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: In wartime, does trust in the executive strengthen or weaken democracy?
Peter Beinart: That’s a very interesting question. I don’t think one can say as a blanket statement that America . . . that American . . . I think there are perils in both. There are . . . There are perils in too much trust in government. And I think you saw that to some degree in the 1960s with America’s legacy and intervention into Vietnam. And even to . . . I think to a slightly lesser degree, you saw that with the way . . . of Iraq after a period . . . particularly after 9/11 when Americans were more trusting of their leaders and wanted to believe and then follow their leaders. So there . . . Excessive trust can be dangerous, particularly when it leads to the Congress, and the judiciary, and the press being complacent in their . . . in their acceptance of the official version of events. On the other hand, too radical a distrust can prevent government from being able to function effectively; that public leaders . . . public . . . You want public leaders to earn their people’s trust by being honest with them; by being effective in what they do. Because unless the government . . . the government is able to earn some degree of public trust, it is not able to bring Americans along the hard decisions. So it was very important in Franklin Roosevelt taking America into World War II that he was able to bring . . . to develop the trust of the American people. Obviously Pearl Harbor made a . . . made a big difference in our entrance into World War II; but the . . . Franklin Roosevelt was very shrewd about recognizing the degree that he had to build trust in the American . . . amongst the American people, and even amongst people of the opposing party, which is why he systematically brought Republicans and political opponents in to work with him on foreign policy in order that he could maintain the trust to bring Americans to do something which is very difficult, which is to send our troops again into a European war.
Recorded on: 9/12/07