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December 13, 2004
Brownstein: Beinart Is Wrong

Peter Beinart wrote a long column two weeks ago for the New Republic that called on Democrats to hearken back to post-WWII tradition and coalesce around a strategy of muscular liberalism in a Trumanesque fashion in order to restore their credibility on foreign policy and especially terrorism. Beinart argued that today's Democrats lack the anti-totalitarian fire they had during the Cold War and fail to recognize Islamofascism as the same enemy as Communist oppression. During his appearance on Hugh Hewitt when we filled in, we questioned Beinart's recollection of Democratic resistance to totalitarianism, especially in places like Nicaragua and Cuba, challenges that Beinart left unanswered.

Ronald Brownstein picks up the thread in today's Los Angeles Times and also questions Beinart's analysis, this time in his assumptions regarding the circumstances in which Americans for Democratic Action formed and set Democratic foreign policy until the late 1960s:

Beinart is surely right that in this uneasy new era, as at the height of the Cold War, Democrats are unlikely to win the White House unless voters trust the party to protect them. But he glosses over the principal reason the ADA generation could articulate a positive foreign policy agenda more easily than Democrats can today.

When the ADA was formed, a Democratic president, Harry S. Truman, was developing America's strategy against the spread of Soviet communism. Although Truman didn't neglect military might, his vision of "containment" put much greater emphasis on economic aid (through the Truman Doctrine for Greece and Turkey and the Marshall Plan for Europe) and international alliances (NATO). Truman made it easier for the ADA to embrace a positive agenda, because he set a course for the Cold War most Democrats could support.

Brownstein makes a good point; not only did Democrats control the executive branch when the ADA was founded, but Democratic executives had just successfully prosecuted a global war -- a brutal, costly, but necessary and transformative war that changed America from an isolationist backwater to a global power. They had credibility on foreign policy unlike anything we have seen since the late 1960s, when the party began its slow sell-out to the countercultural, radical elements that MoveOn, International ANSWER, and Hollywood represent today.

But Brownstein misses more than Beinart does with that focus, mostly because neither one of them see the profound changes that have occurred since the ADA. To both Beinart and Brownstein, this is still their fathers' Democratic Party. Yes, with Democrats mostly out of power in the executive branch for the past generation, Democratic foreign policy has necessarily been reactive. Neither, however, answer the question as to why Democrats have been shut out of the White House since Viet Nam, with two exceptions: two Southern governors, one whose election came in reaction to one of the worst political scandals in American history, and the other who won when conservatives split the ticket (and governed from the center out of political survival).

Put simply, the cacaphony of the American Left, which Beinart casts as a fringe element that receives inordinate attention, causes the American electorate to mistrust Democratic commitment to represent American interests instead of utopian, one-world ideals. That doesn't spring from Hollywood idiots such as Michael Moore getting too much press; that mistrust has been underscored by a generation of Democrats getting essential parts of foreign policy badly mistaken. Jimmy Carter kissed Leonid Brezhnev and scolded Americans for fearing Communism -- and then watched as the Soviets overran Afghanistan, threatening our vital security issues in the Persian Gulf.

Senators such as John Kerry insisted that Communists in Central America represented the will of the people and refused to address Communist expansion on our doorstep. When the US pressed the Sandanistas in Nicaragua by supporting the contras and forcing elections, Kerry and his friends on the left (notably Ed Asner) predicted that Daniel Ortega would win handily and give the Reagan Administration a well-deserved bloody nose. When the Nicaraguans tossed Ortega and his minions from office, they recovered from the shock just long enough to complain about voting "irregularities". (Sound familiar?)

Finally, in the Cold War to which Beinart asks Democrats to hearken, the party opposed every measure meant to win that conflict without military action. They believed -- believed -- that the world was condemned to a binary existence. Indeed, as John Kerry has said on more than one occasion, they did not consider Communism a problem to be solved, but just another strategy in governing that worked for some people. The Democrats fueled No Nuke rallies when Reagan updating aging weapons systems; they fought against defense spending when Reagan wanted to engage the Soviets on the economic front; and they made their preference for the status quo plain, even though millions of Eastern Europeans suffered under Soviet occupation for decades.

The Democrats didn't pursue all of these foreign-policy objectives strictly out of gainsay of the Republican executive as Brownstein proposes. These represented the Democratic core values! Moral relativism in the face of evil and an isolationist, none-of-our-business outlook results in retreat and surrender. Those policies and that track record does not represent mainstream American values any more, if they ever did at all.

That is the hurdle that Democrats must clear if they expect America to trust them on foreign policy in the executive -- or they have to win on every other issue besides war and diplomacy. Beinart comes closer than Brownstein in diagnosing the true illness, but neither of them understands that the issue runs so deep that a party split may be the only cure. Until the Democrats cut the Hollywood and International ANSWER crowd loose -- and I mean overtly rejecting them and their apologetics for Stalinism -- Americans will never trust them to represent our interests abroad.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 13, 2004 6:05 AM

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