Can liberals develop a more vigorous foreign policy that will resonate with American voters? Today the Center for American Progress hosted a panel to discuss that question.
The panel centered its comments on The Good Fight, a newly released book by Peter Beinart, editor-at-large of The New Republic and fellow at the Brookings Institution. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, joined Beinart on the panel. Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, moderated.
In Beinart’s analysis, liberals are able to debate particular policies but are less successful than conservatives at articulating first principles. By better understanding the history of liberal foreign policy, he believes that a “liberal story of how you protect America and make a better world” can be told.
The key to creating a liberal story in today’s global environment is to emphasize that “what happens inside other countries can threaten America,” and, according to Beinart, “America cannot do it alone.” We have neglected a legacy of building legitimacy through strong international institutions, leading to suspicion and distrust of America’s intentions. “Critical to American power,” Beinart said, “is American legitimacy.” This legitimate power is not inherent to our country, he argued, but the result of our own constant struggle to build a more democratic society. When we claim to have crossed a “democratic finish line,” said Beinart, where we hold other countries to increasingly stringent democratic standards while allowing our own to relax, our global legitimacy is threatened.
Beinart concluded by presenting two principles for a strong liberal foreign policy. First, legitimacy is power and “international institutions are the vehicles for making American power legitimate.” Through strong institutions, governments can be held to a higher standard. Second, “economic opportunity is key to the spread of freedom.” People turn away from democracy for social and economic reasons, and understanding those reasons is important in moving towards democratic governance.
Kristol, in response, noted the similarities he saw between Beinart’s ideas and the neoconservative movement. He also questioned the relevance of principles. “At the end of the day,” he said, “foreign policy is about real choices in the real world.” Using specific examples, he looked at recent U.S. history and concluded that it is better to “err on the side of action instead of inaction” because often there is not enough time to fit threats into an intellectual framework. For Kristol, our national interest comes first. “Legitimacy,” he said, “is helpful to power, but power is power.”
Goldberg added a perspective on the domestic and electoral implications of a stronger liberal foreign policy. He emphasized how important it is “to meet the American people where they are.” After traveling the country researching Democratic politicians in conservative states, Goldberg said that a lot of frustration with American foreign policy stems from the execution rather than the basic idea. The biggest danger to foreign policy of any ideology, he said, is from “world fatigue” and isolationist backlash.
The panelists agreed that with the international character of the threats facing our country, the costs of a withdrawn United States could be substantial. Beinart’s belief is that a stronger liberal foreign policy can quell backlash and strengthen America at home and abroad.
Peter Beinart is the author of The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. He is Editor-At-Large of The New Republic, and is a Nonresident Fellow at The Brookings Institution. He graduated from Yale University in 1993, winning both Rhodes and Marshall (declined) scholarships for graduate study at Oxford University. After graduating from University College, Oxford in the summer of 1995 with a Masters of Philosophy degree in international relations, Beinart returned to TNR as Managing Editor. He became Senior Editor in June 1997 and Editor two years later. He also writes a monthly column for The Washington Post, which is distributed by its syndicate. Beinart is also a contributor to Time, where he regularly writes the "Essay" on its back page. He has also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic Monthly, and Newsweek. He provided commentary for CNN from the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. He also speaks widely before business, religious, and university audiences in the United States and abroad.
Jeffrey Goldberg is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a Middle East correspondent for the magazine. In 2003, he received the National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist, and the Overseas Press Club Award for best human rights reporting. Previously, he was a writer for The New York Times Magazine, covering the Middle East and Africa. Goldberg's reporting has taken him to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he lived for a month in a Taliban madrasa (an Islamic seminary), as well as to Upper Egypt, Syria, the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and West Bank. He has interviewed leaders of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam and the Taliban. Goldberg was appointed in 2002 to be a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.c= His book, "Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide," will be published in October by Alfred A. Knopf. William Kristol is editor of the influential Washington-based political magazine, The Weekly Standard. Widely recognized as one of the nation's leading political analysts and commentators, Mr. Kristol regularly appears on Fox News Sunday and on the Fox News Channel. Before starting The Weekly Standard in 1995, Mr. Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped shape the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Prior to that, Mr. Kristol served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush administration and to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Reagan. Before coming to Washington in 1985, Mr. Kristol taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Kristol recently co-authored The New York Times bestseller, The War Over Iraq: America's Mission and Saddam's Tyranny.
Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Senior Advisor to the Center for Defense Information. He was Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration (1981-85). Prior to joining the Center, he was a Senior Fellow and Director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. From July 1998 to October 2002, he was Council Vice President, Director of Studies, and holder of the Maurice Greenberg Chair. Prior to joining the Council, Mr. Korb served as Director of the Center for Public Policy Education and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, Dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, and Vice President of Corporate Operations at the Raytheon Company. Mr. Korb served as Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics) from 1981 through 1985. In that position, he administered about 70 percent of the Defense budget. For his service in that position, he was awarded the Department of Defense's medal for Distinguished Public Service. Mr. Korb served on active duty for four years as Naval Flight Officer, and retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Captain.