Monday, August 07, 2006

The Debate over Realism

Please allow me to call attention to two recent pieces.

Spencer Ackerman's "Critical Mass" in The New Republic discusses the departure of TNI Contributing Editor John Hulsman from the Heritage Foundation, noting that:
But years of insurgency, civil war, and general chaos emanating from Iraq emboldened Hulsman to finally vocalize his dissent. Last summer, he and Lieven penned a National Interest essay contending that the neconservatives--and, implicitly, Bush--were "expending blood and treasure for problematic gains such as Iraq" and "significantly retarding America's ability to act against the true barbarians at the gate." In March, Hulsman vociferously argued against the arch-neocon Michael Ledeen during a House International Relations Committee hearing on Iran policy. He was subsequently informed that he was not to write anything on Iran for Heritage.

Soon after publishing their National Interest essay, Hulsman and Lieven signed a deal with Pantheon to expand their argument into a book, which will be released next month. "I worried about getting fired, but we keep encouraging people to believe in moral courage, so we had to show some," Hulsman says. As the book's publication date loomed, however, Heritage began worrying about his doctrinal deviations and the attention they would receive. "They had a desire to see what the book said ahead of time," he says. "I had a desire to say it was none of their business." And although Hulsman won't say what exactly happened next, that was the end of his seven-year affiliation with the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, Eyal Press over at The Nation examines whether there is a growing convergence between realists and leftists over foreign policy.

And yet, since the attacks of September 11, the gulf that once separated them from liberal and radical critics of US foreign policy appears to have narrowed, if not altogether disappeared. The views of realist thinkers like Anatol Lieven, Andrew Bacevich and Chalmers Johnson now appear frequently in the left-liberal press. This fall The Nation, whose pages have regularly featured their voices, will be co-hosting a discussion with The National Interest, a realist journal that has Daniel Pipes and Zbigniew Brzezinski on its masthead, about views of realism from the left and the right. Groups like have sprinkled their press releases with collegial references to Kissinger and Scowcroft. The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an alliance of experts that formed not long ago to oppose the Bush Administration's overseas agenda, has issued statements bearing the signatures of former Reagan Administration officials as well as left-leaning academics like Bruce Cumings, Joel Beinin and Marilyn Young.

As progressives attempt to thrash out a compelling alternative to the Bush Administration's foreign policy vision, it's worth asking whether these are mere tactical alliances or if there is something deeper under way--a warming to realism among disillusioned critics of the Iraq War, born of growing unease with the idea of a US foreign policy that even aspires to promote positive ideals.

For your persual and discussion.

A realistic foreign policy would require, I should think, an understanding of the world, of US's own capabilities, etc. I should also think that it will take a couple of decades for such an understanding to develop in a human being. (CFR used to be able to train people and staff the government that way; that no longer obtains.)

Next, the 2-year, 4-year, and 6-year election cycles in the United States makes it difficult to maintain the presence of the policy makers with the requisite knowledge-base and area expertise in the government.

Given thse 2 observations above; isn't it time to admit that realism is structurally impossible in the current configuration of US Government? That only parochial issues and tactical responses could and owuld dominate?
Anonymous 11:27,

It used to be that you had the concept of "statesmen" who continued to serve and to be tapped to serve from administration to administration. I don't think you could have a Joseph Grew or George Kennan career nowadays, and this also contributes to the inability to put together a realistic foreign policy, because if you only serve for 2 years and then move on, you don't worry about long term consequences.
Then we are doomed to go from crisis to crisis while others can plan long-term.

So we will be fritting away our margin of error on tactics and not on stratregy.
Short-term service has always been a fact of life at the senior appointed level. But throughout the Cold War there was remarkable continuity in US foreign policy below the fluctuations of emphasis and action that differentiated administrations and their changing personnel from one another.

What is missing today is the deeper gravitational influence of a long-term and relatively unchanging focus, such as the Soviet threat. We have now, on one level, the sense of being in a long war (against WMD terrorism); on another level, the sense of being in a long peace (daily life more or less the same); and on still another level, the sense of urgency associated with avoiding defeat in faster-moving theaters of war.

It is quite extraordinary to be this confused about what kind of situation we are in this many years after the precipitating event (9/11). The Cold War sorted itself out from about 1947 to 1951. The run-up to WWII took longer, from 1933 to 1939, but it became increasingly clear where things were going.

Appointed people and elected policy makers are simply rotating in and out of office the way they always have. If they lack a coherent vision of the longer-term, it is a reflection of the fact that such a vision hasn't been found, not that the structure of government is no longer capable of operating with one.

As to generating a long-term strategy, one could point to Robert Cooper in the UK and Samuel Huntington in the US as examples of thinkers trying to make larger sense of where we are and where we are going. Of course, their ideas (particularly Huntington's) are deeply controversial. But if other ideas or better ways of clarifying means from ends are wanted, then I think there is an opportunity now to step forward and present them.
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