Thursday, August 18, 2005

Parsing the Policy Pendulum


Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose has a nice op-ed in this morning's Times on the constant swing from idealism to pragmatism and back again in U.S. foreign policy. Episodes of presidential idealism abroad—seen in Truman, Kennedy/Johnson and Carter/Reagan policies—alternate with pragmatic house-cleaning administrations like those of Eisenhower, Nixon and the first President Bush.

Rose rates the current President Bush as an idealist brought up short by events, whose administration is steering toward pragmatism even as he is reluctant to drop the words associated with a historic mission:

Seen in proper perspective ... the Bush administration's signature efforts represent not some durable, world-historical shift in America's approach to foreign policy but merely one more failed idealistic attempt to escape the difficult trade-offs and unpleasant compromises that international politics inevitably demand - even from the strongest power since Rome. Just as they have so many times before, the realists have come in after an election to offer some adult supervision and tidy up the joint. This time it's simply happened under the nose of a victorious incumbent rather than his opponent (which may account for the failure to change the rhetoric along with the policy).

Rose sees a solid performance by Secretary Rice at State as key to this shift. His piece is a fun dose of perspective for those interested in long-term shifts in U.S. attitudes and policies.

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