To say that Matthew Yglesias's new book, Heads in the Sand will single-bookedly save the Democratic party is a slight overstatement. It does, however, provide what may be one the most important tools democrats can use to win in 2008 and govern in the years to come: a coherent, intelligent and aggressive liberal policy on National Security.
HITS is a book that, for starters, takes the issue of National Security seriously. Unlike many liberal thinkers and politicians of the past decade, Yglesias argues that National Security is an issue of prime importance to the Democratic Party and to America. It cannot be sidestepped in favor of domestic issues, that democrats are traditionally more comfortable with. The few democrats who do address National Security, Yglesias's "Liberal Hawks," only do so in a way that reinforces the failed Bush doctrine of militaristic nationalism, even if they disagree with his specific policies.
Yglesias asserts that since Bush took office, a National Security/ Foreign Policy ideal of using American military force to unilaterally rid the world of its evils had . Since 9/11, the face of this evil has been terrorism. Bush's War on Terror operates on the wrong assumption that you can combat a transnational villain, such as Al-Qaeda, by attacking national entities, like Iraq, and can do so through the pure might of American power. Bush's view was also faulty because it saw terrorism as an expression of "Freedom-Haters," who abhorred the American way of life, instead of as a specific reaction to specific actions taken by the United States and other countries, an idea espoused by many well-established intelligence and military organizations.
Democrats, Yglesias adds, have recently been holding more consistently anti-war positions, but have yet to attack the flawed ideological underpinnings of the Bush foreign policy nor have the provided an affirmative alternative policy. Matthew Yglesias to the rescue!
The key thesis of HITS is that instead of treating organizations like the UN as a shackle that confines and restricts American interests, the United States should focus on aggressively strengthening these kinds of organizations to create a "liberal world order", governed by laws, that could in part act as an international police force, more able to effectively confront transnational criminals than a single national army could. Thus, instead of America being the world's police department, America would become the Commissioner of a larger international police force, that would protect human lives and human rights.
This along with working aggressively as a peacemaker in smaller conflict areas would increase foreign confidence in American foreign policy, increasing our number of international defenders and allies. By engaging in fewer illegitimate military actions, we would also avoid creating the specific situations in which terrorism is likely to occur.
I really hope that Barack Obama and the other Democratic candidates running in 2008 read Matthew Yglesias's Heads in the Sands, and take its vision of a comprehensive liberal national security policy seriously. Though it drags a bit in its recent history of the National Security debates, Yglesias's thorough plan is the best I've heard and I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone who calls themselves a liberal read it.
In this election cycle, the last claim to legitimacy that the Republicans have is National Security. They repeat over and over the need to secure our borders, while proposing policies that would make the American people much less secure. And up until now they've gotten away with it because of the lack of a positive democratic policy on National Security. With the ideas Yglesias proposes in HITS, we can finally attack them on their last perceived strength, and maybe, just maybe, win an election.