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We Get It, Dean Was Great
on August 25, 2010
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. Kerry stood up for what Yglesias should have wanted, but instead of acknowledging it Yglesias mostly nitpicks Kerry's views. To be fair, Yglesias also acknowledges some failings of Dean's candidacy and I think he is correct that on Iraq in particular Kerry and many other Dems never hit their stride, but I could not help feeling that a vast part of the book was a Dean defense and not a serious discussion of foreign policy.
Ultimately, the book is interesting because it offers up ideas for a liberal foreign policy that is no isolationist or Bush-lite. It is both ambitious and pragmatic. If you read it, enjoy the interesting part and try not to get as caught up in the uninteresting part as I did.