EconomistMom Talks About Barack Obama and Fiscal Responsibility
Barry Eichengreen on Asian Macro Policy

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Peter Beinart Strikes Again Edition)

It is safe to say that Peter Beinart makes a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care:

Balancing Act: The Other Wilsonianism The contrast with the development of modern conservative foreign policy is instructive. When William F. Buckley, James Burnham, and the other founding editors of National Review set out in the 1950s to devise a conservative approach to the Cold War, they did so in the full knowledge that their views were wildly outside the political mainstream. (In fact, Buckley and Burnham did not even live in Washington.) Yet they continued to elaborate and refine them, making few concessions to political necessity, until in 1976 and 1980, when Ronald Reagan brought first the Republican Party, and then the entire country, around to their worldview...

Burnham's and Buckley's foreign policy was "Rollback": a titanic Manichean struggle of total Cold War against a totalitarian adversary that could not be softened or negotiated with or contained--that was Buckley's and Burnham's critique of Harry S Truman, Dean Acheson, George F. Kennan, George Marshall, and the other graduates of what Nixon called "Acheson's Cowardly College of Communist Containment."

What was Ronald Reagan's foreign policy? Well, let's roll the videotape, from 1985:

Remarks to the Students and Faculty at Fallston High School As you know, Nancy and I returned almost 2 weeks ago from Geneva where I had several lengthy meetings with General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. I had more than 15 hours of discussions with him, including 5 hours of private conversation just between the two of us. I found him to be a determined man, but one who is willing to listen. And I told him about America's deep desire for peace and that we do not threaten the Soviet Union and that I believe the people of both our countries want the same thing -- a safer and better future for themselves and their children. You know, people don't start wars, governments do. Our meeting should be of special importance to all of you. I know you're concerned about the future, about the growth in nuclear arsenals, about injustice and persecution of fellow human beings, and about threats to peace around the world. Well, it's because I shared that concern that I went to Geneva to begin a dialog for peace with Mr. Gorbachev....

We were realistic going into these meetings with the Soviets. The United States and the Soviet Union are as different as any two nations can be. These differences are based on opposing philosophies and values and no differences could be more profound or meaningful. It is virtually impossible for us to understand their system and how, over these -- what -- 70 years, it has imposed a way of thinking on their people. So, we didn't expect miracles. But we wanted these talks, if possible, to plant the seeds of hope in our relationship, the hope that some day, perhaps, might blossom into a real peace, a lasting peace, resting upon the only foundation on which a true peace can be built -- the indestructible foundation of human freedom. And I was determined to see if we could begin to narrow some of our differences and even come to some agreements where there was common ground. I believe that we've made a good start.

This is the mission I've come to speak to you about. One of the most exciting developments to come out of Geneva was Mr. Gorbachev's agreement to people-to-people exchanges. We're still negotiating the specifics, and it remains to be seen how much the Soviets will be willing to open up their closed society. But our objective is massive exchange programs between private citizens in both countries -- between people, not government bodies. Let's allow the people of the Soviet Union and the people of the United States to get to know each other, without governments getting in the way. And that's one reason I'm here today -- to encourage young people like you from across the country to take part in these people-to-people exchanges as never before in our history. I believe such contacts are an essential part of our building a lasting foundation for peace, because true peace must be based on openness and people talking to each other rather than about each other, and the peace must also be based on understanding....

Mr. Gorbachev, as the leader of the Soviet Union -- the new leader -- has held out the promise of change. He has said that he wants better relations between our two nations....

I couldn't help but -- one point in our discussions privately with General Secretary Gorbachev -- when you stop to think that we're all God's children, wherever we may live in the world, I couldn't help but say to him, just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species, from another planet, outside in the universe. We'd forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries, and we would find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this Earth together. Well, I don't suppose we can wait for some alien race to come down and threaten us, but I think that between us we can bring about that realization...

Once George Shultz, Nancy Reagan, and Nancy Reagan's astrologer had wrested control of the Reagan administration foreign policy apparat from Alexander Haig and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Reagan (and even more so George H.W. Bush) was squarely in the "Containment"--not the "Rollback"--tradition.

To Peter Beinart's claim that Reagan's foreign policy was "Buckley['s and] Burnham['s]... conservative approach to the Cold War," all I can do is laugh and say: "Klaatu Barada Nikto!!"

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Comments