Sunday, July 23, 2006

# Posted 10:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART IN-DEPTH: I have finally begun to read The Good Fight by Peter Beinart. Ever since I read A Fighting Faith, the December 2004 essay that prefigured the contents of Beinart's book, I have expected his book to serve as the definitive statement of a muscular liberal foreign policy.

Even though I am only thirty pages into the book right now, I sense that it will live up to that expectation. Although there are good reasons not to write about a book until one has finished reading it, I prefer to capture my reactions while they are fresh, then revise them later on.

Knowing my own habits, I am also quite confident that I would never post a chapter-by-chapter analysis of Beinart's book if I did not begin that task right away. And since this book clearly merits such close analysis, that is what I will do.

Click here to begin reading.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

If I may toss my own hat into the ring, as it were, I would like to note that in my book (http://www.upf.com/book.asp?id=SCHWAF03) and in a more succinct recent post on H-Democracy (http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-Democracy&month=0606&week=c&msg=CZuxKROrIbxWzeOqHWGuwA&user=&pw=), I argued that there is a civility to American foreign policy--a concern for the common good--that has shaped the ways American officials have defined and pursued American interests. Liberal and conservative impulses have predominated among these officials and it has been the successful harmonization of these impulses that has made possible simultaneous American contributions to the general welfare of the world and to the advancement of our own more particular interests.

Contributing to the civility of American policy is a liberal impulse that sustains concern with the domestic welfare and liberties of other countries and promotes a shared belief in progress and reform as a foundation for cooperation; and a conservative impulse that sustains a reluctance to intervene in the internal affairs of the rest of the world and promotes recognition of the diversity and autonomy of other countries as a foundation for cooperation. Both of these impulses have deep roots in American culture and in the emerging common culture of the modern world.

The civility of American liberals has tended to shade off into an arrogance that cares little for the views local allies hold of their own situation and the strategies they consider appropriate for pursuing their own rights and interests. The civility of American conservatives has tended to shade off into an indifference to the sufferings of others and the complicity of the United States in the continuation of remediable evils. Yet the historical record shows that at critical junctures for the future of humanity, as well as on numerous less important occasions, American policy avoided these extremes. We successfully participated with others in the struggle for the realization of basic human values, as well as American interests, and we did so in Latin America as well as in Europe and Asia. Focusing on Latin America--where the point is more controversial--I showed that the United States had provided Latin American democrats with more important support than Latin American dictators during the administration of Harry Truman, and suggested why it may have done so in subsequent decades.

Both major American political parties have contained both liberals and conservatives, at least as I define them, on foreign policy issues over the years. Rather than look at matters as Beinart appears to do, in terms of good Truman Democrats and bad Republican neoconservatives, I prefer to look at the strengths and similarities of both of these groupings (and a much wider swath of the American political spectrum as well). Unfortunately, there are relatively few Americans in either category. I believe that expanding the numbers in both would be better for the country and, in the long run, for the world. If this makes me part of a vague middle ground shared by others thirsting for a combination of American idealism and American power, and indeed a synthesis of this combination with similar combinations of the idealism and power of the rest of the world’s democracies--some sort of globally recognized legitimate authority for what Jefferson referred to as an “empire of liberty”--so be it.

Steven Schwartzberg
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