Politics By Other Means

By Brian Beutler

Jon Chait thinks he’s figured out why, to be consistent, American liberals need to support a “tough” (or is it morally serious?) foreign policy. Quoting my fellow guest poster Kay Steiger, Jon writes:

It’s kind of funny how, when it comes to domestic politics, many liberals employ assumptions about human nature that are wildly at odds with the assumptions they use about human nature when it comes to foreign policy. When you read the liberal blogs on domestic politics, concessions to the enemy are always counterproductive, will must be met with will, etc. When you read them on foreign policy, all those asumptions are flipped on their head. I’m not saying that these two sets of assumptions are completely impossible to reconcile, but it is pretty odd how easily they sit together.

For reasons I don’t understand, but which can’t possibly have anything to do with its seriousness, Kevin Drum calls it the “Quote of the Day”. “Discuss,” he says. Well, OK!

From La Tierra Sin Internet, Matt anticipates my own response:

The difference, obviously, is that nobody is proposing that Barack Obama KILL the GOP leadership, much less try to kill them while attempting to starve their civilian population base into submission. Conversely, nobody is denying that Israel (or whomever) has the right to use non-lethal hardball bargaining tactics.In general, liberals would like to see progressive politicians assert themselves more vigorously within the limits of the law and we would also like to see countries with strong militaries restrain their conduct so as to bring it into conformity with international law.

Exactly. I’d go further, though. To me, this reveals something extremely significant about the way American Israel hawks, and foreign policy hawks in general, conceive of the people on the other side of Israeli or American military aggression. Here in the United States liberals launch major political offensives against a variety nemeses all the time. Maybe we win some and maybe we lose some, but either way, the people on the other side–conservatives, say, or corporate interest groups–feel some sort of political heat. Usually, that’s about all there is to it. Occasionally things get out of hand, and someone slanders someone else. Maybe extremely rarely things get uglier still. To my knowledge, though, no anti-abortion activist in the United States has ever seen his house destroyed by a fighter plane.

That’s not simply because political violence is illegal in this country, but also because liberals (and, I think, most Americans) think that sort of behavior is unacceptable and counterproductive.

But if you’re a domestically liberal foreign policy hawk, and the issue isn’t abortion, say, but rather putting an end to rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli territory, then for some reason things are dramatically different. Suddenly political tactics become feckless, and military tactics the tools of first resort–particularly those at the most violent and ineffectual end of what’s feasible, laws be damned. The lives of Gazans? Worthy of less consideration, apparently, than are the reputations of the conservatives with whom you’ve forged an alliance of convenience.

Meanwhile, my sense is that if Nancy Keenan amassed a small army and started hunting down John Hagee and other prominent members of the Christian right, Jon Chait and various other writers at The New Republic would call for a return to civility. Does that make them morally unserious?