Saturday, October 29, 2005

I Too Was Once a 'Realist'

Before focusing my career in architecture, I dabbled in political science. It was my major in college for the simple reason that it was the only subject that seemed to combine my interest in current events as well as history. During my years in college in the mid-Nineties, my courses in international relations presented two major worldviews: that of the liberal internationalist and the other of the realist. The realist sees a world governed by force, with competing powers doing anything they can to earn an advantage or preserve an acceptable stability, regardless of moral integrity. The realist view is best defined by Charles Krauthammer's latest editorial on Brent Scowcroft:

Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy. You care not a whit about who is running a foreign 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.
Realists prize stability above all, and there is nothing more stable than a ruthlessly efficient dictatorship.

In comparing my views at the time with the two schools of thought, I tended to the latter. Liberal internationalists valued non-governmental organizations, multi-national diplomatic forums like the U.N., and they believed in the efficiency in papering pver disputes by way of treaties and resolutions. Naturally, the need for war would be transcended by more opportunities to talk by forging economic and humanitarian alliances addressing issues such as poverty and environmental destruction.

Even in my naive youth, I was sufficiently cynical to opt for the realist perspective . Though the liberal internationalists appealed to my more idealistic side, I had travelled too much (and read too much Robert D. Kaplan) to know that it wasn't going to work. The following years after college seemed to prove my suspicions with the ongoing instances of impotence the U.N. displayed towards Iraq, Rwanda, Bosnia and so forth. Kyoto became worthless when Clinton quietly shelved it, and the unresolved restlessness in the former Soviet Republics was witness to a lot of realist issues.

I've evolved since then towards the Charles Krauthammer school of foreign relations, which is a mixture of realism and the promotion of democracy abroad, sort of what neoconservatives are accused of pushing. But his depiction of Mr. Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush's National Security Advisor, reminded me how significantly my worldview had changed since college, and it almost makes me embarrassed to have ever been so cynical about human nature. I've become far too convinced that humanity desires certain basic freedoms to buy into the moral bancruptcy of Scowcroft and many in foreign policy establishment. The current Bush doctrine has an idealistic element I can get behind with little regret. It requires the sacrifice for an idea, but at least U.S. foreign policy is much more enobled than before, in spite of it depraved critics around the world.

UPDATE: Chapomatic has a good essay about realism and idealism, well worth a read.
Pejman Yousefzadeh has some similar insights and makes Condi Rice all the more admirable.

Note: Check out Mudville Gazette's trackback party for more interesting blog reads. Also, check out this, this, and this.

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