Domestic Politics vs. Foreign Policy

By Brian Beutler

I want to revisit yesterday’s post because, frankly, I think there’s more support for the Chait position in the comment thread than there really ought to be. For instance, Ted writes:

When we on the left talk about Gaza, our discourse is premised on the *possibility* of reconciliation. And we believe that a good-faith approach to the problem has to be based on the assumption that it’s not a zero-sum game.

When we talk about the Blue Dogs — or when Steiger talks about the culture war — our discourse is premised on the assumption that fancy talk about reconciliation really amounts to giving things up to the other side. We seem to believe that the only good-faith approach to the problem is one that assumes it *is* a zero-sum game.

When you focus on the question of whether things are, or are not, zero-sum games, it’s pretty clear to me that Chait does have a point. Personally I think we’re right about foreign policy, but slightly paranoid about domestic policy.

First, this whole argument rests on the idea that people should conceptualize disputes between nations, and political discord within nations, as similar conflicts with similar paths toward reconciliation. That’s obviously absurd. But I guess it’s what we’ve got.


Keep in mind, then, that liberal advocates in the United States run the gamut from absolutists straight through wankers moderates, all of whom argue from various platforms for their views to be represented in politics. I, like Kay, take a pretty firm position on reproductive rights. We have our foils in the conservative movement. And then, in the center, there are people who aren’t so hostile to concessions. Pretty standard stuff.

Notice a couple things, though. Not so long ago, the absolutists on the other side used to send bombs to abortion clinics, and otherwise terrorize their political foes. They don’t really do that anymore, and that, in its own way, counts as a form of political reconciliation. More recently, the government passed a partial birth abortion ban. This, to put it mildly, isn’t exactly what people like myself wanted. But that we didn’t turn around and join the ranks of a murderous pro-choice militia means, to some extent, we accept compromise as the price of doing politics peacefully, and this, too, is a form of political reconciliation.

When it comes to the conflict in the Middle East, though, a striking number of commenters and activists take absolutism much, much further. It’s not just that they argue against this or that compromise, but that they want those compromises to be avoided through the use of extraordinary violence. The moderates in the middle? The people who are amenable to compromise? They’re not just sell outs. They’re traitors, or antisemites, or self-hating Jews, or all of the above. This line is, obviously, much harder than any I take on any issue under the sun. In other words, I think the question should be flipped on Jon.

After several generations of negotiations and concessions, I may not think there’s much room for further reconciliation between pro-lifers and pro-choicers in the United States. That I don’t necessarily feel the same way about Israelis and Palestinians, though, doesn’t betray an inconsistency at all. Frankly, if that conflict began to resemble the culture wars in America, and the political debate cooled along with it, it would be the most promising development in the Middle East since the creation of modern Israel.