Ari Berman’s “The Strategic Class” is making its way around the internet circuit, and the verdict on his piece is that it is compelling and pretty much lays out the reality of the Democratic party’s national security establishment.
Berman takes on Senators Biden and Clinton, Peter Beinart, Brookings, and many others for adopting somewhat of a “Zell Miller Lite” position on the war and American defense policy.
I respect Joe Biden and think that his take on the war and what to do next are less fixed than Ari Berman may portray, but Berman did not make up Biden’s past statements. But introspection and reassessment is what we should want from those Berman targets in order to have the kind of honest debate in the country — in both parties, and in Democratic circles — so that we can move in a more sensible foreign policy direction.
To do that, we need to bring the Bidens, Clintons, and others back and hopefully get them to understand that the gamble Bush took on Iraq punctured much of America’s mystique and standing in the world.
I happened to be at George Soros’s 75th birthday party last night, and saw and spoke with Senator Biden there yesterday evening and again at a Hamptons brunch today. In discussion last night, it was clear to me that Biden does believe Bush has badly misled the nation. It will be interesting to see how he further articulates this as his presidential campaign and aspirations further develop.
General Wes Clark was also there, and while I won’t quote him at this point (as I want him to write up our conversation as an op-ed), we had an extensive conversation about Iran and Iraq, and I thought Clark’s suggestions on what America should be doing now on both fronts were novel and deserve serious attention. I’m hoping to have General Clark join us at the terrorism conference I am helping to organized on September 6-7 in Washington — but even if he can’t be there — by way of this blog, I’m encouraging him to get his action plan out into the public.
Here is one selection of Ari Berman’s excellent piece:
Biden and Clinton still have more influence than antiwar politicians like Ted Kennedy or Russ Feingold. No one has replaced Holbrooke or Albright. Pollack continues to thrive at Brookings and, despite never visiting the country, has a new book out about Iran. Shortly after the election, Beinart penned a 5,683-word essay calling on hawkish Democrats to repudiate “softs” like MoveOn.org and Michael Moore; the essay won Beinart–already a fellow at Brookings–a $650,000 book deal and high-profile visibility on the Washington ideas circuit.
Subsequently a statement of leading policy apparatchiks on the PPI publication Blueprint challenged fellow Democrats to make fighting Islamic totalitarianism the central organizing principle of the party. Replace the words “Al Qaeda” with “Soviet Union” and the essay seemed straight out of 1947-48; the militarized post-9/11 climate of fear had reincarnated the cold war Democrat.
A number of leading specialists signed a letter by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century asking Congress to boost the defense budget and increase the size of the military by 25,000 troops each year over the next several years. The “Third Way” group of conservative Senate Democrats recently introduced a similar proposal.
“There’s an approach which says, ‘Let’s raise the stakes and call,'” says former Senator Gary Hart, a rare voice of principled opposition in the party today. “That if Republicans want a ten-division Army, let’s be for a twelve-division Army. I think that’s just nonsense, frankly. It’s stupid policy. Trying to get on the other side of the Republicans is folly, both politically and substantively.”
If Hart is correct, then why does so much of the Democratic strategic class march in lockstep? There’s no simple answer. The insularity of Washington, pressures of careerism, fear of appearing soft and the absence of institutional alternatives all contribute to a limiting of the debate. Bill Clinton’s misguided political dictum that the public “would rather have somebody who’s strong and wrong than somebody who’s weak and right” applies equally to the strategic class.
I think that Americans should deserve more in the way of “deliverables” from the national security establishment for the amount of resources — lives and money — that are going into national defense. Throwing more money and more lives at a system that is failing to deliver makes little sense, and many on both sides of the aisle simply see an ever-larger military as the only answer.
It’s time that sensible Republicans and Democrats re-assess, learn from the mistakes of this administration, and get out of the trap of thinking that a critique of our policies in Iraq, and frankly a critique of our foreign and defense policies in general, is appeasement. . .or disloyal. . .or a sign of anti-military/peaceniks.
Ari Berman’s piece helps move forward the debate that needs to happen among progressives.
— Steve Clemons