PROGRESSIVE REALISM: SO...

PROGRESSIVE REALISM: SO GOOD IT NEEDS A NEW NAME? I've been remiss in not linking to Robert Wright's curiously long op-ed in Sunday's New York Times making the case that "It�s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle � reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists." He calls the paradigm "progressive realism" and lays out what it is. I endorse virtually everything therein with two petty caveats.

One -- truly petty -- is the observation that "to square the circle" doesn't mean to create a square circle as the metaphor here seems to imply. The circle squaring problem is the attempt to take a given circle and then use a finite compass and straightedge to construct a square with the same area.

More to the point, the paradigm Wright's laying out isn't really all that new. It is, in fact, the traditional liberal approach to foreign policy drawing on Kant, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and, all the usual cast of characters. I do, however, see the case for framing it as a new paradigm: Roughly, there's a sense that 9-11 made drama and novelty necessary parts of one's approach to national security, that Bush's efforts at drama and novelty have failed, and that now we need a new brand of drama and novelty. I would set against this the idea that though people have gotten pretty sour on Bush, they still tend not to believe that liberals should be trusted to run the country's national security. To me, this means we need to emphasize in our presentation the case we do, in fact, know what we're doing and that the longstanding liberal foreign policy tradition is a good one, made more relevant than ever by the contemporary situation, but not something we just made up yesterday.

--Matthew Yglesias

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