Courtesy Reuters

The Crusade of Illusions

In This Review

The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy From 1940 to the Present

By Christopher Layne
Harvard University Press, 2006
320 pp. $29.95

Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy

By Colin Dueck
Princeton University Press, 2006
290 pp. $29.95

Over the past century, realism and liberalism have been the two warring imperatives behind most U.S. foreign policies. According to these two stimulating new books, the United States and its policymakers have seldom managed to reconcile these two approaches or match ideologically driven liberal projects with the realities of power, interest, and expense.

The United States is struggling with just such a problem at the moment. The administration of George W. Bush, like some of its predecessors, claims to be both realistic and true to American ideals. In 2002, Condoleezza Rice, when she was still national security adviser, asserted that the administration's emphasis on both preventive war and democracy promotion (articulated in its 2002 National Security Strategy) transcended what she called the false academic dichotomy between realism and idealism. "In real life," she declared, "power and values are married completely." And Bush has denigrated skeptics "who call themselves 'realists'" but "have lost contact with a fundamental reality" -- that "America is always more secure when freedom is on the march."

Events, however, do not seem to be cooperating. Washington is currently mired in a costly war that is part of a dubious strategy of democratic regime change. And a fierce fight has broken out within the neoconservative brain trust: Francis Fukuyama has denounced Charles Krauthammer's strategy of "democratic realism" (which advocates the use of military force and elections to transform the Middle East), arguing that it is neither democratic nor realistic.

Both Christopher Layne, of Texas A&M, and Colin Dueck, of the University of Colorado, point out that such tensions are nothing new; indeed, the United States' liberal ambitions have, since the era of Woodrow Wilson, repeatedly clashed with the realities of power politics. Layne and Dueck converge in some of their analyses, but they diverge in their prescriptions. For example, Layne proposes to resolve the conflict between liberalism and realism through a strategy of engagement so limited that it borders on isolationism. Dueck, by contrast, seeks a prudent balance between

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