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Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats Hardcover – April 1, 2008
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From the Inside Flap
Heads In the Sand
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 isaggressive 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 ripenot 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 liberalismto 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
Top customer reviews
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The main idea of the book is that America's trend toward unilateralism has been a disaster, and that America needs to recommit itself to internationalism. The book constructs the argument that the major animating policy behind the Bush foreign policy is not a love of democracy but rather an aggressive nationalism that believes that international agreements are holding America down. Yglesias is persuasive in arguing that this mindset has produced the opposite of what it intended--America has lost a great deal of power over the past few years--and that creating institutions that foster democracy is a smarter approach. He admits that some of these institutions, such as the U. N., need some measure of reform, though specifics are not given about what to do. Still, he does make a compelling argument as to why the U. N. is still necessary in the book's final chapter despite its flaws.
All in all, it's a very interesting book, and it's well written, paced, and argued. Plus, it's funny. It's certainly worth your while.
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.
Long-time readers of Yglesias's blog may find themselves mostly nodding along to this longer version of a perspective that they have been introduced to over the course of years, one piece at a time. But the book's lack of startlingly counterintuitive novelty should not be regarded as a defect (the same applies to foreign policy, as Yglesias notes). And in any case, it certainly doesn't detract from the importance of the argument being made: it's hard to imagine that, as we deal with the consequences of the Iraq War over the coming years and decades, a more compelling explanation of what made the fiasco possible will emerge than the one contained in this book. Recommended.