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LUNCHBLOGGING: Beinart Follow-Up

A little lunch blogging at the Schlotsky's with wireless access...

My friend Lex, in his inimitable style, had some issues with the Peter Beinart column I mentioned here, commenting that Dems were actually more serious about terrorism than the Republicans.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly also tackled Beinart's column here, and some of the readers' comments stood out, such as:

The Islamic radicals essentially want a theocracy in their own lands. They use modern technology as a means to an end (weapons, airliners) but they don't want to join the modern world. They are no threat if you leave them alone.

Personally, I think that the Republican party and its evil minions are the biggest threat to liberalism both here and abroad. Maybe I have to pretend to believe that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat in order to see my worldview triumphant again, but it would be dishonest for me to say that such an approach is anything other than dishonest.

You see a lot of comments like these (and of course counterarguments) all over the Atrios/Daily Kos side of the Web. I don't think the whole online activist segment of Democrats/progressives/liberals is unconcerned about terrorism, but I have seen a lot that makes me think that the party's grassroots activists -- the ones who want to "reform" the Democratic party -- really don't think a lot about terrorism, regardless of whatever foreign policy expertise there may be at the top of the party.

Am I overreacting to the pajamahadeen of the left, who may be out of step with the bulk (not the base) of their own party? Perhaps. But I have the sense that these guys have the momentum after the Dems' November thrashing. Either they're about to take over the DNC, or they're gonna walk, or at least tune out. Either way, their unwillingness to even seriously consider antiterrorism as a major issue is a major liability to those thoughtful Dems who want to protect our civil liberties and our national interests, chiefly our security. Kevin Drum follows up with these observations:

Let's take first things first: it's pretty clear that a lot of liberals really don't like being told they need to "get serious" about terrorism. And I don't blame them especially since regular readers know that I think Republicans are the ones who have trivialized terrorism by treating it more like a partisan wedge issue than a serious danger.

So let's be more precise: the charge isn't so much that liberals don't have a serious approach to terrorism, it's that liberals tend to think that terrorism and national security just aren't very important in the first place. Beinart provides one telling statistic to support this: 38% of Republican delegates to this year's national convention mentioned terrorism, defense, or homeland security as important issues. For Democratic delegates the total was 4%. Likewise, Matt Yglesias notes today that looking over the post-election roundtable at The Nation, the problem isn't dovishness, it's that nobody even bothers discussing national security at all. Whether or not liberals have serious ideas about combatting terrorism, I agree with Beinart that simple lack of interest in national security issues is a big problem for liberals.

Second, a number of people criticized Beinart for equating "tough on terrorism" with support for the Iraq war. But he didn't. There's no question that the Iraq war has warped the issue of terrorism so badly that it's almost impossible to unlink the two, but Beinart rather clearly refrained from criticizing Iraq skeptics as well he should have, since even TNR largely seems to have accepted by now that Iraq has been a disaster.

Rather, he criticizes MoveOn because they even opposed the Afghanistan war (and he criticizes Moore for flatly denying that terrorism is a real threat). This is quite a different thing, and a distinction that strikes me as pretty well justified. If the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden after 9/11 wasn't enough to justify military action, I'm not sure what is and I think it's fair to say that anyone who loudly opposed the Afghanistan war is just flatly opposed to any use of American military power at all. If this represents a sizable wing of the Democratic party, it's a big problem for us.


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