Get Realist

There’s a good reason why so few foreign-policy realists get high-profile commentator gigs–but they’re not an empty set.

Stephen Walt (recently well known not only to IR-theory geeks because of The Israel Lobby) writes in Salon that Bill Kristol’s hiring at the NYT is symptomatic of the neoconservative and liberal-internationalist domination of the country’s op-ed pages. Fair enough, so far as it goes. But then he goes on to say

Such views are hardly heretical, but there is not a single major columnist, TV commentator or radio pundit who consistently presents a realist perspective on world politics and American foreign policy. In America today, the mainstream media is a realism-free zone.

I’ve thought about this for ten seconds, and I’ve already come up with George Will, Paul Krugman, and Fareed Zakaria as counterexamples. True, none are realist theoreticians—and I have no idea whether they’ve read Waltz and Morgenthau, or would self-identify as realists—but their inherent caution and cold-bloodedness on foreign-policy matters would certainly qualify them. Furthermore, there’s a good reason why the Friedmans and Brookses get more play: realism doesn’t make for good copy in the new world of op-edutainment. Friedman’s internationalism lets him play “if this is Thursday it must be Thimpu”; Kristol can rally us to invade…wherever’s next on the list. Paleocons and isolationists of all stripes get to fulminate against whichever conspiracy they see getting us into foreign entanglements. But realist prescriptions are dry and bloodless—who wants to read that in their morning paper? Walt himself has written some good books (his latest, which largely contradicts them, not among them), but if I were a programmer or newspaper editor I wouldn’t hire him.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: