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The Crucial Difference Between Liberals and Leftists

04/14/2006 12:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In his recent account of a breakfast book party at the home of Tina Brown and Harry Evans, Eric Alterman misquoted me slightly but significantly. What I actually said was "the hate America tendency of the [Democratic Party's] left wing" had made it harder for Democrats to challenge Republicans on foreign policy. Alterman had me castigating the "liberal wing" of the party, which I was careful not to do. There is a crucial difference between liberals and leftists, especially on foreign policy--even though Republicans (and leftist-wingers) have successfully conflated the two over the past few decades. The default position of leftists like, say, Michael Moore and many writers at The Nation, is that America is essentially a malignant, imperialistic force in the world and the use of American military power is almost always wrong. Liberals have a more benign, and correct, view of America's role in the world and tend to favor the use of military force if it is exercised judiciously, as a last resort, and in a multilateral contect--with U.N. approval or through NATO. The first Gulf War, the overthrow of the Taliban and the Kosovo intervention met these criteria; Bush's Iraq invasion clearly did not. That was the point I was trying to make at breakfast.