Thursday, November 16, 2006

Limits of Realism

The Moose argues that progressives shouldn't redeploy away from their principles.

The Iraq war is leading some progressives into a full embrace of neo-realism. These liberals shun interventionist internationalism for the type of pragmatic realism that was the hallmark of Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker. In fact, these two Republican figures are rapidly becoming national security role models in progressive circles.

Not so fast. It was the realists' coddling of Middle Eastern tyrannies that helped breed the Jihadist menace with which we are at war. Saudi Arabia which spreads Wahabi hatred is Exhibit A of a theocracy that realists love to love. Back in the nineties, the realists would have us look away from the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

Will Marshall authors a fine rebuke to the realists in the new issue of Blueprint Magazine - here.

Marshall writes,

"Democrats should leave realpolitik to Republicans and instead offer an internationalist alternative to Bush's policies. Rather than limit America's power, this approach would embed it in an expanding alliance of global democracies and a modernized system of collective security better able to protect the weak from the strong. In an interdependent world, America should use its power to shape international institutions that can cope effectively with global terror networks, failing states, nuclear proliferation, and mass murder in places like Darfur. But America must remain the catalyst for collective action; there is simply no one else who can take our place.

"Realists see American idealism as a dangerous distraction from the unsentimental pursuit of core national interests. But progressives believe U.S. foreign policy works best when it reflects the moral sentiments and political values of the American people. Recognizing that what happens within states is often more important for world order than what happens between states, progressives understand that the peaceful spread of liberal democracy is a strategic imperative for America."

The manifold errors in Iraq are giving internationalism a bad name. But, President Bush was fundamentally correct in his analysis that genuine democratic transformation is the only long term answer to the Jihadist threat. There must be an alternative to the stifling tyrannies of the Islamic world.

We have painfully learned that this transformation will be difficult and is by no means guaranteed. The Islamic world will not easily adopt democratic habits. However, the realists' answer is not a plausible alternative either strategically or morally.

In 1992, Bill Clinton was correct in opposing Jim Baker realism toward the Balkans. And the failures of this Administration should not tempt contemporary progressives to succumb to the allure of neo-realism.

Realists would not have had us intervene in Rwanda in the nineties. They would look askance at stopping the genocide in Darfur. And the liberal "get out now" realists would allow Iraq to truly devolve into a massive killing field that would damage our moral and strategic standing for a generation.

If a Democratic Congress forces a premature withdrawal from Iraq, the party will pay for it in moral and political terms for many years to come. Yes, the American people want a change in course in Iraq. But, they will not readily embrace defeat. And, like after Vietnam, the Democratic Party will be branded as the party of defeat and retreat.

Progressives should not abandon liberal values at the water's edge.
-- Posted at 8:18 AM | Link to this post | Email this post