View Full Version : The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal

Mota Boy
05-03-2006, 10:57 PM
A great article from the New York Times. It's long, but a great primer on American foreign policy and what the left needs to do to reclaim it. You probably won't read all of it, but you should at least check out these first six paragraphs.

This fall, for the third time since 9/11, American voters will choose between Democrats and Republicans while knowing what only one party believes about national security. In 2002, Democratic candidates tried to change the subject, focusing on Social Security and health care instead. In 2004, John Kerry substituted biography for ideology, largely ignoring his own extensive foreign-policy record and stressing his service in Vietnam. In this year's Senate and House races, the party looks set to reprise Michael Dukakis's old theme: competence. Rather than tell Americans what their vision is, Democrats will assure them that they can execute it better than George W. Bush.

Democrats have no shortage of talented foreign-policy practitioners. Indeed, they have no shortage of worthwhile foreign-policy proposals. Even so, they cannot tell a coherent story about the post-9/11 world. And they cannot do so, in large part, because they have not found their usable past. Such stories, after all, are not born in focus groups; they are less invented than inherited. Before Democrats can conquer their ideological weakness, they must first conquer their ideological amnesia.

Consider George W. Bush's story: America represents good in an epic struggle against evil. Liberals, this story goes, try to undermine that moral clarity, reining in American power and sapping our faith in ourselves. But a visionary president will not be constrained, and he wields American might with relentless force, until the walls of oppression crumble and the darkest region on earth is set free.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It was Ronald Reagan's story as well. To a remarkable degree, the right's post-9/11 vision relies on a grand analogy: Bush is Reagan, Tony Blair is Margaret Thatcher, the "axis of evil" is the "evil empire," the truculent French are the truculent French. The most influential conservative foreign-policy essay of the 1990's, written by the Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment, was titled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." And since 9/11, most conservatives have seen Bush as Reaganesque. His adherence to a script conservatives know by heart helps explain their devotion, which held fast through the 2004 election, and has only recently begun to flag, as that script veers more and more disastrously from the real world.

Liberals don't have a script because they don't have a Reagan. Since Vietnam, they've produced two presidents: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter's foreign policy is widely considered a failure. Clinton's foreign policy is not widely considered at all, because he governed at a time when foreign policy was for the most part peripheral to American politics. Ask liberals to describe a Carteresque foreign policy, and they tend to wince. Ask them to describe a Clintonesque one, and you'll most likely get a blank stare.

But before Vietnam, and the disappointment and confusion it spawned, liberals did have a clear story of their own. In the late 1940's and 1950's, intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and policymakers like George F. Kennan described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive. Even more important, they described America itself differently. Americans may fight evil, they argued, but that does not make us inherently good. And paradoxically, that very recognition makes national greatness possible. Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world...


05-04-2006, 12:22 PM
i dont think i could bear another few years with bush, i mean america took on the commie's, the islamic....whos next? bush would be tho one to spearhead the assualt

05-04-2006, 12:51 PM
I fail to see how this is the rehabilitation of the cold war liberal. He would've done far better service to mention the good liberal foreign policies, (since that's what he believes is lacking) than mention that they don't ever mention them. I mean even a few examples. Instead he lists republican ones, as though he is suffering from the same foggy amnesia as the rest of America.

It was an alright article. I think it missed the point though. It wasn't solely reliant on Bush's positioning as a Foreign Leader and the Kerry lack-thereof. It's just more complicated than that, it would take more work than just to remind people of great liberal history (without mentioning it).

But it was an interesting read.

Mota Boy
05-04-2006, 03:23 PM
Did you read the whole article or just the first six paragraphs I posted? That wasn't even all of the first page of a six page piece. I didn't post the whole thing because I realized that doing so would require four seperate posts, and very few people have the attention span to sit through that amount of material on a BBS. I know I sure as hell don't.

05-04-2006, 03:39 PM
I read the last two paragraphs first, then the beginning. So the link is up for the full story? When I have the time and the will, I will look into it.

The shadow
05-04-2006, 05:49 PM
That article is just brilliant. Genius!.