Thursday, December 07, 2006

Realists Resurgent?

One of the themes in media coverage the day after the release of the Iraq Study Group is the "return" of the realists; the notion that realism is once again ascendant.

Doesn't seem that way to me.

To use what perhaps may be a crude metaphor, U.S. foreign policy realists are the janitors of the system. If someone throws up on the country club dance floor, you want them there in a flash to clean up, disinfect and generally remove any trace of the unfortunate accident. But they aren't often invited to the cotillion and certainly not to sit on the membership committee.

Realist advice is usually ignored at the beginning of a venture; it is solicited only when everything else appears to be failing.

While realists are being asked to come up with ways to either salvage something of victory (or stave off defeat) in Iraq--the foreign policy establishment and mainstream media seems to be right on course for creating new problems and crises. No need to let a setback like Iraq prevent other crusading efforts.

Bonus prediction: James Baker, today being touted as the hero of the hour, will be in five or ten years time condemned as the man who prevented freedom from spreading in the Middle East, cited as the latest example of the amoral realist who prevented America from fulfilling its destiny (see entries for Kissinger and FDR as examples).

You may absolutely be right, Nick. Then again, isn't this insight also a wake-up call for like-minded folks to step up to the plate and push more aggressively for prudent policy choices in the first place. Where is the new ethically realist generation? It's your turn now!
Why wait five years? Already starting ...
I can name the tension more specifically: between sincere analysts and demagogues.
You do not need to be ethical to be a realist. You only need to acknowledge your limitations.

Being a Realist does not mean that one has to be a dead-dog-liberal; only that things cost and you best look before streching your legs.

I am not very optimistic about the near prospects of Realism in US; the populace and the government are too confident and too secure in their belief in their "infinite" capabilities. I think they need a few more situations like Iraq coupled with a lowering of their standard of living to come back to earth.

Earth to America - Come in America.
"I can name the tension more specifically: between sincere analysts and demagogues."

Yup. Nothing new about it either. And based on our history, my money's on the demagogues. The "stab in the back" legend is already under intensive development by the Mayberry Machiavelli's at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and their various minions in the Punditocracy.
The answer to the question depends on (a) the defintion (alas, always with the definition thing) and as if not more importantly; (b) with whom and where.

Let's stipulate a definition commonly accepted by usage here and in your magazine. So turning to (b).

Take one example, the Republican Party. Despite November 7th and Smith's belated self-criticism, the Republican Party apparat, base and elected officials remain largely committed to the politics of abstraction -- emotional, religious and Nativist. Abstract political entities are organically based on AgitProp for direction, energy and organization. Even now, the false binary of victory or defeat - and acceptance of 'defeat' in Iraq while embracing the ISG to repudiate the Administration -- is essential within this framework. 'Realism' here is a mere prop.

Realists may be in vogue at the moment. But to be a realist and Republican still is quintessentially to be a Winston still in a sea of O'Briens. Because in a polity of abstraction -- empiricism and calculations based thereon -- are fundamentally incompatable.

One could go on, but the viablity of 'realism' is in the end not determined by which Think Tanks write what, but on the underlying political infrastructure that permits those ideas to become State policy. it isn't just someone sitting at AEI or Hudson in chair. But the techtonic politics that put them there, support them and promulgate their memes.

My two cents. Love the blog.
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