Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Starobin: FDR, Realist

Paul Starobin has an in-depth piece on the return of realism in American foreign policy in the latest issue of National Journal, which I would commend to readers of TWR.

While there has been a good deal of talk about the Truman-Eisenhower legacy, Starobin, in a section called "Waiting for FDR", makes the following observation:

"If it is true that unadorned realism does not sell as a foreign-policy approach, history, as realists like to say, provides a textbook example of how core realist principles can be pursued by America's stewards in the guise of traditional, freedom-spreading rhetoric. The trick, it might be said, is a generous dollop of deviousness.

"The example is offered by the most cunning (and most successful) realist ever to occupy the White House: Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

He then describes Roosevelt's approach to Stalin's USSR, and concludes as follows:

""The question is not why Roosevelt acted as though he believed in Stalin," editor Susan Butler notes in her introduction to My Dear Mr. Stalin. "It is, rather, what other tactic would have worked as well. Roosevelt wanted to win the war; he wanted to win the peace that followed," Butler writes. And thus did the U.S. "save the world for democracy" through close collaboration with one of history's all-time fiends."

He then returns to the present day and the Iraq war, the freedom doctrine, and so on. "Early in his presidency, George W. Bush, in his courting of Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf, the autocrats of Russia and Pakistan, respectively, showed that he was not altogether impervious to the realist mind-set. But his dominant approach, as a willing breaker of order -- in the belief that wars of choice to implant liberty can establish, in the long run, an international environment friendlier to the U.S. -- was put to the test in Iraq, where the experiment has so far been found wanting."

He points out that the sentiments expressed by the current president Bush are often echoed by his likely replacements on both ends. He concludes:

"Of course, FDR used such optimistic rhetoric. All U.S. presidents do, as do all ambitious senators. The big question is whether a new president, FDR-like, will find a way to cloak a policy of realism in a suit of ideals."

An article well worth reading.

FDR understood the difference between an ideal world (Four Freedoms) and what could be achieved in an immediate space of time, and that you shouldn't mortgage what you can achieve with what you'd prefer the world to be. He secured the freedom of western Europe by "losing" eastern Europe at the time and paved the way for all Europe to be free in the end.
Nick, will read this essay with interest, as I have just finished reading Conrad Black's "The Yalta Myth" in your most recent issue. The emergence of FDR as a "realist icon" would be an interesting development.
Nick, made this point on the last post about the draft right now, but putting the same thoughts here as well. We have politicians today talking about wars and threats and so on and unwilling to seriously consider reinstituting the draft because of the political costs.

FDR reinstituted the draft in 1940, and was prepared to take the political heat for it, because he was someone prepared to LEAD.
Was FDR a realist or was he just cunning?
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