Thursday, July 08, 2004

Idealism Kills

Thought I'd share my response to Josh Marshall (and David Brooks):
Mr. Marshall:

I think you are a little bit off the mark in dismissing Bush & Co's new-Wilsonianism as an empty claim. To the neoconservatives who were the intellectual force behind the Iraq invasion (Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams, Feith) this stuff is gospel. The reason the US is not pressing harder for the overthrow of dictatorships around the world is that such a policy is impossible, perhaps insane. There is a messianic sense among many Americans that it is our sacred task to spread freedom around the world - but the fact is that we lack the power to do this.

Many older Americans came of age when the US was nearly all powerful - in 1946, the US economy represented 46% of the world economy. Today, that share is less than 25%. However we like to portray ourselves to others - "hyperpower" etc, the fact is the US is an empire in decline, at least relatively speaking. Once we had the power to reshape the world at will - Iraq has shown the world that we no longer have that power. You debate "pleading broader geostrategic interests as a defense for supporting dictatorships and human rights abusers" as if there is another possible option, but there isn't, unless you regard trying to democratize the world and failing in a humiliating manner to be sound policy.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic - the world IS moving towards democratization - but it is a slow and painful process of building institutions and learning to live with diversity. If the US wants to promote this process, it should support international law, the International Criminal Court, etc. Establishing the principles of the rule of law and transparency worldwide would give strong support to democratic movements everywhere. But putting pressure on individual countries, or on every nondemocratic regime at once, is silliness and quite possibly strategic suicide. Of course there are cases where pressure works - such as South Africa - but those are extraordinary, unusual circumstances. Witness how effective sactions agains Libya and Cuba have been at promoting democratization!

I don't know if Kerry is a Realist or not, but I am praying that he is. Idealism kills, as Kerry knows from personal experience.
Kerry weighs in at Madison, Wisconsin's Capitol Times ("Fighting Bob" LaFollette's old paper):
To give democracy, pluralism and regional peace a chance, we need a policy that is effective - a policy that finally includes a heavy dose of realism.
JFK2 is uses the R word a lot here, but deliberately muddies the water, blurring together the vernacular and foreign policy meanings of the word. For what it's worth, his Iraq strategy is better than Bush's: Assign a high commissioner, replace the hated US troops with a multinational force headed by NATO, give other powers a stake in Iraq's rehabilitation. But is it realism?

In the sense that it takes the national interests of the US and other powers into account, I suppose it is. But he seems to be arguing that Realism can accomplish Idealism's mad goals better than Idealism can. And I suppose that's true, but it paints much to rosy a picture of the chance for democracy to thrive in third world commodity states. The virtue of Realism is that it takes into account the limits of American power and does not set objectives that are beyond our means to achieve. One candidate once called this concept a "humble" foreign policy.
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