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The Cold War

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Coming In from the Cold (War).

“[F]or all their practical failures, conservatives have at least told a coherent political story, with deep historical roots, about what keeps America safe and what makes it great. Liberals, by contrast, have offered adjectives drawn from focus groups and policy proposals linked by no larger theme.” In keeping with the intellectual territory he staked out after the 2004 election, former TNR editor Peter Beinart makes the case for a return to Cold War liberalism in a NYT excerpt of his new book, The Good Fight (also discussed in the recent Atlantic Monthly.)

I couldn’t agree more with Beinart’s paragraph above, but I don’t think the lack of a sufficiently robust national security emphasis is really the defining element missing among today’s Dems. Are there really Democrats out there who don’t agree with Beinart’s three main assessments here, that (a) America faces a real enemy in Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist terror networks, (b) our foreign policy should be less hubristic and more attuned to both local contingency and international institutions, and (c) our national sense of self should emphasize our own fallibility at times? Beinart would probably target the MoveOn crowd, but as Eric Alterman noted in the last round of this back-and-forth, that’s just a DLC straw man, roughly akin to Joe Klein’s cadre of phantom lefty consultants in the last update.

Plus, I think there are two significant historical problems with the Cold War liberalism Beinart unreservedly espouses, which he fails to discuss here. For one, Cold War liberals could very easily be seen as best inattentive to and — at worst complicit in — the excesses of McCarthyism. If the enemy abroad becomes the central defining focus of your national narrative, then the enemy within is undoubtedly going to start eating at you as well. For another, (and as John Gaddis, among others, has pointed out) — for all its early sense of diplomatic complexity and limited, realistic goals — the Cold War liberalism Beinart promotes all too readily (d)evolved into the guiding rationale for wildly wrongheaded foreign policy interventions, most notably in Vietnam. (You’d think Beinart would pay more lip service to this issue, particularly as he himself made much the same mistake in shilling for the Iraq war in The New Republic.)

In short, I agree with Beinart’s assessment that the Dems lack a sense of usable past, but the problems with his argument can be encapsulated by his ideal of a what a good, hawkish, Cold War liberal Democrat should look like these days: That, if Beinart’s tenure at TNR is any indication, would be Joe Lieberman, a politician who’s not only been flagrantly cheerleading for the administration during the current war, but has exhibited little interest in today’s wartime civil liberties issues. Simply put, Joe Lieberman would hardly be my choice of template for the Democratic party. (Who would? That’s easy: Russ Feingold, who’s displayed a strong commitment to preserving both national security and civil liberties at home, while arguing for a more level-headed, less-in-your-face American foreign policy.)

Malreports from Minitrue’s Recdep.

“In short, more than one of every three documents removed from the open shelves and barred to researchers should not have been tampered with.” A recently-completed audit into the formerly secret Archives reclassification program finds that many more files were reclassified — and reclassified wrongly — than previously suggested. “In February, the Archives estimated that about 9,500 records totaling more than 55,000 pages had been withdrawn and reclassified since 1999. The new audit shows the real haul was much larger — at least 25,515 records were removed by five different agencies, including the CIA, Air Force, Department of Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Archives.

They’re Already Here.

Quiddity birddogs Turner Classic Movies’ line-up of Future Shock: Sci-Fi Films from the Cold War Era, every Tuesday this June. Featured films include the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Village of the Damned, Soylent Green, The Thing, It Came from Outer Space, 2001, and several others worth catching.

Don’t Fault Yalta.

“Bush stopped short of accusing Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of outright perfidy, but his words recalled those of hardcore FDR- and Truman-haters circa 1945…Bush’s cavalier invocations of history for political purposes are not surprising. But for an American president to dredge up ugly old canards about Yalta stretches the boundaries of decency and should draw reprimands (and not only from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.)” Slate‘s David Greenberg outlines Dubya’s recent mischaracterization of the Yalta conference. Well, Dubya doesn’t even seem to understand diplomacy now, so why would he understand it then?

Requiem for a Diplomat.

R.I.P. George Kennan 1904-2005. The nation has lost one of its senior diplomatic statesmen, at a moment when men and women of his wisdom, judgment, and foreign policy experience are needed in the public arena more than ever. He will be missed.

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