Tuesday, June 6, 2006

"...and you are no Harry Truman."

Peter Beinart’s WaPo column on Thursday complained that the Republican camp has hijacked Harry Truman. Guilty - we’ve hijacked Harry Truman. Conservatives agree that it was almost Truman who annunciated the Bush Doctrine, when he said: “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.” And Beinart too agrees that in this anti-totalitarian stance, Bush and Truman have much in common, but asserts that this is in no way justification for the frequent comparisons.

No no no, think Beinart, and au contraire. It is in this militarism, and only in this, that there is a similarity. In every other meaningful way, Bush and Truman are nearly opposites. After all, didn’t Truman also say, "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please." And how unlike Mr. Bush this is, who clearly always does as he pleases.

Truman promoted peace by aligning himself with “powerful international institutions, which could invest American power with the credibility that the Soviets lacked.” Bush could never do this, right? That whole UN thing with Afghanistan doesn’t count, for some reason, and the so-called Coalition of the Willing in Iraq is just a big joke – no credibility could possibly come from it, among those of a certain political persuasion, such as Mr. Beinart’s. I mean, Truman would never have wanted America to lead. That would be wrong. Somehow.

Truman supported the ideas of the United Nations, and NATO, and the World Bank, and the IMF, and the World Trade Organization. These self-imposed counterbalances to American power were somehow a good thing by Truman’s lights, and Beinart’s. “Truman also believed that spreading democracy required combating economic despair.” Thus the Marshall Plan, to rebuild war-ravaged Europe.

In contrast, Bush trashed the Kyoto Treaty, and spurns the International Criminal Court, and distrusts the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In “the Bush administration, opposing infringements on U.S. sovereignty has become a cardinal foreign policy principle.”

Well. I pause for a moment, to smile a crooked smile. Yes. Mr. Beinart seems to suppose that this difference is most telling and invalidates any meaningful comparison. My question is this: What has been the lesson of history, in these matters? Has the UN fulfilled its charter? Has the public dream of its founders been realized? Is the UN a force in this world for order and justice? Those who are informed in the matter, I believe, will say it has not been such a force. Has the IMF, with its loans of billions of dollars to underdeveloped nations, improved those nations? Are these countries now dynamic engines of wealth and opportunity? Or have such loans simply disappeared into the bottomless pit of incompetence and corruption, leaving only a legacy of massive debt for governments, and despair for the populations? Those who are informed in the matter are not optimistic. NATO? It is an arm of American will, or it is nothing at all. And so on.

As for the Marshal Plan – uh, was it 187 quadrillion dollars that we sent to Iraq for just that purpose? Memory fails. But Mr. Beinart has dismissed or forgotten it entirely, for some reason, for all that the purposes of these two rebuilding plans are identical: to build a strong and strategeric ally. I wonder then what Beinart’s point could be? It must be that Bush is a moron who looks like a chimp.

Where Truman has been vindicated – in his active, aggressive resistance to tyranny – we find a clear agreement in philosophy with Bush. But Bush looks for no guidance from or similarity to Truman in his Democrat-faith in committees and bureaucracies. These have after all proven to be an opium eater’s nightmare, and to follow them would be - would be, uh, moronic. Here, then we find the whole point of the conservatives’ Truman-Bush comparison. We do not imitate failure.

To me, the most telling sentence in Beinart’s piece is this: “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.” Beinart seems rather snide in his allusion to American power, but that’s just the liberal position, and we must overlook it. And he is sarcastic about the idea that Bush thinks that he is right and those who disagree with him are wrong. I’ll make no comment at all, as to that.

The bias in Beinart’s view turns to bigotry in the phrase “we don’t need to listen…” Bush has listened, and disagrees. He saw the idealism of the UN perverted into bribery and fraud, and child molestation. He saw the hope of the IMF degenerate into waste and greater poverty. He did listen to these lessons, and learned. It seems that Bush’s great offence, in hijacking the legacy of Truman, is in agreeing only with the ideas that turned out to be good ones. That’s discrimination.


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