Saturday, June 03, 2006

What would Harry do?

In Thursday’s Washington Post, Peter Beinart wrote that at President Bush’s presentation at the West Point commencement last week he invoked the name of Harry Truman no fewer than seventeen times. In fact, as he points out, conservatives like to like to try to claim Truman as one of their own. The problem is they don’t like to give the whole picture of Truman. Beinart explains:
At West Point, Bush quoted Truman's famous declaration in his March
1947 speech proposing military aid to the besieged governments of Greece and
Turkey: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who
are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside
pressures."


But there are other Truman classics that Bush conveniently
overlooked. For instance: "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our
strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please."
Truman did not believe merely in promoting democracy and peace; he believed that doing so required powerful international institutions, which could invest
American power with the credibility that the Soviets lacked.


Bush, by contrast, more than any president in recent history, has
sought to liberate the United States from international treaties and
institutions -- from the Kyoto global warming treaty to the International
Criminal Court to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. To be sure, even Bill
Clinton sometimes had trouble getting international agreements through Congress.
But in the Bush administration, opposing infringements on U.S. sovereignty has
become a cardinal foreign policy principle. In Bush's view, American power
legitimizes itself -- we don't need to listen to other countries, because sooner
or later they will realize that we were right and they were wrong.


Truman also believed that spreading democracy required combating
economic despair. He allocated between 2.5 and 5 percent of U.S. national income
over four years to the Marshall Plan, in the belief that unless Europe's fragile
postwar democracies improved their people's lives, they were likely to fail.
Then, in his 1949 State of the Union address, he went further and proposed a
Marshall Plan for the Third World. In fact, while Truman increased military
spending, he and his advisers repeatedly described economic development as more important to the anti-communist cause.


Imagine how possibly different things might have turned out from the deteriorating situations in Iraq and Afghanistan if rebuilding those countries had been made a top priority following rather swift military victories and the resources to accomplish the rebuilding of those two countries had been committed to those ends.

Read the entire article here.

Speaking of Beinart, his recently published book,” The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again,” is creating quite a buzz. I haven’t read the book yet but promise to do so and write a short review. (However, I am reading a book that covers at least some of the same terrain from the 1940’s and 50’s, “When America was Great – The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism” by Kevin Mattson. I promise a short review of it when I finish.)

I do follow Beinart’s writings in the New Republic and generally like what he has to say. In a nutshell, he argues liberalism has been adrift for many years and needs to refocus on its strengths. Michael Singer has written a review of Beinart’s book at Democracy Arsenal which can be read here.

1 comment:

Paul said...

May I ask you if GWB has done anything good in your opinion? Harry Truman would call a spade a spade, but if he lived today I wonder how he would react to Islamic jihadism ?