Anne-Marie Slaughter’s op-ed in the Post makes about as much sense as all of those teary-eyed columns written last summer about how poor Joe Lieberman was being “purged” from his party by “extremists.” It hails from the same ideological universe: this is the place where being “moderate” and “centrist” consists in adopting the most irresponsible and dangerous establishment ideas as your guiding principles and refusing to yield no matter how much evidence there is that these ideas are horribly wrong. As a “centrist,” you believe that these ideas are inherently good, regardless of whether they make any sense, because they are not held by large numbers of people from both parties. This proves that the ideas are sufficiently high-minded and unsullied by anything as unimportant as constituents’ interests, informed understanding of the relevant problems or effective methods of addressing the problem at hand. It is not “extreme,” and it is reformist–this is enough. It also involves being open to “bipartisanship,” which is the means by which the horrible “centrist” ideas are implemented.
For “centrists,” partisanship can be found in anything and everything that thwarts the “centrist” consensus. Moderation is defined by adherence to that general consensus–in this way Secretary Gates, Negroponte and Zoellick can be described as “seasoned moderates,” even though they have been active participants in foreign and trade policies that could hardly be described as moderate. Before he was U.N. Ambassador in the run-up to the invasion, Negroponte was an old Cold War Central America hand involved in some of the shadier operations down there and long before he was in the Pentagon Gates was the CIA deputy director tied up in Iran-Contra and someone who advocated bombing Nicaragua. Whatever you think about the intervention in Nicaragua, Gates was not one of the “moderates” then and he still isn’t today. It is only when compared with Rumsfeld that Gates has appeared as the steady, sane alternative. Zoellick, in his former role as U.S. Trade Representative, was a leading cheerleader for the Doha round, which seems very sensible and “moderate” to the establishment and which strikes many of the rest of us as anything but that.
Another example of “bipartisanship” feted by Slaughter is CNAS, a think tank whose board includes a Who’s Who of undesirable old Clinton-era Cabinet members and the odd refugee from the Bush administration (Armitage). There is one slight surprise–Gen. Newbold, the only one of the anti-Rumsfeld retired generals who retired before the invasion because he would not participate in it, is also on the board there. Let’s just say he is keeping distinctly odd company, when the think tank’s advisors include the perpetually wrong Michael O’Hanlon (how does that guy still get taken seriously?).
The Bolton and Wurmser examples are funny. Of course Bolton and Wurmser object to diplomatic tracks with North Korea and Iran. They are people who always oppose diplomatic tracks with such regimes. This is not an example of “partisan” pushback, but an intra-Republican fight between hegemonists and those more inclined towards “realism.” Further, these criticisms came as the result of changes in administration policy, and not as a response to bipartisan talking shops or the appointment of Bob Gates to be SecDef. For these things to be related, you would have to be able to show that Bolton and Wurmser said what they said as a protest against the appointment of the supposedly “seasoned moderates” to key positions. Except that this doesn’t make any sense, since two of the “moderates” already served the administration in one capacity or another and the nomination of Gates was met with relatively little opposition on the right.
Tony Smith’s op-ed made a good deal of sense, since many neoliberals have been enablers of neocon foreign policy. He did not say that they were the only villains in the story, but was drawing attention to the shocking staying power of a foreign policy view on the left, embodied in the DLC and its think tank, PPI, that has been shown to be woefully misguided. These DLC types were practicing bipartisanship like it was going out of style, and it was bipartisanship in the service of a bad cause. Lind’s argument was of an entirely different kind, and had little to do with bipartisanship or partisanship–he was criticising a tendency among some prominent liberal internationalists to embrace democratising, imperialistic and interventionist views. His point was that these foreign policy figures were tainting liberal internationalism’s supposedly good name by taking it in dangerous, militant and unsustainable directions. As I made clear at the time, I don’t think Lind’s own position makes much sense, but his argument concerned an intra-liberal quarrel that had to do with the merits of democracy promotion and interventionism as such. As it happens, the people he labels “heretics” are reliable Democratic “centrists” on foreign policy (Ivo Daalder, for example), which is why Lind can be labeled as a “partisan”–because he criticises prominent “centrists.”
All in all, Slaughter’s op-ed is one more installment in the Post‘s never-ending series dedicated to the idea that nothing is so wrong with Washington or America that more Beltway collaboration and insiderism can’t set it right.