stephen Van Evera of MIT concurred: "A broad war on terror was a tremendous mistake.... you make enemies of the people you need against Al Qaeda."
Of course, this is not to say that all liberal politicians acted according to such principles during the war, but simply that these were the guiding norms of the liberal as opposed to the conservative approaches.

Kerry certainly talked about military action as a 'last resort', but the appeal came off as isolationist and chiding rather than wise. Until liberals can be confident in their arguments about why stupid and senseless use of the military only weakens us, and point to the smarter alternative, the jury on will still be out on a liberal foreign policy.


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