The first area of dispute is how much domestic policies influenced our victory in the cold war. I forwarded the argument that America got significantly more aggressive in fighting for civil rights because having a Jim Crow system significantly reduced our credibility in the third world, the battle ground of the cold war. Mr. Mirengoff thinks this thesis is "overblown." I've been sufficiently persuaded by my readings of Derrick Bell, Mary Dudziak, and Richard Delgado to think that it had a considerable role. (Incidentally, for those of you scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I'm talking about, I typed up a bare bones explanation of the scholarly history behind this idea). Again, I find this evidence convincing, but if you don't agree, you don't agree.
But granting that it had some effect, Mr. Mirengoff then challenges me as follows:
Let's assume that the Justice Department intervened in Brown v. Board of Education because diplomats said it would help us defeat Communism. Let's assume that Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the same reason. What's missing is evidence that these moves had anything to do with us winning the Cold War decades later during the conservative Reagan administration.
I could be really snide and agree with Paul on the grounds that Reagan's overt hostility to the civil rights movement makes it difficult to ascribe to that same movement our victory in the Cold War. But that would be mean (and counter-productive). So I'll just make two arguments here.
First, this seems incompatible with how conservatives view Reagan's contribution to ending the Cold War. Sure, they'll go on about winning the arms race and muscling the USSR under as crucial components to Reagan's strategy. But where they really wax poetic is in talking about the bold moral challenge Reagan put out to confront the Soviet Union. In other words, they do recognize the importance of drawing sharp moral contrasts between "the land of the free and the home of the brave", on the one side, and the "evil empire," on the other. Civil rights is obviously a critical part of this.
Second, Mr. Mirengoff is proposing a counter-factual scenario. We can't, of course, go back and see what the upshot of the Cold War would have been had Brown gone the other way, or the Civil Rights Act never been signed. I have serious trouble believing that we would have done as well in the Cold War had we not taken significant, tangible steps to show we were serious about protecting (non-White) rights, especially given the importance of non-White countries in prosecuting the war. Mr. Mirengoff apparently believes it would have had no effect--we could have gone completely Bull Connor and done just as well in our diplomatic efforts in Africa, South and Central America, Asia, et al. This is agree-to-disagree part number two, again, let the reader decide.
The next question is what degree liberal norms help convince wavering Muslims that democracy is in their interests. I argued that the case for democracy is seriously weakened when people see some of the worst trappings of authoritarianism (torture, detention without trial, "ghost" internment camps) still happen inside of democracy's biggest cheerleaders. Paul responds as follows:
There's no doubt that genuine human rights abuses like Abu Ghraib can create anti-Americanism. It's conceivable that they can even cause people to take up arms against us. What's far-fetched, I believe, is the view that human rights abuses by Americans will cause people who might prefer self-government over a dictatorship to decide that a dictatorship is better after all. Arabs can certainly have a democratic government without adopting specifically American policies, a point that critics of the administration are fond of making.
I have three responses here. First, even if American human rights abuses "only" cause "anti-Americanism" and "cause people to take up arms against us," those are still Really Bad Things that make it more difficult to effectively fight and win the war on terror. So I'd say that even this minimal concession is proof positive that American human rights violations are counter-productive to fighting this war, ipso facto, the party that fights against those abuses gains a unique advantage in prosecuting the war effort.
Second, I'm not sure that I do believe American human rights abuses have no role in causing anti-democratic sentiment. A Sunni in Iraq might very well conclude that having a Sunni dictator is superior to democracy, if "democracy" means that the Shi'ite controlled government is sending out death squads and slaughtering his compatriots and political leaders. One might respond that this would be an Iraqi-perpetuated rights violation, not an American one, and thus falls outside our control. But I don't think that neat division of labor is coming across--Sunnis (rightfully) expect America to do everything it can to stop the government from oppressing them, when it was the American's who promised that this democracy thing would be the cat's meow. As long as Iraq is effectively an American client state (which it is as long as we still have hundreds of thousands of troops in the nation), it is on our heads to send the message that torture is intolerable from the government we're propping up. This is why liberals like me swooned over Peter Pace when he told Donald Rumsfeld publicly, to his face, that American troops have an obligation to intervene to stop inhumane conduct by Iraqi forces. Rumsfeld thought they should just look the other way. So this view-clash is present, and it pits folks like me and Pace, who think that America does have a role to play in preventing Iraqis from torturing each other, and the Bush administration, which doesn't care at all.
Third our goals for Iraq are not encompassed merely in the phrase "democracy." We don't just want a democracy, we want a vaguely liberal democracy that respects the rights of its citizens and (among other things) doesn't discriminate on the basis of religion (in Iraq, that's the big one). So now working from the Shi'ite side of things, they might decide that a theocratic democracy is superior to a liberal one if "liberal democracy" still means Abu Gharib. This might be what Paul means when he says that Iraqis can choose their own form of democracy, and he may well be right that we should allow them this choice. But to reiterate, Iraq turning into a theocratic-leaning democracy hostile to America still represents a case of a Really Bad Thing that makes our war on terror harder. So policies which make that outcome more likely vis-a-vis a more liberal democracy are also Really Bad Things that make our job harder.
Finally, Mr. Mirengoff is just skeptical that most Democrats actually believe all of this. He cites Beinart's call to "purge" the more leftist elements from the Democratic party. I might even sign onto this, but I think it's a smaller portion of the party than Paul does. For example, he tries to group on "MoveOn" and "Michael Moore" with "the Kos crowd", but of course these groups are not the same (Moore, for example, isn't a member of the Democratic party). Again, this is kind of one of those "agree to disagree" moments. All I can say is that I'm a hawkish Democrat who goes to bleeding heart liberal college, and while I see a lot of fury at President Bush (which I share, incidentally), I have not encountered many opinions incompatible with a Beinart-like view on foreign policy. Differences at the margins and in the mechanics, of course, but the basic principles seem relatively widely held: that radical Muslim extremism is an awful thing incompatible with basic liberal norms, that America needs to fight it, that this fight needs to be conducted constrained by certain moral considerations, both because it's right and because we won't win if we don't, and that this fight will at times involve the use of American military forces. I feel comfortable ascribing these basic beliefs to the majority of Carleton Democrats, who I think themselves are mostly left of the party median.