Charles Krauthammer writes, in Washington Post, about the cynicism of the realist doctrine of international politics. He exemplifies with Brent Scowcroft, a die hard realist who, at all times, prefers stability to unpredictable change towards democracy. A short excerpt:
One of the reasons for Iraqi wariness during the U.S. liberation 12 years later was the memory of our past betrayal and suspicions about our current intentions in light of that betrayal.
This coldbloodedness is a trademark of this nation’s most doctrinaire foreign policy “realist.” Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy: The only thing that counts is how countries interact, not what’s happening inside. You care not a whit about who is running a country. Whether it is Mother Teresa or the Assad family gangsters in Syria, you care only about their external actions, not how they treat their own people.
It’s easy to see how realism can appeal to people, dispite these effects. Stability is a highly valued notion, even more so in Europe than in the United States, I think. This is not strange. We are well off currently, and if we just make sure things remain as they are we should continue to be well off. Right? Combined with a cynical and pessimistic outlook on the world in general and people in particular, the conclusion of realism is not all that strange. And this pessimism concerning human nature is, perhaps, something that leads people towards ideologies on the left where society is shaped to keep all those bad human qualities in check (at the price of severly decreased freedom). And we do find most of the realists on the left (though there are plenty of them on the right too).
To answer my own question: No. Wrong. For one thing I do not agree with this pessimistic view on humanity and the claims that Arabs does not truly value freedom as we do, and therefore do not need it at the cost of stability in the region. This is obviously wrong. It has been proven by the millions of Iraqis who, risking their lives, has gone to give their vote. And the same thing was once said about the Japanese, the Germans, and the many peoples now free from communist oppression in Eastern Europe. Humans are no angels, for sure, but they do long for — and have a right to — freedom.
The assumption that it’s possible to uphold status quo also seems wrong. The world is not static and we will not, in the long run, succeed in keeping things as they are. Sooner or later, unless we actively prevent it, democracy will spread to the Arab world and even into Iran. And actively preventing such a developement should be impossible to do for any respectable person.
This drives us, or me anyway, towards the neoconservative position of interventionism. Of course, this is not a trouble free position — to be taken seriously those of us who advocate going to war at times, must acknowledge the great horrors this leads to, for all sides involved. War is never an easy option and a few things must be the case for it to be a good idea. There must be a good chance of winning it, and then achieving a better situation for those living in the country — otherwise they will be even worse off with a war than with their current regime. This condition was indeed valid during the war in Iraq. Saddam was toppled, and despite the terrorist bombings things are moving steadily in the right direction, and things are better and more hopeful than during the terrible years of Saddam Hussein’s reign.
What’s the point of all this? We must always compare the alternatives, and we must demand that the realists explain why they think their alternative with all of it’s consequences is better than ours. Just as we must explain why we prefer this to their’s.