Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hitchens on Beinart: Who are today's Humphrey, Reuther, Niebuhr, and Jackson? 

Oh how I wish there were Democrats who seemed genuinely to grasp that the Islamic jihadis and their allies and abettors represent a lethal strategic challenge to the West, including especially the United States. Sometimes they teeter in that direction, but usually only to posture on the right of the Bush administration on some matter of popular attention and no actual significance, such as the Dubai ports deal. It is intensely frustrating to me that only the Republicans have a strategy for national security that does not reek of apology for who we are and what we stand for. Who are the American nationalists in the Democratic Party?

Peter Beinart has written a book that, apparently, locates progressive nationalism and calls it to the barricades: The Good Fight : Why Liberals---and Only Liberals---Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.

I await Beinart's book, which will not be published until June 1, with bated breath. Until then, I will have to satisfy myself with Christopher Hitchens' review in the May issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Suffice it to say that Hitchens thinks that Beinart's barricades will remain unmanned:
Whether intentionally or not, Peter Beinart sets out to challenge and annoy the American Left from the first three words of his title. “The good fight” is a nostalgic, hymnal term that the mixed bag of remaining “progressives” still reserve very much for themselves; it is most commonly used to invoke the Spanish Civil War and, in particular, those Americans who went, under the ostensible banner of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion but under the effective command of the Comintern, to take part in it. And as one looks back on it now, this episode of heroism and betrayal is remarkable for one thing above all: it represents the only time in modern history that American radicals were in favor of, or had a direct hand in, any “foreign entanglement.” Their highest moral exemplar, as badly as it ended, is in fact the great exception that violates their rule.

Hitchens' review (and, presumably, Beinart's book) traces the history of the Cold War's liberal hawks, but in place of Beinart's optimism that those traditions can be recaptured Hitchens is only pessimistic:
If American liberalism had seriously wanted to regain its moral standing after the Cold War ended, the re-emergence of the one-party, one-leader aggressive state, in the forms of Greater Serbia and Greater Iraq, should have provided the ideal opportunity. But although the first President Bush secured United Nations support, and Syrian and Egyptian troops, for the recovery of Kuwait, he did so without any noticeable help from the left of center, who were too fastidious about the oil issue to soil their hands. (We can now say, with almost 100 percent certainty, that if Saddam Hussein had kept Kuwait, he would have acquired the bomb.)1 In Bosnia, where there was no oil but there was genocide, a “New Democrat” administration was finally persuaded to take action, again without the support of the large and consistent anti-war wing of American politics, whose members moaned ceaselessly about quagmire. Most of the traditional Right was silent or hostile on this occasion, too. Those who pressed for solidarity with Bosnia included some leftists like Susan Sontag, a great part of the American Jewish community, and a few traditional hawks—but perhaps most notably (and in a case that did not involve the state interest of Israel) the emerging neoconservatives. As one who took part in this argument, I can testify that many on the pro-Bosnian Left had more or less to assure themselves that their demand for intervention was kosher, precisely because it did not seem to be in the immediate national-security interest of the United States. Blood for no oil!

All of this was a dismal prelude to the crisis that struck the United States in the fall of 2001. One knew, before that terrible day was out, what would be said by the academic and journalistic and Hollywood Left. Much of the rhetoric of that time has been forgotten (though not by me), and now those who never wanted a fight in Afghanistan in the first place are free to complain that the war with al-Qaeda in Iraq is a distraction from the struggle they opposed.

Ouch. Bitter stuff. But then, Hitchens has been cast out by his old progressive compadres -- who today substitute "anti-imperialism" for the socialism of old -- as an apostate. Should we be surprised that he has turned his pen against them?

Here's Hitchens' final argument, which neatly exposes the extent to which today's left, committed as it is to defining threats down so as to avoid the question of will, twists the arguments against war without even understanding the implications:
The hard-liners in 1948 were principled enough to do the Democratic Party the favor of deserting it and running their own slate. They were also, one might concede, at least intelligible in their naiveté about the U.S.S.R. A thinking person could, then at least, be brought to believe that state socialism was an improvement on monopoly capitalism, and that war was to be avoided at any price. In the present case, however, not only are the hard-liners the activist and fund-raising core of the party; they also express ambivalence about a foe that does not even pretend to share the values of the Enlightenment, and that is furthermore immune to the cruder rationality of MAD. The Soviet leadership had every reason to avoid suicide, while the Islamist fanatics dream of nothing else. In this context, Beinart’s wishful and halfhearted belief that Saddam Hussein could have been contained is the one position that nobody can seriously hold. He gives himself away when he argues that a continuation of the cruel and indiscriminate sanctions could have led the Baathist regime to self-destruct. Has he even tried to imagine what Iraq would have looked like on the day that that self-destruction occurred? Let us just assume that it would not have been a Velvet Revolution. It would have more closely resembled a Rwanda or a Congo on the Gulf. Bad as things are now, they would certainly have been worse.


One day, the flower and the chivalry of the Democratic Party will again advocate "adventurism abroad" as its great leaders of the Cold War did. Until such time, mine will be a very hard vote for Democrats to win.
1. This might have been a propitious place for Hitchens to remind his readers that he, too, opposed the reconquest of Kuwait in 1991. However, he has many times confessed that old position as a mistake, and argues that he, at least, had the courage to admit that much. He probably doesn't need to keep doing it.


By Blogger cakreiz, at Mon Apr 10, 06:51:00 AM:

I've been in search of Dem Nationalism for years, hoping against hope that it was alive. It isn't. On Sunday, Sen. Kerry hits the airwaves, decrying "unilateralism and militarism". The coup that was McGovern in 1972 has completely dominated the party. There are no major Dem thinkers who advocate the benefits of threatened force.  

By Blogger cakreiz, at Mon Apr 10, 10:59:00 AM:

Hawk: you need to read a great piece over at American Digest entitled "The Hamlet Men". It pertains to John Kerry and the modern Dems. It's difficult for the Party to endorse nationalism when they view the US as having 'so much that's imperfect, even hideous'.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Mon Apr 10, 05:18:00 PM:

At the end of WWII, the Republican Party was, it seemed, in hopeless circumstances. They had not been credible in the lead up to WWII, varying between isolationism and proto fascism of a sort. They paid for it in spades, such that even in 1948, a controversial and not-especially-strong Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey.

The Democrats had the high ground on security, defense, containment, fighting the commies.

And then came Eisenhower. the military commander of American forces in Europe brought the Republicans back into the White House with the author of brinksmanship and the domino theory (JF Dulles) as his Sec of State. They got tougher than Stevenson was perceived to be, with the credibilty that an Ike brought.

This, folks, is what the Dems sorely need if they want to win the Presidency again. Not Feingold. Not Deanism, or Reidism, or Pelosiism. Not Tim Russertism or Chris Mathewsism. They need a Soldier (and I doubt it's Wesley Clark, cause he seems like a clown).

I have to beleive that among all the senior military types who have been serious players in the Middle East action, one of them must be a Democrat.

Or maybe not.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Apr 10, 11:43:00 PM:

Democrats aren't so popular among the enlisted ranks, but maybe there's some pampered, over-educated, pencil pushing, conceited 'progressive' officer somewhere on a general staff who has political aspirations.

However, given the current political current of the Democratic party (LEFT!) career soldiers are probably not... palatable... unless they turn against their own and become some sort of anti-military spokesman *coughKerrycough* which will likely lose them the vote of just about every active duty servicemember, veteran, or immediate family thereof. Ya just can't win.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 12, 01:00:00 AM:

C.Park, is Zinni a Dem.? I haven't read his book, but if he wants to shrink the gap I would vote for him.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Apr 22, 12:48:00 AM:

TIGERHAWK? Is the above, the entire Hitchen's review, or sporadic bits. If the latter, could you post the review in entirety?  

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