Sunday, December 10, 2006

# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART: THE END. I recently finished reading The Good Fight by Peter Beinart, which I began almost six months ago. It took me so long to read because I made a commitment to post detailed comments about every chapter.

I made that commitment back in July because I "expected [Beinart's] book to serve as the definitive statement of a muscular liberal foreign policy." Let me elaborate on that. As many readers know, I started blogging more than four years ago, when I was still planted firmly on Democratic soil. Now I am registered as a Republican.

I would argue that in most respects my principles have not changed, but rather that as I learned more about the respective parties, I determined that I was in the wrong one. Reading Beinart's book was an important part of that determination.

Centrist Democrats recongize him as one of their most innovative thinkers. Left-wing Democrats are wary. Some see Beinart as a threat, others as a traitor. And so I sensed that if there were a place for my thinking in the Democratic Party, it might be with Beinart. Yet although The Good Fight is an excellent book, I believe that the distance between Beinart and myself is greater than the distance between myself and like-minded Republicans.

Beinart identifies a constant awareness of America's moral shortcomings as the essence of a strong liberal foreign policy. Like Robert Kagan, I also believe that it is extremely important, from both an analytical and an ethical perspective, to recognize those shortcomings. Yet placing self-criticism on a pedestal can have serious implications.

First and foremost, Beinart insists that American foreign policy cannot be legitimate unless it is validated by multilateral institutions. Several months ago, I argued that this amounted to an elevation of process over substance. Legitimacy derives from a commitment to morally sound principles, not a consensus of governments.

In addition, Beinart never explores whether there are multilateral institutions that deserve the kind of trust with which he wants to endow them. For example, Beinart never talks about the UN legacy of corruption, anti-Semitism and human rights committees composed of totalitarian dictatorships.

Although the example of Kosovo forces Beinart to recognize that the UN should not decide which wars are just, Beinart never elaborates much of an alternative. He suggests that perhaps NATO can provide legitimacy instead, but never develops that suggestion. In addition, Beinart approaches NATO as if it were truly international institution, rather than a military alliance formed by sovereign governments.

The second most important point of contention between myself and Beinart is his characterization of conservatives, which I struck me as mostly as an unfair caricature. In addition, Beinart's account of how the Bush administration sold the war in Iraq struck me as an example of what the White House might call revisionist history. If the choice I had to make was really between a troubled Democratic Party and the monstrous GOP described by Beinart, it would be an easy decision. But there is a different GOP that I know, best represented by John McCain (whose name doesn't appear in Beinart's index.)

In spite of such differences, I still consider Beinart to be a formidable thinker who has a tremendous amount to contribute to public debates about US foreign policy. Also, I very much hope that Beinart's influence within the Democratic Party only continues to grow. In spite of our differences, I believe that there is a far greater distance between Beinart and the Democratic left than there is between Beinart and Republicans such as myself.

When it comes to voting, there are few choices beyond Democratic and Republican. But when it comes to making policy, there is considerable room for cooperation. I believe that Peter Beinart is precisely the kind of Democrat with whom Republicans can cooperate in order to advance our national interests. But cooperation is a two-way street, so it won't be viable unless Republicans are committed to it as well.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

That's cool, Lieberman.
I like Beinart a lot in terms of what practical, results oriented liberalism SHOULD look like. But when he describes liberals and conservatives as they currently exist, I don't see much that I recognize.
As many readers know, I started blogging more than four years ago, when I was still planted firmly on Democratic soil. Now I am registered as a Republican.
Well, that's a pity. You could probably do more within the Democratic party than voting in Republican primaries ... besides, don't you worry you might pick up all kinds of fleas, setting down with those who imagine have similiar 'principles'?

Since I haven't read all (er..o.k, anything but his own pre-cursor pieces), I'm not sure why Beinharts book is decisive for you.

Certainly it cannot have be on Replubicans having exhibited a 'principled' foreign policy, either in practice or in prospect, right?

If one reads someone like George Will on Foreign Policy, which one could easily take to be a 'classical' Conservative expression of it, then you come to the understanding that GOP-led foreign policy is *moral* exceptionalism, that is, situational ethics (in a phrase, "we do what is right, with our might, at the time, depending on what is in our sights").

On the contrary, it is the 'liberal' foreign policy that leans toward an emphasis on the rule of international law and on the goals of human rights, which makes it the far, far more 'principled' of the two.

The process of multilateral instutions is absolutely no *guarantee* of justice or proper policy substance, but its the best next step we have to what existed before the multi-lateral institutions existed. They are no fix-it, to be sure, but they are better than confessing that the world is a jungle and the best foreign policy amounts to nothing more than a big stick, which is what the GOP sound-off on, everytime they start-in with a soaring aria on how lousy diplomacy is.
I think I'm probably in the same boat as Adesnik- a member of the center right best exemplified by John McCain (although it'd be good to have more politicians to refer to). I think cooperation between the centrist foreign policy thinkers in both parties could be very productive- another national security minded Democrat who comes to mind is Michael O'Hanlon at Brookings.
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