Peter Beinart
Editor-at-Large, The New Republic

Re: How do we make America secure?

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America's obligation to protect other countries and vice versa.

Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart has been at The New Republic since 1999, where he is a journalist and editor-at-large. He is also a contributor to Time magazine and writes a monthly column for the Washington Post. Beinart graduated in 1993 from Yale University, where he was a member of the Yale Political Union. In 1995, he received his MA in international relations from Oxford University, which he attended on a Rhodes Scholarship. Critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war and its aftermath, Beinart was nonetheless a vocal supporter of the war itself, defending that position on the PBS show Buying The War, with Bill Moyers. However, in Beinart's book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals-and Only Liberals-Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006), which he expanded from an essay as a guest scholar at The Brookings Institution, he renounced his position, claiming that if he'd known then what he knows now about the capitulation of the War on Terror, he wouldn't have supported it in the first place. Beinart is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Question: How do we make America secure?

Peter Beinart: Well national security, I think, is fundamentally about how you keep America as safe and as prosperous as possible; and what are the conditions that you try to influence in the world to make that possible. And the traditional liberal claim, I would argue, has been that cooperation with other nations is central to those things to America being able to achieve security and prosperity; that in a sense the last 90 or 100 years of American foreign policy since America essentially became a global power has been the increasing recognition of our interdependence with the rest of the world. Increasing recognition of the ways in which larger . . . larger and larger swaths of humanity in more and more different ways can do things that can profoundly benefit us for good or for ill. That’s what Woodrow Wilson realized when he brought America into World War I, because he recognized that America couldn’t be prosperous unless we could safely trade with Europe – which we couldn’t do because Europe was at war; what Franklin Roosevelt recognized when he saw the possibility of a Nazi-dominated Europe potentially threatening the western hemisphere, or turning America into a kind of a garrison state in which we sacrificed our own freedom in order to protect against the Nazis. It’s what the . . . what Truman, I think, and the Cold War liberals recognized about the Soviet Union; that again a Soviet-dominated Europe would be a threat to American prosperity and ultimately safety, particularly in a nuclear world. And I think it’s, again, what we learned after 9/11. We’ve seen the multiple ways in which . . . in which jihadist terrorists, or now even . . . even . . . even other forces like . . . like . . . like disease in the form of bird flu, or global warming, or economic instability like we saw in the late 1990s even arising from countries that are quite on the periphery of the international system – poor countries like say Afghanistan, or Chinese villages that incubates a bird flu actually could have profound consequences for our prosperity and our security. And the liberal answer to that has been neither to try to isolate America, and to wall America off from these forces; nor to try to dominate the rest of the world in an imperial way; but to try to cooperate, to recognize that if we ask other countries . . . If we say that other countries have obligations to us in order to protect our security and prosperity, then we also have obligations to them. It’s that . . . that fundamental notion of moral reciprocity that I think lies at the heart of the liberal foreign policy vision.

Recorded on: 9/12/07