Monday, August 05, 2013

Public Morality and the Case for Neo-Realism

In a piece over at The National Interest, The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy, Robert D. Kaplan has done a superb job of outlining the critical importance of a cold-blooded, long-term, clear-eyed foreign policy perspective at the front of the national security decision making process, vice the hot-blooded, short-term feel-good emotionalism of the Requirement to Protect (R2P) and Never Again! school of interventionism.

With two of the major advocates of R2P, Susan Rice and Samantha Powers, as critical players in the national security arena in the Obama Administration - this discussion is more important than ever.

We've discussed it a few times here and at Midrats, but Kaplan really gives it a very good overview.
But American foreign policy cannot merely be defined by R2P and Never Again! Statesmen can only rarely be concerned with humanitarian interventions and protecting human rights to the exclusion of other considerations. The United States, like any nation—but especially because it is a great power—simply has interests that do not always cohere with its values. That is tragic, but it is a tragedy that has to be embraced and accepted.
Isn't that the central argument? Do we have people in power who are willing to not let the emotion of the moment, i.e. the "CNN-Effect" cause them to make a call that at best causes Americans to be killed for nothing or at worst creates the conditions for much greater problems in the medium to long term? 

Sure, you can argue advocating "stability uber alles" a bit too much - the progress of history can be stubborn - but one shouldn't go about the planet looking for dragons to slay.

Are Realists immoral to let tyranny stand unchallenged?
Because moralists in these matters are always driven by righteous passion, whenever you disagree with them, you are by definition immoral and deserve no quarter; whereas realists, precisely because they are used to conflict, are less likely to overreact to it. Realists know that passion and wise policy rarely flow together. (The late diplomat Richard Holbrooke was a stunning exception to this rule.) Realists adhere to the belief of the mid-twentieth-century University of Chicago political scientist, Hans Morgenthau, who wrote that “one must work with” the base forces of human nature, “not against them.” Thus, realists accept the human material at hand in any given place, however imperfect that material may be. To wit, you can’t go around toppling regimes just because you don’t like them. Realism, adds Morgenthau, “appeals to historical precedent rather than to abstract principles [of justice] and aims at the realization of the lesser evil rather than of the absolute good.”
As a side-note, though I haven't read it, Kaplan most recent book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, looks interesting.

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