- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (29 January 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060841605
- ISBN-13: 978-0060841607
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 272 g
- Customer Reviews: 5 customer ratings
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Good Fight Paperback – 29 January 2008
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"An intellectual archeologist, Beinart excavates that vanished intellectual tradition and sends it into battle in his new book."--The Washington Post
"Beinart has given Democrats a blueprint for ... taking back the White House."--Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell
"Beinart, in his deftly argued new book, . . . helpfully grounds the current debate in its oft-forgotten history."--The Boston Globe
"Insightful, provocative."--Thomas Friedman, The New York Times
"Peter Beinart takes us on a vigorous and entertaining search for a usable past ... His reasoning must be heard."--Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas
"The Good Fight is a book filled with apt insights and common sense ... Recommended for liberals and conservatives."--Madeleine Albright
"This is a brilliant and provocative book in a great tradition."--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
About the Author
Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. Beinart is a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Good Fight. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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In the past two years much has changed. Although he is still trying to enlist Democrats in the good fight, he admits that he was wrong about Iraq in several ways. One, of course, was the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, but the other, more importantly, was the failure to realize the limits of American power and legitimacy. Borrowing from Rheinhold Niebuhr, he now believes we would do well with a little humility.
That said, Beinart still believes that liberals are uniquely equipped to fight global jihad. He supports his argument by drawing on the Cold War era and the Truman administration. Centrist liberals from the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) rejected communists and communist sympathizers at home as well as abroad. They set the Democratic Party on a centrist path and became mentors and supporters of the Truman administration. The policies of deterrence and containment advocated by Dean Acheson, George Marshall, George Kennan, and Paul Nitze served this country well up until the presidency of JFK.
In his potted history of this period, Beinart is trying to draw parallels between the fight against communist totalitarianism and today's Islamist jihad. There are, however, important differences. Osama Bin Laden is no Josef Stalin. Providing support for loosely connected cells of terrorists is much different than commanding the government of the Soviet Union and its nuclear equipped army. Moreover, demonizing communism in the 50's and 60's was one thing, but demonizing Islamist jihad, and by extension Islam, one runs the risk of inflaming a clash of civilizations that is already in danger of becoming full-blown. Even the Bush administration is tactful enough to call it simply a war on terror.
Fact of the matter is, Beinart doesn't need to draw on the Cold War era and the Truman administration. (Bush has already done that.) He should be paying more attention to Francis Fukuyama's latest book "America at the Crossroads." Fukuyama like Beinart agrees that the war on terror must be fought more agressively and more intelligently. And, if it is to be successful, it must be done multilaterally and through international institutions.
In the current chastened environment, Beinart is correct in noting that humility is in order. He tells us that when America recognizes that it too is capable of evil it will then be in a better position to determine the fates of others. This is why he believes Democrats will be better able to fight the good as opposed Republicans who believe in American infallibility and who confuse American interests with universal values. It's time to start leading more by example and consensus than by force, more by negotiation and less by confrontation. This will be the tone of the next administration whether it is Democratic or Republican.
The argument is basically that when you look at the different outlooks--Liberalism, Leftism (embodied by Michael Moore and [...]), Exceptionalism (the conservative's outlook of American purity of actions in foreign policy), and isolationism (Pat Buchanan and the John Bircher's)--Liberalism is the most suitable for the very political struggle we are now engaged in. Liberalism sees that American actions are not necessarily pure in heart, that democracy is something we have to struggle to achieve every day, both here in the US and when we promote it abroad; that working with our allies and established institutions is preferable to going it alone as a policy for legitimacy purposes, etc.
Reading this book alongside Walter Russell Mead's "Special Providence" on the various schools of thought through the history of the United States' foreign policy would be worthwhile. All in all, I believe this book earns its reputation as a controversial book. Hopefully it will spark that much needed conversation, concluding with the realization by Americans that George Bush's policies are doing more harm than good. Its time to get his party and his fellow travelers out of power. Soon.
I highly recommend this book.
The first three chapters of this book are a recapitulation of the entire history of post-World War II American liberalism. The fourth chapter, "Qutb's Children," is about this generation of Americans' greatest enemy, whom Beinart describes as "Salafist totalitarians." It is immediately followed by a chapter entitled "Reagan's Children" explaining the predilections of the conservatives and neoconservatives running the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies. The last three chapters cover, respectively, the Iraq war and how it was sold (unsuccessfully) to the world and (successfully) to Americans; the 2004 election; and the issues and playing field both domestically and abroad as they stood in 2006, when the book was written.
Beinart did not anticipate the Great Recession, but his Afterword, written in late 2007, did anticipate the other great test that faced President Obama: the withdrawal from Iraq. Here is what he wrote about that:
"As Democrats approach 2008, they face multiple challenges. For starters, they must explain why withdrawal from Iraq can help, rather than hurt, America's long-term struggle against salafist terror. It would be dishonest to suggest that US withdrawal will not have real costs. It may give jihadists greater room to operate, and it will certainly allow them to claim victory, bolstering their argument that America is weak. But fighting a war we cannot win does not make America look strong any more than it did in Vietnam. What's more, Al Qaeda's presence in Iraq is small. Foreign salafists are tiny in number, and they are unpopular even among Iraq's Sunnis, who are now turning against them en masse. We are learning in Iraq, as we learned when Afghans rejoiced at the Taliban's overthrow in 2002, that salafism has limited ideological appeal. Its influence has been magnified in Iraq because our occupation allows jihadists to drape themselves in anti-imperialism's banner. Once America leaves, Al Qaeda in Iraq will be a problem, and will require a continued intelligence and special forces presence. If we are very unlucky, it might even become as big a threat as the jihadist fighters holed up in the frontier provinces of Pakistan, whose presence we have permitted (!) by shifting resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. But there is virtually no chance that Al Qaeda will run Iraq. And while the jihadists will gain propaganda value from claiming they defeated the United States, they will also lose their best recruiting vehicle: the sight of American troops occupying a Muslim country. Withdrawal from Iraq will be painful, but it will staunch the enormous damage that the occupation is doing to America's military, our ability to address other challenges, and our good name. And over time, with wise leadership, America will come back (to preeminence on the world stage, not to Iraq, he means)."
I believe it would be fruitful for people reading this review to unpack this paragraph and its assumptions in comments on this review. All the same, the spectacle of the Islamic State does compel me to finally (at least for the next few years) cast my lot with the national greatness liberals against the anti-imperial left. That doesn't mean I will vote for Hillary. It means, rather, that I accept that the use of American military force may, in some limited situations, be more moral than letting a totalitarian ideology seize power. America's loss of the Vietnam War did not herald the end of freedom worldwide (and may even have delayed the end of the Cold War). But most of our major wars have not been so misbegotten; the Korean War, for example, allowed us to preserve what is today one of Asia's most vibrant and democratic societies against a threat from a uniquely evil neighbor (which unlike most of its Communist allies has remained uniquely evil).
After this book, Beinart wrote what I suspect is a somewhat more substantive one comparing the three great mistakes of American foreign policy in the last 100 years: our interventions respectively in World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq. "The Good Fight" is a well-written book and makes me more likely to read that book. More importantly, it makes me more willing to defend an assertive American role in the world as long as assertiveness is matched by realism and tamed by self-restraint. It came out recently that the chief limitation of the American airstrikes against the Islamic State is that they are carefully calibrated to avoid killing more than a few civilians. But this is as much an asset as a limitation. The use of force is most legitimate when the enemy is clearly killing more innocent people than we are. If we were to kill more Iraqi Sunnis than the Islamic State did, we (and its other enemies) would have no hope of defeating it in Iraq. It may well be true that we have no realistic strategy to defeat it in Syria, but that does not mean that invading Syria is a solution (though such would probably be undertaken by the next Republican President if they were convinced that an invasion of Iran was impractical without a draft, as it is). Given that one necessary precondition for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, doing nothing in the Middle East does not make us good men and women.
Beinart's main thesis is that the Democratic party once demonstated a more nuanced and effective foreign policy than that of the Republicans and that it should be trusted and encouraged to take up the mantle of leadership in the current fight against the forces that threaten world peace.
The author refers to the centrist liberals of a half century ago who valiantly opposed Communism. Pray tell, what does that have to do with today's reality? At this very moment Democrats Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congresswoman Jane Harman are being persecuted by the leftwing elements within their own party. The Connecticut senator may even have to run as an independent. Even Hillary Clinton is feeling the heat. Could they all fit in a telephone booth If there was a national convention of fighting Democrats? Yesterday's liberals often believed there were things worthy of enormous self-sacrifice even to the point of death. Their progeny, on the other hand, are often nothing less than disingenuous pacifists. Subconsciously, if not even consciously, the United States is perceived to be the main threat to peace in the world. How can they die for something they don't really believe in?
Do I totally disagree with the author? Nope, he accurately rebukes the Bush administration for not realizing "before the war that Iraq democracy had to be built, and not simply unleashed." He also says a few others things in The Good Fight deserving of a hearing. But so what? He is first, last, and foremost, a Democrat. He is, to be blunt, on the side of the losers. These individuals are rarely serious adults. Only Republicans can be trusted with the defense of the United States. Is it possible that Peter Beinart may be upset with my remarks? Well, that is his problem and not mine. He was granted an opportunity to make a strong case for his position---and failed to do so. I can only conclude that Beinart, in his heart of hearts, knew that his project was doomed before it ever started.
Flares into Darkness