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TheTypical Fallacy of the WSJ OpEd Page

The Wall Street Journal is indispenable. The news section brings interesting perspectives to the great issues of the day, the Marketplace and Money & Investing sections are always finely done, and even the Personal Journal has a mix of essential material.

That's why the opinion section is such a disappointment. The latest example: Bret Stephens' "Global View" column, entitled "Democrats Need A Foreign Policy Clue. Here's One" in yesterday's paper.

The immediate occasion for Stephens' piece is the new book, "With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Deafeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty," edited by Will Marshall of the Democratic Leadership Council.

I'm a big fan of Will Marshall and the DLC, and, while I haven't read the book, I'm sure it is typically outstanding. The list of contributors -- ranging from Ken Pollack to Graham Allison -- is certainly impressive.

But Stephens uses the opportunity to create a foreign policy strawman that is grossly unfair to Democrats. Stephens bemoans the Democrats' seeming refusal to fully endorse President Bush's agenda of democracy promotion. OK, as far as it goes, although I recall Harold Koh, a prominent Clinton State Department figure, once say that the essence of Clinton's foreign policy was democracy promotion. But there is no doubt that the center of gravity has moved in the Democratic Party, and probably in the country, too. Iraq has had a certain chastening effect. But Stephens goes on to say that "it ought not to be impossible to mobilize the Democratic Party behind an aggressively anti-Islamist foreign policy that rallies support for the effort in Iraq."

This is the typical Republican conflation of the Bush doctrine with opposition to Islamist fanaticism. I don't know of any Democrats who want to compromise with Al Qaeda or have any truck with jihadism. Democrats -- for the most part -- would instead argue that invading Iraq is not only ineffective in the struggle against terror, but possibly counterproductive.

There are three separate and important debates that all Americans should consider. First, should the promotion of democracy be at the center of American foreign policy? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, should we use armed force in the effort? And, third, how would democracy in Iraq quell jihadism?

There is a tremendous amount of debate among serious people in both parties about each of these questions. Democrats have played a key part in these debates, and most Democrats -- but by no means all -- have differed from President Bush in the answers to the three questions mentioned above. But their differences do not, contra Stephens, mean that they don't take seriously the great national security questions of the day. Nor do the differing answers of most Democrats imply that they don't care about foreign policy or American interests abroad.

For Stephens, to disagree with President Bush is to be a fellow traveller with Michael Moore, whom Stephens reflexively invokes in his article. Michael Moore -- the Ann Coulter of the Democratic Party -- richly deserves rebuking by prominent Democrats. But Democrats and Republicans alike should reject facile thinking in favor of a serious debate about the role of America and its military in the world today. The best Democratic thinkers are inspired less by Michael Moore than by George Kennan and Reinhold Niebuhr. I don't think either of those great men would have much use for either Michael Moore or George W. Bush.