Tuesday, August 02, 2005

# Posted 2:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IS LIBERAL INTERNATIONALISM? Outside the Whale makes a solid point: Charles Krauthammer often prefers to use "liberal internationalism" as a punching bag rather than engaging intelligent arguments from the left. But in his own defense of liberal internationalism, I think that JW from Outside the Whale tends to misunderstand the concept as well.

JW describes himself as one of the
Modern liberal internationalists...like Michael Ignatieff, George Packer, Michael Walzer and Christopher Hitchens.
Although I admire all four of those men (and would add Peter Beinart to the list), I would hesitate to describe their approach to foreign policy as liberal internationalism. As a result of their strong support for humanitarian intervention and other muscular approaches to democracy and human rights, Ignatieff, Packer, et al. often find themselves isolated within a Democratic Party that has long hesitated to embrace such objectives -- and now more than ever since George W. Bush has adopted those objectives as his own.

Strictly speaking, the Ignatieff/Beinart "liberal hawk" school of thinking is a form of liberal internationalism. And JW is correct to argue that Krauthammer should not automatically equate liberal internationalism with the instinctive multilateralism and deference to international law of those who opposed the invasion of Iraq on the simple grounds that it was opposed by the United Nations.

Yet in colloquial terms, I think that Krauthammer's definition of liberal internationalism is the one that pervades American political culture, thanks to Jimmy Carter and other liberal icons, such as both of our senators from Massachusetts. Another part of the problem is the name itself, liberal internationalism. To what does 'internationalism' refer if not a commitment to the strengthening of international organizations and international law?

Historically, that definition is not correct. At first, internationalism (in the American, not the European or Marxist sense of the word) was simply the inverse of isolationism. Thus JW is correct to invoke Wilson, FDR and Truman as examples of liberal internationalists who did not shy away from the use of force, or even the bypassing of international organizations, in order to promote American security and American ideals.

But those are the liberal internationalists of yesteryear. Admirably, certain young idealists, such as those of the Truman Project, have embarked on an ambitious and impressive to ressurect this tradition under the Democratic umbrella. However, I sense that the old definition of the term liberal internationalist was a casualty of the Vietnam war. In order to succeed today, Truman's heirs will have to describe themselves in a manner that forcefully indicates why they are not what we tend think of as liberal internationalists.
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I started a Blog about Vietnam from some pictures I had taken while over there. Stopped at your page to get some ideas and see how others did their blogs. Stop by, take a look, leave a comment. ---Jack--- vietnam war memorial
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