April 26, 2004


Realistpolitik: Finally, some foreign-policy conservatives get fed up with Bush. (Danny Postel, 05.07.04, American Prospect)

John Mearsheimer, one of the pre-eminent representatives of the realist school of international relations, voted for George W. Bush in 2000. But not this time. Come November, he's not only voting for John Kerry but
"will do so with enthusiasm."

As a realist, the University of Chicago political scientist liked Bush's
anti-nation-building rhetoric during the 2000 debates, and was
displeased by Al Gore's support for the humanitarian interventions of
the 1990s. But Bush's handling of foreign policy -- particularly the
Iraq War -- has turned Mearsheimer and other realists into some of the
administration's sharpest critics. "[T]he more time goes by," he says,
"the more Bush makes [Bill] Clinton look like a genius in both domestic
and foreign policy."

Indeed, not only is the American right a house divided on Iraq but over
the intensifying imperialist drift of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.
A convergence of realists, libertarians, and traditionalists (or
"paleocons") has taken shape in opposition to the neoconservative
foreign-policy agenda. In October, they came together to form the
Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, which holds that "the move
toward empire must be halted immediately."

Spearheaded by Christopher Preble, director of foreign-policy studies at
the Cato Institute, the coalition's signatories include Mearsheimer and
fellow realist Stephen Walt of Harvard; Andrew Bacevich, author of
American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy; Ted
Galen Carpenter and Charles Peña of Cato; John Hulsman of The Heritage
Foundation; Christopher Layne and Scott McConnell of Pat Buchanan's
magazine, The American Conservative; and Jon Utley of the organization
Americans Against World Empire. A handful of left-of-center types are
also onboard, among them Blowback and Sorrows of Empire author Chalmers
Johnson, Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, and former Colorado Senator Gary Hart.

Here's all you really need to know about Realism in foreign policy, the two pre-eminent proponents of the doctrine in American history were Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. As Robert Kaplan has written, in a generally positive profile of the arch-realist Kissinger:
In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite--notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.

In other words, on the central judgment about humanity and politics in the 20th Century, the realists were wrong. Reality isn't Realist.

What is perhaps most interesting about the unrealism of the realists is that they were wrong then for many of the same reasons they are wrong now. Those of you of a certain age will recall hearing it explained that Slavs--"who are practically an Asiatic people after all"--were unsuited to democracy and therefore generally satisfied with more strong-handed governments than we in the West might prefer. Their satisfaction was, of course, demonstrated by their failure to rise up or to flee in considerable numbers. Indeed, if the governments of the East had chosen to have elections the totalitarian Communists probably would have won them anyway. Just substitute Muslims, Arabs, and Islamicism in there and you have the realist view of the Islamic world--only the names of those incapable of democracy have been changed.

Over and against the Realists you had the utterly unrealistic, thoroughly idealistic view of Ronald Reagan, who even at the high water mark of the Soviet Union--when Jimmy Carter had either stood by or helped as the Sadinistas took Nicaragua, the Ayatollah took Iran and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan just years after Nixon, Ford, and Congressional Democrats sold out South Vietnam--had the foresight to declare that Communism was doomed and could never satisfy the peoples it oppressed. In 1982, in a speech influenced by the aforementioned Mr. Pipes, President Reagan put it thus:

If history teaches anything it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible dilemma -- predictions of doomsday, antinuclear demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?

Sir Winston Churchill refused to accept the inevitability of war or even that it was imminent. He said, ``I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here today while time remains is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries.''

Well, this is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace. It may not be easy to see; but I believe we live now at a turning point.

In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxist-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens. It also is in deep economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the national product has been steadily declining since the fifties and is less than half of what it was then.

The dimensions of this failure are astounding: A country which employs one-fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to feed its own people. Were it not for the private sector, the tiny private sector tolerated in Soviet agriculture, the country might be on the brink of famine. These private plots occupy a bare 3 percent of the arable land but account for nearly one-quarter of Soviet farm output and nearly one-third of meat products and vegetables. Overcentralized, with little or no incentives, year after year the Soviet system pours its best resource into the making of instruments of destruction. The constant shrinkage of economic growth combined with the growth of military production is putting a heavy strain on the Soviet people. What we see here is a political structure that no longer corresponds to its economic base, a society where productive forces are hampered by political ones.

Here too you can substitute Arab, Muslim, and Islam and give pretty much the same speech, as President Bush has several times.

Essentially though, what Realists want is stability, even a stability where every nation was totalitarian would be preferable to one in which the struggle between the free and the dominated risked bringing war. They'd rather have the Taliban and Saddam running countries because they'll generally keep them quiet. Mr. Mearshimer describes himself why Realism is so antithetical to Americanism:

Realism has two real problems with it for most Americans. First of all, Realism has a very pessimistic view of international politics. It says there has always been conflict, there is conflict today, and there always will be conflict, and there's not much you can do about it. This is what I call the "tragedy of great power politics," which is the title of my book.

The second point that Realists make that most Americans find repugnant is the idea that you can't discriminate between morally virtuous states and malign states in the international system. For Realists, all states are basically black boxes that behave the same way. If the United States has to be ruthless, the United States will be ruthless. That's the argument that Realists make. Now, Americans are fundamentally liberals at heart. They believe in progress, they're products of the Enlightenment, they are people who believe that through hard thinking and skillful policies, it's possible to solve the world's problems; that somewhere out there in the future (it's hard to say when), we can create a more peaceful world. That is in contrast to the pessimism of Realists. And American liberals -- and when we talk about American liberals, we're talking about the vast majority of Americans -- therefore, dislike Realism for that reason.

The other point that Americans believe in is the idea that our country, the United States, is a highly moral country, that we behave according to a different code of conduct than most other states. In the Cold War, for example, there were good guys and bad guys -- we were the good guys and the Soviets were the bad guys. Realists, on the other hand, don't discriminate between good states and bad states, they're just states. And a Realist explanation of the Cold War would say that the United States and the Soviet Union were both equals, and they behaved according to the same rules, because the structure of the system left them with no choice. That's a perspective that most Americans recoil at.

That's why they find it so easy to make common cause with the America-hating Left. If you too find yourself confused about whether we are the good guys or the North Koreans are, then you too may be either a Realist or a liberal and you should definitely vote for John Kerry, who thought North Vietnam morally superior to the United States.

President Bush follows in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan and understands the American cause of extending liberty and democracy universally to be not only good but Godly:

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.

The Realists may be indifferent to totalitarianism--God is not. And therefore Americans can not be. Realists probably should have figured that out by now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2004 8:04 PM

One of the more reprehensible aspects of the Realists is their willingness to sacrifice others in their attempt to buy their own safety-- look at how Kissenger was willing to ratify the Soviet control of Eastern Europe for the hope that that would satisfy them.

It's like the old joke about two guys who are attacked by a bear, and try to run away. It's the Realist who says to the other "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you."

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 26, 2004 8:58 PM

John F. Kennedy:

Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy


Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning--signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge--and more.
* * * * *

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are--but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.



"Some men see things as they are and ask, Why?"
said Bobby Kennedy in 1968.
"I dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?"

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 26, 2004 11:46 PM

There's not much doubt that, given a vote, at least the Eastern Europeans would have rejected Communism in favor of whatever it is they've got now.

But the case with the Muslims isn't parallel.

Communism replaced a system that had endured for centuries. By trying to make democrats out of Muslims, you're trying to do the same thing.

Communism did not endure because, among other things, it wasn't wanted. Islam does not have that problem. It is wanted.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 27, 2004 12:26 AM


Bingo! mulsims are different than us--they'd choose totalitarianism and poverty...

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 7:36 AM


I don't think your statement that the people of Eastern Europe didn't want communism was necessarily true in the 1930's and 40's. Nor were Germans in the thirties or Chinese in the 60's crying for democracy. Yet, do young Iranians seem desirous of Islamicism today? Totalitarian revolutions often enjoy popular support and loyalty for between one and two generations, until a new one that sees straight comes along. Hence my theory that the West will never be safe until we Boomers die off.

Posted by: Peter B at April 27, 2004 8:23 AM

Everything looks good and attractive initially, but rare are the systems that survive the shock of reality. Heck, I shared an office with an Iranian who hated the Shah, and assured me the guy who was waiting in the wings would oppose communism. I'm fairly sure enough to bet $20 that he's kicking himself right at this moment...

Posted by: Ptah at April 27, 2004 11:08 AM

If you asked most foreign policy "realists," if the American Declaration of Independence is true, they would look at you as if you'd lost your mind.

So why should we take their "realism" in foreign policy seriously if they aren't even realistic about human nature (and, by extension, natural right)?

Posted by: kevin whited at April 27, 2004 11:50 AM


The Ayatollah did oppose Communism. Indeed, it was we who supported the Stalinist in Iraq.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 12:44 PM

20% of contemporary Democrats would probably vote for Castro, Danny Ortega or even Stalin. In the 1930's it would have been a higher percentage. Radical Islamicism is as nuts as Bolshevism. Such ideologies owe their very existence as well as persistence to one simple truth: the world is filled with unhappy people who refuse to take responsibility for their failing cultures, economies and politics. Much like the political realists of the past, the political correct and multiculturalist crowd in the west won't acknowledge the difference bewteen the values of the west and the relative failure of radical Islam and its practical application, similar to modern secularists, in a way, who can't see the positive traditions of Christianity and how it shaped the values they take for granted.

Posted by: at April 27, 2004 1:08 PM

Peter, the socialist parties in most of eastern Europe were small in the 1930s. As small as the Peasants or Smallholders parties.

Given a choice -- which happened seldom enough -- they usually plunked down for nationalism and accepted whatever went along with the particular popular nationalist in their country. Orrin's sainted Poles were more interested in grabbing Teschen than anything else.

I don't think Muslims will choose totalitarianism or poverty. They'll choose Islam, even if totalitarianism (more likely, semianarchy) and poverty come along with it.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 28, 2004 11:55 PM

Teschen was Polish

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Maybe so, but getting it back ought not to have been the most pressing foreign policy of the Polish state. Yet it was.

The Poles would rather have had Teschen back for less than a year than to have preserved Poland as an independent state.

There's a reason behind Polish jokes.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 29, 2004 2:29 AM

Had they not taken it the Nazis and Soviets wouldn't have attacked them? I know you're required to think the Poles deserved it as part of your initiation but that's supremely inane.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 8:29 AM

Go back to 1938 or even 1937, Orrin.

Poland was desperately in need of friends, and there was really only one candidate. Through most of 1937 and perhaps into 1938, there was one friend which, if Poland had recruited it, could have, with Poland, forestalled a German attack.

The Poles did everything they could to antagonize that friend, which was picked off in 1938. Poland's turn came in 1939.

This isn't hindsight. There were people at the time who recognized it. None of them were Poles, though.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 29, 2004 11:23 PM

Poland had Britain and France, there was no one else. You can't plan on allies back-stabbing you. Even at that they'd have been okay if your pal Stalin hadn't underestimated Hitler.

This whole myth about the Poles bringing it on themselves is just how Britain, France and the Soviets excuse their own cravenness.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 11:32 PM

I said go back. In '37, Czechoslovakia and Poland could have occupied Berlin. The Czechs maybe could even have done it on their own.

Poland didn't wait until '38 to start antagonizing its only potential friends.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 30, 2004 8:31 PM

The Poles are a decent people, why would they attack Berlin?

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2004 9:54 PM