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Progressive Realism

Polls in the United States show low public approval for President George W. Bush’s handling of foreign policy, but little agreement on what should take its place. The unbridled ambitions of the neo-conservatives and assertive nationalists in his first administration produced a foreign policy that was like a car with an accelerator, but no brakes. It was bound to go off the road.

But how should America use its unprecedented power, and what role should values play? Realists warn against letting values determine policy, but democracy and human rights have been an inherent part of American foreign policy for two centuries. The Democratic Party could solve this problem by adopting the suggestion of Robert Wright and others that it pursue “progressive realism.” What would go into a progressive realist foreign policy?

A progressive realist foreign policyIt would start with an understanding of the strength and limits of American power. The US is the only superpower, but preponderance is not empire or hegemony. America can influence but not control other parts of the world.

Power always depends upon context, and the context of world politics today is like a three-dimensional chess game. The top board of military power is unipolar; but on the middle board of economic relations, the world is multipolar., and