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Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats [Hardcover]

by Matthew Yglesias
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2008 047008622X 978-0470086223 1
Praise for Heads In the Sand

""A very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.""
—Ezra Klein, staff writer at The American Prospect

""Matt Yglesias is one of the smartest voices in the blogosphere. He knows a lot about politics, a lot about foreign policy, and, crucially, is unusually shrewd in understanding how they interact. Here's hoping that his new book will introduce him to an even wider audience. Once you discover him, you'll be hooked.""
—E. J. Dionne, author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right and Why Americans Hate Politics

""Matthew Yglesias is one of a handful of bloggers that I make a point of reading every day. Heads in the Sand is a smart, vital book that urges Democrats to stop evading the foreign-policy debate and to embrace the old principles of international liberalism--to be right and also to win.""
—Fred Kaplan, author of Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

""Reading foreign policy tomes is seldom included among life's pleasures, but Yglesias has concocted a startling exception. Heads in the Sand is not just a razor-sharp analysis cum narrative of the politics of national security in general and the Iraq war in particular, it's also an enthralling and often very funny piece of writing. Though he administers strong antidotes to the haplessness of his fellow Democrats and liberals, there's more than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.""
—Hendrik Hertzberg, Senior Editor, The New Yorker, and author of Politics: Observations and Arguments

Fast-rising political commentator Matthew Yglesias reveals the wrong-headed foreign policy stance of conservatives, neocons, and the Republican Party for what it is—aggressive nationalism. Writing with wit, passion, and keen insight, Yglesias reminds us of the rich tradition of liberal internationalism that, developed by Democrats, was used with great success by both Democratic and Republican administrations for more than fifty years. He provides a starting point for politicians, policymakers, pundits, and citizens alike to return America to its role as leader of a peace-loving and cooperative international community.


Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Heads In the Sand

Matthew Yglesias

When mainstream Democratic politicians talk about Iraq, why do they sound more like Republicans than like the actual Democratic citizens they claim to represent? Are they simply ducking for cover from the with-us-or-against-us Republican onslaught? Are Democrats actually buying into the right wing's dark, pessimistic vision of endless conflict combined with blinkered optimism about the boundless utility of military force? Has the liberal tradition failed to provide useful principles on which to build and conduct foreign policy?

In Heads in the Sand, fast-rising political observer and commentator Matthew Yglesias reveals the wrong-headed foreign policy stance of conservatives, neocons, and the Republican Party for what it is—aggressive nationalism, or, to be impolite, a new version of old-fashioned imperialism. He then examines how Democrats and progressives have responded to the conservative agenda, from mistakenly labeling it isolationism to repeated calls for big, bold, new ideas and the failure to actually produce any.

Writing with wit, passion, and keen insight, Yglesias reminds us of the rich tradition of liberal internationalism that, developed by Democrats, was used with great success by both Democratic and Republican administrations for more than fifty years. It was, in fact, the foreign policy strategy that revived Europe after World War II, established the United Nations, and won the Cold War.

Based on the principle of promoting global order through international law and stable institutions, liberal internationalism is far from perfect and not nearly sexy enough to appeal to chest-thumping hawks. But, as Yglesias demonstrates, exercised with patience, flexibility, and restraint by nine American presidents, it has produced more peace, prosperity, and international harmony than any other approach. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's the worst form of foreign policy, except for all the others.

The forces opposed to liberal internationalism, however, are large and growing. And, Yglesias reveals, they're not all on the far right. He presents a startling revelation of how many moderates, liberals, and even far-left progressives seem more than happy to use America's military might to accomplish their objectives.

While Democrats have come unmoored from their foreign-policy principles for multiple and complex reasons, Matthew Yglesias makes it clear that the path to redemption is open, if not always pothole-free. Americans no longer support reckless Republican policies and the time is ripe—not for a new direction, but for the return of a tried-and-true direction. With Heads in the Sand, he provides a starting point for politicians, policymakers, pundits, and citizens alike to return America to its role as leader of a peace-loving and cooperative international community.

From the Back Cover

Praise for Heads In the Sand

"A very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care."
—Ezra Klein, staff writer at The American Prospect

"Matt Yglesias is one of the smartest voices in the blogosphere. He knows a lot about politics, a lot about foreign policy, and, crucially, is unusually shrewd in understanding how they interact. Here's hoping that his new book will introduce him to an even wider audience. Once you discover him, you'll be hooked."
—E. J. Dionne, author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right and Why Americans Hate Politics

"Matthew Yglesias is one of a handful of bloggers that I make a point of reading every day. Heads in the Sandis a smart, vital book that urges Democrats to stop evading the foreign-policy debate and to embrace the old principles of international liberalism—to be right and also to win."
—Fred Kaplan, author of Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

"Reading foreign policy tomes is seldom included among life's pleasures, but Yglesias has concocted a startling exception. Heads in the Sand is not just a razor-sharp analysis cum narrative of the politics of national security in general and the Iraq war in particular, it's also an enthralling and often very funny piece of writing. Though he administers strong antidotes to the haplessness of his fellow Democrats and liberals, there's more than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, Senior Editor, The New Yorker, and author of Politics: Observations and Arguments


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047008622X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470086223
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,457,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
(16)
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-argued, excellent book April 12, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Everyone who reads books on foreign policy should read this book. It is well-argued throughout and gets at fundamentals, rather than just slinging the latest epithets over our latest blunders in Iraq. I don't in every way agree with the author's recipe for liberal internationalism but overall this is a smarter book than whichever other tome you are likely to pick up on foreign policy.

Tyler Cowen
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We Get It, Dean Was Great August 25, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Heads in the Sand can be divided into two parts. The interesting part serve as the bookends to the book. It first offers an overview of the liberal foreign policy tradition (though strangely excludes the Kennedy/Johnson years). The interesting part picks up at the conclusion with Yglesias' discussion of what a sensible foreign policy might be and why being new and interesting is not the end all, be all of policy. If you read this book, I would strongly recommend you read these two sections of the interesting part carefully and ignore the middle of the book.

The middle, the uninteresting part, is largely a recap of the foreign policy debates from 2001 to 2007 and the politics surrounding them. If you followed the news even superficially during that time, it will all seem familiar. Though Yglesias, as an avowed Deaniac, also makes a passionate defense of Howard Dean. Like many progressive Dems in my age cohort (I was in my early 20s in 2004), I was fascinated by the Dean campaign and appreciated his opposition to the Iraq war. But I strongly differ with Yglesias' conclusions that no one really liked John Kerry or that he did not offer a competing foreign policy vision, just Bush-lite. I liked John Kerry. I believed in John Kerry. I didn't "Date Dean, but Married Kerry." I chose Kerry over Dean because I thought Kerry had a well thought out and broad world view. I felt in the end Dean was riding the anti-war express to nowhere. Yglesias also gives short treatment to Kerry's prescription for a "war on terror" that was not just militarily based but included law enforcement, diplomacy, and intelligence. It was the correct view but was largely panned at the time.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book April 14, 2008
Format:Hardcover
This book is definitely both highly readable and filled with great insights and ideas into liberal foreign policy. But, rather than put all of your trust in a reviewer you don't know, check out Matthew Yglesias' blog at The Atlantic for a more accurate idea of what the book is like. His blog, like his book, has some of the best political writing around, and is well worth checking out.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book December 21, 2008
Format:Hardcover
If you read Matt's blog, you might wonder if this book was actually written by him. As it lacked his trademark grammatical mistakes. Anyways, this book is fantastic. The only downside is that it is a little jumpy in the first half.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theory and principles in practice August 29, 2008
By BrianK
Format:Hardcover
This book is a great first pass at understanding the theories and political situations that have defined US foreign policy in the last decade.

Yglesias carefully lays out his argument that Democrats should re-embrace the principled liberal foreign policy that served the US well in the twentieth century, instead of merely griping about mismanagement of the war in Iraq. He argues that this will not only lead to better foreign policy results, but better success in domestic elections.

In one memorable paragraph, he writes: "Better techniques are always welcome, but what the country needs to replace Bush's current failed strategy is a different strategy, no just another way to implement the same strategy."

Yglesias does make reference to several bits of political theory, especially early on in the book - I dug out my notes from my "Theories of International Relations" class. However, you don't need to take a seminar to appreciate his argument. The book is well documented, drawing on policy papers, commentary, and contemporary reportage to look at the implications and results of American foreign policy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is an argument that Democrats' problems with foreign policy don't trace back to them not being "tough" enough but instead to their failure to offer an alternate vision. The framework that Yglesias is promoting is liberal internationalism which he ties into to Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Containment, and the first Gulf War.

Much of the book is historical review, one that thankfully maintains the fast pace and wit of Yglesias's blog. Those who enjoy his blog should also enjoy the book, but it's also an excellent introduction to those who aren't already readers. The main value-added versus the blog is the ability to develop support for his ideas at length. He uses this opportunity well, although Yglesias does stick to qualitative analysis of Democrats electoral fortunes. The book contains no statistical analysis over whether Democrats offering a different foreign policy do better than other Democratic candidates.

The specifics of "liberal internationalism" are rather straightforward. Build global institutions, work together with other nations, and try to understand the viewpoints of other nations. He supports the war in Afghanistan but thinks the war of in Iraq was inherently flawed and that complaining about implementation obscures the real problem. That said, the book is not a theoretical treatise. It sits firmly at the intersection between policy and politics and is in fact dubious of the value of big new ideas.

All-in-all it's an interesting read for those dissatisfied with America's recent role in the world and looking for an achievable new direction.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible!
Extremely bias. I understand how difficult it is to write something without bias, but this is just pitiful! Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hunter Clark
1.0 out of 5 stars Wow, simply wow.
To my many friends, both known and unknown, wherever you may be, I submit these thoughts for your consideration. If you disagree with my claim that Mr. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Someone with common sense
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I've read Matt's columns for years, and always enjoyed his writing. This book felt phoned in. Not worth the money, and I wouldn't even feel right selling it to someone else on... Read more
Published on March 9, 2012 by TulipGirl
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book ever
Matt seems to be trying to sell his view of the world, but his view is very skewed. It is very obvious Matt lacks any kind of formal education and is instead using DNC talking... Read more
Published on March 7, 2012 by Jeffrey Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Read
A great read on the history of Democratic leaders timidness at doing things appropriately when given the chance.
Published on January 30, 2010 by M. Perloe
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Yglesias puts modern foreign policy in context with historical foreign policy. This book has completely re-framed how I debate with people, with the phrase "traditional liberal... Read more
Published on August 15, 2008 by Bradley ODonnell
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent job
I greatly enjoyed Matt Yglesias's new book. I'm generally not the type to read foreign policy books, but I'm a regular reader of his blog. Read more
Published on May 8, 2008 by Adam Dukovich
5.0 out of 5 stars Yglesias deserves more profile
I've been an avid reader of Matt Yglesias's blog since long before he was assimilated into the Atlantic collective. Read more
Published on May 5, 2008 by Brian Doyle
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, convincing and important
Yglesias presents a pithy and convincing account both of why our country's foray into Iraq was doomed from the start; and of how the political dynamics of news events, the era, and... Read more
Published on April 21, 2008 by sbma44
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