If Peter Beinart didn’t take so many cheap shots at President Bush, one could feel sorry for him. For it is Beinart’s thankless mission to try to remind Democrats of the party’s progressive foreign policy legacy embodied by Harry Truman, and to induce their return to that mindset. Truman marginalized the (at best) anti-anti-Communist wing of his party and for the next twenty years or so, the Democrats were a reliable foe of totalitarianism throughout the world. But that era ended about 35 years ago, and there’s no plausible sign that we’re anywhere close to a revival.
Meanwhile Beinart must endure the ninny-ish attacks of the likes of Katrina vanden Heuvel, who labels him an “inside the beltway crusader” and urges Democrats to eschew the Truman tradition and embrace the “good neighbor” policy of Franklin Roosevelt. But the good neighbor policy was an approach directed specifically towards Central and South America, not an over-arching foreign policy. Roosevelt did not attempt to be a good neighbor to Germany and Japan, although he was a bit slow-off-the-mark in treating them as the menace they were always going to be.
Vanden Heuvel argues that the answer to the threat of terrorism lies in addressing the legitimate political grievances of the Arab and Islamic world. But the grievances that are driving the terrorists — the existence of Israel and, more fundamentally, the existence of a vibrant and highly successful “infidel” world — are not legitimate. Moreover, FDR was no more an appeaser of demented fascists than Truman. It was and Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who wanted to be everyone’s good neighbor, and we know where their pathetically apologist foreign policies landed us.
Beinart actually seems to share with vanden Heuvel the narcissistic view that we can fend off the terrorists in part by adopting a liberal domestic agenda. This argument relies on a Cold War analogy — the notion that we needed to embrace the civil rights agenda in order to rally world support for our anti-Communist policy. That notion is overrated even as applied to the Cold War. The fact is that we embraced the civil rights agenda, Europe got tired of fighting Commmunism anyway, and the Soviet Union collapsed because Ronald Reagan kept his nerve (and because the Soviet Union was horribly flawed).
The Islamofascists, meanwhile, remain singularly unimpressed by liberal domestic policies, as the Canadians recently learned (or didn’t). And the rest of the world is not ready to embrace bin Ladinism just because we don’t offer everyone “free” health care. Unlike Communism, which was attractive to many western intellectuals, Islamicism is attactive only to Islamic fanatics who are not going to be won over by income redistribution or the legalization of gay marriage.
In the end, it’s really not Mr. Roosevelt who inspires vandel Heuvel and her ilk; it’s Mr. Rogers.