While I don’t like Peter Beinart, that’s mostly because I resent that myopic liberal hawks like him, who see a threat where none exists, have hijacked the liberal internationalist movement. See Andrew O’Hehir for more on that. I don’t like Chuck Peña for totally different reasons. It’s because he despises liberal internationalism in general:
In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Peter Beinart — former editor of The New Republic, who has declared that only liberals can win the war on terror (the self-proclaimed subtitle of his new book) — offers up a weak mea culpa for “mistakenly” backing the Iraq war but lauds President Clinton’s “multilateral war to prevent the neo-fascist Slobodan Milosevic from cleansing ethnic Albanians from their homes.” What he conveniently ignores is that Clinton’s war in the Balkans was no different than the Bush administration’s so-called unilateral invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. Both were military actions against sovereign states conducted without the formal approval of the UN Security Council and neither represented an imminent threat to U.S. security — and both were rationalized on humanitarian grounds. As long as liberals like Beinart cannot fathom that liberal internationalism (or what he calls anti-totalitarian liberalism) is fundamentally the same thing as neoconservatism as implemented by the Bush administration, liberals cannot hope to fashion together a policy and strategy to win the war on terror.
Neoconservatives and liberal internationalists agree on exactly two things: (a) democracy and human rights are probably good and (b) America should probably do something to advance them. That’s where the similarities end. Neoconservatives disdain alliances, don’t care for diplomacy or treaties, and are fine with overthrowing states and building nothing in their place. Liberal internationalists always work multilaterally, use diplomacy and negotiations before forces, and think that limited wars, like those in Bosnia and Kosovo, are more successful humanitarian enterprises that regime changes.
This shows what’s different between Iraq and Kosovo. Kosovo was conducted under NATO, which, while not the UN, was a legitimate international authority. There was a true alliance running the operation. Also, the goal, ending the genocide in Kosovo, was very limited and achievable. And, indeed, it was achieved quickly, and with no lost American troops. Iraq was conducted by a coalition in name only, without any international body endorsing it, and had a goal (disarming Saddam) that was both attainable through diplomacy and far too expensive to do through military operation.
Peña may be right. This may just be a difference of tactics. But tactics matter. The key difference between neoconservatives and liberal internationalists is that while both want American power to be used for liberal ideals, liberal internationalists do it right, while neoconservatives just don’t.