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Sunday, August 27, 2006

 
Ethical Realism

by digby


Your Sunday night reading assignment, should you decide to accept it, is this article in The American prospect by Flynt Leverett, former member of the Bush administration, who quit in 2004.

His assessment is one of the most clear eyed views I've seen of the ramifications of the Bush Doctrine as it's been applied in the middle east. He calls for a return to "realism" which not so long ago was considered a dirty word by people like me. But I've learned a few things in the past few years --- there is something far worse than foreign policy realism and it's called neoconservatism in full effect, a lethally stupid combination of puerile Trotskyite idealism with a belief that brute force is the only path to democratic utopia. Combine that with epic ineptitude and you have the chaos that the Bush administration will bequeath to the next administration. And if a Republican succeeds him, the roots of neoconservatism are now deep enough in the party establishment that it will probably carry on for some time.

After five years of that Frankenstein experiment I'm more than happy to try some old fashioned stability, if only to catch a breather and survey the damage that's been wrought. I suspect many ordinary people in the mid-east would appreciate it as well.

Leverett points something out that we Democrats are going to have to think about. As I noted in my post yesterday about the "bipartisan" neocon think tanks, we have some issues to deal with on our side:

This focuses attention on the role of Democrats as the nation’s “loyal opposition” and whether the party can articulate a “return to realism” in U.S. foreign policy. The party has little to be proud of in the way it has discharged its role on foreign-policy issues. It has endorsed (or acquiesced to) all of the fundamental tenets of Bush’s revisionist approach to the Middle East. Broad support for the Iraq War among congressional Democrats was intellectually legitimated by “experts” like Kenneth Pollack, who wrote a best-selling book using an analytically flawed assessment of the Iraqi WMD threat to argue that going to war against Saddam was the “conservative” option. Similarly, Democrats have not posed a significant challenge to the administration’s emphasis on democratization in its strategy for the war on terrorism or its non-historical approach to the Palestinian issue.

Democrats have fallen into a “soft neconservatism” that has dulled the party’s voice on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger once observed that the United States is the only country in which the term “realist” is used as a pejorative. The more progressive elements of the Democratic coalition have been especially strident in voicing their antipathy to Kissingerian realism. But it was the 20th century’s greatest Democratic secretary of state, Dean Acheson, who defined a fundamentally realist paradigm for U.S. foreign policy in Europe during the Truman administration that laid the foundations for eventual peaceful victory in the Cold War. America needs that kind of wisdom about the Middle East today. It is time for Democrats to understand that, when it comes to curbing the threats posed by problematic states like Iran, encouraging reform in strategically important states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or ensuring Israel’s long-term future, realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy.


It's popular to invoke the Truman, Acheson period these days and i'm a little bit skeptical about this somewhat romantic characterization of a policy that was driven as much by simple pragmatism (a good part of the world was in rubble) as overarching philosophy. But I suppose there is an argument to be made that by connecting with some heroic ancestors we might be able to reclaim the mantle of patriosim from the nutball neocons. But regardless, the critique of the Democrats is correct. Many of them have adopted a soft neoconservatism, which until recently, I assumed to be a purely political decision due to Bush's massive early popularity and the trauma of 9/11. I'm not so sure now. Seeing the reactions to the recent Israel-Lebanon war, I can only assume that some sincere kool-aid drinking has gone on and that is very worrisome.

I am not entirely sure how I feel about this notion of "Ethical Realism" but I'm completely confident that neoconservatism in any permutation is dangerous and doomed to fail.

I will repeat my favorite little story to illustrate:


I remember as a child a strange little neighbor girl who was found in her backyard swinging her cat by the tail against the sidewalk screaming "you're gonna love me!"


That's neoconservatism. It's so insane, I believe almost anything is an improvement.



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