Why Liberals Must Lead the War on Terror

Thirty-four years ago when I first became a candidate for public office, I had to ask myself one basic question: what did I stand for? How would I present myself to the voting public?

The answer turned out to be fairly simple – I was a pro-defense liberal. That may sound somewhat strange today, but it was not that unusual at the time.

After all, I grew up admiring a Democratic president, Harry Truman, who had saved western Europe, Greece and Turkey from communism with the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine following World War II. And I greatly admired President John F. Kennedy, who had faced down the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I was, and am, a liberal on most domestic issues -- becoming actively pro-civil rights as a result of growing up in the segregated south, and coming to favor a woman’s right to choose after having clerked for U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the author of the lower court decision in Roe vs. Wade.

And now along comes Peter Beinart’s new book, "The Good Fight – Why Liberals – and only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.”

Beinart, a young, articulate editor and writer for the New Republic, has explained in great detail why liberals who adhere to their traditional pro-defense position can successfully lead our country in the war against terror. It’s something I have been thinking about for a long time.

Beinart and I both supported President Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since then, we have both had serious second thoughts because of the degree of false information about weapons of mass destruction put forward by the Bush administration to justify the use of force against Saddam Hussein, and the sloppy way this administration has handled the situation in Iraq after the initial combat success.

However, as Beinart correctly points out in his book, this does not mean that liberals should also oppose strong action against radical Muslim jihadists who conspire to harm our country. Quite the contrary, liberals should be at the forefront of the fight against terrorists like Usama bin Laden-- just as liberals fought communists for control of American labor unions in the 1940’s, and just as liberals kept communism out of western Europe following World War II.

We truly live in a dangerous world and the United States should lead the way in ridding the world of Al Qaeda. To accomplish this, liberals should support a strong U.S. military and significant funding for homeland security. Many traditional liberals, both in Congress and in the general public, have done just that.

In Beinart’s view, liberals must shake the post-Vietnam syndrome and support the use of force by the United States when appropriate to advance our national interest. They can’t let Bush’s failures in Iraq prevent use from using force wisely in other places in the world.

Beinart also addresses something that has personally concerned me for many years…America’s role in promoting democracy around the world. He and I both believe that it is in our national interest to promote democracy whenever possible.

However, Beinart makes the point that our efforts to promote Democracy in other nations have been seriously undermined by the Bush administration's actions: curbing civil liberties at home as a part of the war on terror, ignoring international law in its treatment of prisoners captured as a part of the war on terror.

Nations that in the past have admired the United States and our democratic system are starting to lose faith in us.

Beinart also makes a second point about the way our own conduct is undercutting the effort to spread democracy. He argues that the Bush administration’s moral certainty that America is perfect and can never make mistakes rings hollow with much of the rest of the world. I agree.

While in Kyrgyzstan recently, I spoke to international students attending the American University from throughout Central Asia. I made the point that one of the real strengths of the United States is that we are not perfect, but that we keep striving to improve our system of government as we did with progress in civil rights during the 1960’s. Nothing I said impressed those students more than the admission that even the United States is a work in progress, and that democracy permits us to constantly renew and improve our system of government.

Beinart makes a compelling case that the liberal tradition in America stands for a strong country, both at home and abroad, and that liberals who reaffirm this tradition are best suited to win the war on terror because we will not sacrifice fundamental rights in the process; we will continue to make America a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.

His book should be read by everyone who loves America and loves democracy.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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