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February 17, 2005
Beinart Can't Buy A Clue At TNR

Peter Beinart takes a break from the book he's writing to pen a column for The New Republic on Bush's emphasis on democracy as his second-term theme, and how liberals need to counter it with rhetoric of their own. Peter is a very nice and earnest young man, but he frequently gets his assumptions incorrect, and this column provides a clear example. As the blog Nationals Review points out, Beinart uses an assumption about John Kerry that is demonstrably false as a support for the rest of his argument about liberal enthusiasm for democratization as foreign policy:

Bush's second inaugural doesn't challenge liberals at the level of policy; it challenges them at the level of rhetoric. And, unless they respond in kind, they'll experience the same fate that befell John Kerry. In policy terms, Kerry probably had a more serious democratization agenda than Bush. But, rhetorically, he never matched Bush's grandeur. And, in the United States, where it is great causes and missionary impulses that rouse citizens to engage with the world, Bush's language captured the public imagination, and Kerry's did not.

Unfortunately for Peter, that analysis of Kerry's position on democracy just doesn't hold up. Kerry has a long history of indifference to democracy, and Nationals Review picks up one prominent example of this, from the May 29, 2004 Washington Post:

Sen. John F. Kerry indicated that as president he would play down the promotion of democracy as a leading goal in dealing with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China and Russia, instead focusing on other objectives that he said are more central to the United States' security.

That prompted the Washington Post to issue a scathing editorial about Kerry's lack of commitment to the primary pillar of the American government Kerry hoped to lead:

"WE NEED A reasonable plan and a specific timetable for self-government" in Iraq, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said in December. "That means completing the tasks of security and democracy in the country -- not cutting and running in order to claim a false success." On another occasion, he said: "It would be a disaster and a disgraceful betrayal of principle to speed up the process simply to lay the groundwork for a politically expedient withdrawal of American troops."

Contrast that with what Mr. Kerry told reporters last week: "With respect to getting our troops out, the measure is the stability of Iraq. [Democracy] shouldn't be the measure of when you leave. I have always said from day one that the goal here . . . is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that's a full democracy."

Starting an argument by basing it on any John Kerry commitment almost certainly renders it flawed, but Peter really should have checked Kerry's campaign record. He never did fully support democratization as an end goal for Iraq or anywhere else, and more than once indicated that he didn't even think that democratization was necessary. And yet Peter argues that Kerry would have had a "more serious democratization agenda"?

Even better, Kerry couldn't even support democratization in Iraq after it happened. In that same article, Kerry had this to say about elections:

"The last time I looked, except for Florida, an election is an election," Kerry said.

And yet, the day after Iraqis braved bombs and bullets to cast their votes, Kerry downplayed the significance of the election, even though it didn't take place in Florida:

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe this election will be seen by the world community as legitimate?

SEN. KERRY: A kind of legitimacy--I mean, it's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote.

That's the man Peter argues has a stronger streak of democratization support than the President who insisted on sticking with the elections that the Iraqis risked their lives to hold.

Needless to say, after using Kerry as a foundation for his Democrats-are-better-democratizers hypothesis, Peter's argument quickly descends into farce:

The assumption that the United States can do no wrong leads naturally to unilateralism: Why sully our democracy-promotion efforts by partnering with other countries, which lack purity of heart? That implication was particularly widespread in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's overthrow, when conservatives argued against giving Turkey, France, or the United Nations a genuine role in the occupation on the grounds that Iraqis might distrust their motives.

Peter seems to forget that Turkey, France, and the United Nations flat-out refused to accept any role in the post-invasion occupation. In fact, the UN bugged out after their former Ba'athist spy-service guards allowed a bomber to kill a couple of dozen UN staffers, all because they refused American security. France refused to cooperate before and after the invasion, saying that the US had to turn over all authority to the same UN that refused to come back to Iraq after the bombing. Jacques Chirac wanted US troops under UN control, as he refused even with a UN-led occupation to commit any troops to the Irq effort. Turkey didn't want democracy at all in Iraq; it wanted a strongman to keep the Kurds oppressed and under control, the better to control their own Kurds from rising up against them.

As I said, Peter is a nice and earnest young man, but he seems to live in a parallel universe, or perhaps he just takes poor notes and performs lousy research. If he thinks that building on the strength of purpose of John Kerry is the path for Democrats to take back power on a national basis, I vote for the parallel universe.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 17, 2005 6:18 PM

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