Saturday, July 08, 2006

In this week's The New Yorker, George Packer reviews Peter Beinart's new book “The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.” Packer, author of "The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq", would seem to have much in commin with Beinart: Both men are liberal hawks of the type whose support for the Iraq war lent it more legitimacy then it might otherwise have had, and both have since offered mea culpas now that things have turned out so badly.

Beinart, you may know, has argued forcefully that serious Democrats must purge antiwar leftists like Michael Moore from their ranks in much the same way that the Cold War liberals cast out communists. He also believes that because Democrats stand, then as now, for social justice, equality and civil rights, they are more credible exporters of American values abroad. They walk the walk, in other words, and try to make sure America does the same.

Beinart apparently fails to convince Packer, who thinks that liberal internationalism may have the same fatal flaws as its neoconservative cousin. Jihadism is not communism, Packer notes, and he is certainly not the first person to point this out, as I discussed a while back on my other blog. Besides, Cold War liberalism also gave us Vietnam, a nationalistic conflict which Packer writes that policy makers misinterpreted because they viewed it through an ideological prism. We would do well, Packer says, to dispense with overarching ideas:

A serious American policy toward Islamism will do well what the Bush Administration has done badly or not at all, and without the triumphalist speeches: modest, informed, persistent support for reformers, without grand promises of regime change; concerted efforts at reconstruction and counter-insurgency that bring to bear the full range of government agencies as well as alliances and international institutions. Since these tasks will fall to the United States one way or another, we should learn to do them better rather than vow never to try again. Large ideas drawn from historical analogies can help as guiding frameworks, but the glamorous certainties they seem to offer are illusions; we still have to think for ourselves.

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