Get Real (GIDEON ROSE, 8/18/05, NY Times)

For more than half a century, overenthusiastic idealists of one variety or another have gotten themselves and the country into trouble abroad and had to be bailed out by prudent successors brought in to clean up the mess. When the crisis passes, however, the realists’ message about the need to act carefully in a fallen world ends up clashing with Americans’ loftier impulses. The result is a tedious cycle that plays itself out again and again. […]

Seen in proper perspective, in other words, the Bush administration’s signature efforts represent not some durable, world-historical shift in America’s approach to foreign policy but merely one more failed idealistic attempt to escape the difficult trade-offs and unpleasant compromises that international politics inevitably demand – even from the strongest power since Rome. Just as they have so many times before, the realists have come in after an election to offer some adult supervision and tidy up the joint. This time it’s simply happened under the nose of a victorious incumbent rather than his opponent (which may account for the failure to change the rhetoric along with the policy).

BEING fully American rather than devotees of classic European realpolitik, the realists-today represented most prominently by Ms. Rice and her team at the State Department-offer not different goals but a calmer and more measured path toward the same ones. They still believe in American power and the global spread of liberal democratic capitalism. But they seek legitimate authority rather than mere material dominance, favor cost-benefit analyses rather than ideological litmus tests, and prize good results over good intentions.

it’s funny enough that Mr. Rose declares the triumph of Realism at a time when, just to pick some examples off the top of my head, the following are occurring:

* Ariel Sharon is creating a Palestinian state

* The Iraqis are finishing a constitution

* The Indonesians cut an autonomy deal with Aceh

* The Egyptians have started their first presidential election campaign

* The new king of Saudi Arabia has released political prisoners

* An American businessman has returned to Haiti to run for president

* We’re stepping up the pressure on Belarus to liberalize

* Japan is preparing to change its constitution so it can arm against China

* The Sudanese smoothly replaced John Garang after his tragic death

* The North Koreans are offering to give up their nuclear program if we just stop being mean to them

* Afghanistan has just begin a parliamentary election campaign

* Taiwan is deploying cruise missiles pointed at China

* Feel free to add your own

But even funnier is that he’s reduced to declaring Condi Rice a Realist in order to make his case.

The basic idea of Realism is quite simple: Stability Uber Alles. The Realists prefer a regime that can keep its own people quiet and get along with its neighbors, no matter how repressive that regime may be. However, as the list above demonstrates, there is almost nowhere in the world that we are willing to accept such tyranny in exchange for stability. Meanwhile, even as regards the few where we’re willing to accept it for more than a brief period of convenience — perhaps only Pakistan and China at this time — we’re forging entirely new strategic alliances so as to be in a position to tackle them militarily when the time comes. Ms Rice is in the thick of all this–travelling to Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, India, etc.

To call this a return to Realism is to admit defeat at the hands of American idealism.

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