Alex Massie

Progressives vs Liberals: or why the Bush years are not a revolution in foreign policy affairs

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As so often I'm late to a brouhaha. The vexed question of the day is whether American Democrats should call themselves Progressives or Liberals. Well, the former has some advantages, not the least of which being that it would allow Adam Smith's admirers to reclaim the liberal banner and wave it with ever-greater gusto.

Still, it's noticeable that the discussion has revolved around such trendy notions as labelling and framing. Where policy has got a look in it's been in terms of the party's domestic agenda. But Progressivism was scarcely silent on foreign policy either. Indeed, when I hear the term I'm reminded of Speak softly, but carry a big stick and I am going to teach [them] to elect good men.

Indeed it's exactly this implied enthusiasm for Rooseveltian or Wilsonian interventionism that makes some smart people despair of a Hillary or Obama presidency.

At the moment, much of the American left seems instinctively opposed to interventionism but I suspect that opposition will wither once the party regains the keys to the White House. As with so much else, this stuff is rotten when the other mob does it but common sense when your chaps are at the wheel.

Clinton, certainly, is not likely to shrink from the use of US military force. Indeed my suspicion is that the current chastened attitude in Washington (wingnuts excepted, granted) is not likely to endure. Consequently the Bush years may well end up being seen as a time when the US pursued a reckless policy that was nonetheless merely an exagerrated version (to the point of cartoonishness admittedly) of what has been, in general terms and with only momentary exceptions, standard US policy ever since the Progressives first stalked the land.

I have no particulr axe to grind here, but is this really what American liberals really want to see happen?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsforeign policy