Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Matthew Yglesias Annointed as "Foreign Policy God"

I've read Matthew Yglesias' recent book, Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats, so I'm not surprised that hard-left partisans are annointing him as a divine foreign policy analyst.

Case in point:
Josh Marshall, in his post, "Yglesias Becomes Foreign Policy God," with a brief interview:

Matt Yglesias, former TPM Associate Editor and all-around blog star, has a new foreign policy book out, Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats. We caught up with him last week at The Strand bookstore here in lower Manhattan and asked him whether he thinks Democrats are ever going to get out of the fetal position when it comes to taking the fight to Republicans on their catastrophic foreign policy record ...
I've written much on Yglesias, for example, my entry, "The Radical Foreign Policy of Matthew Yglesias."

That essay draws on
Jamie Kirchick's incisive take-down of Yglesias' pacifism, but last week's Los Angeles Times featured a review of the book, by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan:

Yglesias occasionally assumes the bloggerish pose of an outsider screaming at the Establishment, but in its substance his preferred foreign policy is as Establishment as could be. What he offers is a livelier version of the sort of "liberal internationalist" platform that might be found in, say, a task-force report put out by a center-left think tank. The "liberal alternative," he explains, "does not consist of 'new ideas' or a search for new glib slogans. It is rather an age-old doctrine that has been developed over time [and] was working well in the 1990s." It is "the professional consensus," sensible but stale -- or, as he characterizes the liberal approach to nuclear nonproliferation policy, "frankly, dull."

After Sept. 11, as Americans rallied around the president and his approval ratings shot up, Democrats sold out those principles and assumed a "defensive crouch": "The purpose of all this was to weather the political storm resulting from 9/11 and to position Democrats for the electoral battles to come." Instead, Bush and his Republican allies not only won the major fights over foreign policy but also achieved historic political gains. "Like ostriches with their heads in the sand," Yglesias writes, the Democratic Party leaders "believed they could make the security issue go away by ignoring it, but instead they only made it easier for their adversaries to devour them." Their "short-sighted opportunism and inattention to basic principles would harm the party's long-term fortunes." The policy cost came with a war of choice that continues today. (Yglesias, like the Democrats he chastises, backed the war, and some of the ire he directs at pro-war Democratic politicians and policy experts seems to stem from a sense that they misled his more naïve self.)

As a Democratic political strategist, Yglesias is shrewd, and his critique of the Bush administration's foreign policies is trenchant. He tends to overstate, however, the effect his recommended course of action would have had on those policies at the outset. More forthright argumentation, more intellectual courage, more faith that voters would recognize the wisdom of calm and caution -- all this, he suggests, would have allowed Democrats to reshape the debate about foreign policy in the months and years after Sept. 11. But, as he concedes, "9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people," and "[f]rightened, anxious, and justly outraged people are not eager for self-examination or the message that patience is needed." The Bush administration had something it wanted to do, and Americans wanted something done. Prudence and restraint stood little chance against the shock and awe of the new.
Kurtz-Phelan's a bit too even-handed than is warranted by the subject matter. Yglesias has a way of twisting leftosphere attack-points into a seemingly acceptable Democratic Party policy planks.

I naturally disagree with the premise that the war's been a "disaster" or a "castastrophe."

Mistakes were made
when political officials in the Bush White House and the Pentagon ran an ideological war, and as military professionals began implementing innovative methods of counterinsurgency on the ground, circumstances improved - to the point that now most mainstream obervers agree that the United States is poised at the threshold of victory.

Moreover, neoliberal institutional theory in international relations cannot honestly be sold, as does Yglesias, as an implacably antiwar doctrine of Democratic Party retreat.

Yglesias' book is well timed, but the thesis he proposes is outside of
mainstream thinking on U.S. foreign policy, and to implement his recommendations under an Barack Obama administration will make this nation less safe in a world of complex and genuinely threatening challenges abroad.