LIBERALISM AND TERROR....A FOLLOWUP....I want to follow up a bit on my response to Peter Beinart's TNR article, "A Fighting Faith." As you recall, Beinart argued that liberals need to get serious about terrorism and purge the MoveOn/Michael Moore wing of the Democratic party. I argued that he had put the cart before the horse: before he recommended purging anybody, he first needed to persuade liberals that Islamic totalitarianism posed a grave threat to the security of the country. Unsurprisingly, several people had, um, frank and candid comments about all this.

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.

Third and finally, when I suggested that I wanted Beinart to write an article spelling out the danger of Islamic totalitarianism, I wasn't taking sides. All I meant was that I'd really like him to write the article. Why? Because I'd really like to read it.

The Washington Monthly: "LIBERALISM AND TERROR....A FOLLOWUP..."


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