What’s wrong with foreign-policy “realism”

American interests include, and require, earning the love and respect of the rest of the planet rather than its hatred and fear.

Clive Crook illustrates:

Make no mistake, Mr Obama is a once-in-a-generation possibility. Admittedly, in many ways he is too good to be true. Hopes of what he might achieve are running out of control. His followers say he is uniquely able to restore US standing in the world, partly by adopting a more conciliatory approach and partly (it seems) by being black. The sad truth is that on many issues US interests diverge from those of other nations. Any new president could improve relations with other governments; the current administration has set that bar into the floor. But if President Obama aimed first and foremost to advance US interests, as he would, then, regardless of how enlightened and encompassing his notion of US interests proved to be, overseas rapture at his election would quickly fade.

Well, yes. If (and only if) “US interests” do not include what Jefferson & Co. called “a decent respect to the opinion of mankind.” If, that is, the United States has no interest in being loved and respected, rather than hated and feared, around the globe. If, in other words, we don’t actually intend that other countries be ruled democratically (else our standing in world public opinion would constrain the capacity of other governments to cooperate with ours).

The problem with realism as a foreign-policy doctrine is that it’s so … unrealistic. Realism always means supporting whoever “our sunsuvbitches” happen to be at the moment: the Kuomintang, the Shah, the Somozas, Moise Tshombe, Trujillo, the Duvaliers, Franco, the Greek Colonels, the Argentinian Colonels, Mobutu, Pinochet, the South African Nationalists, Suharto, Jonas Savimbi, Noriega, various jihadist groups (against the Russki), Saddam Hussein (against Iran), Chalabi, Musharraf.

If that sort of realism is what Obama means by “the thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place,” I agree that it’s time to get past it. There’s a term for human beings who act as foreign-policy realists think nation-states should and do act. The term is “sociopath.”

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com