Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Realism in the US

Nick Gvosdev has two excellent posts at his blog: One, mocking the arrogance of the statement that America is the "sole superpower":
We are facing insurgencies in two Third World states; we aren't fighting land wars with major powers.... Yes, the situation in Iraq has worsened. It is not because another great power has intervened a la the PRC in Korea.
An invincible superpower should, as Gvosdev has said before, be able to field more troops than Mussolini did in the mid-1930s.

The second one is more interesting, as it links to this article in the National Journal article about realists in the US today. Not only is it a good distillation of the basics of realism - who are the major realist thinkers, what do they believe, why - but it also makes a number of important points. In no particular order:

-Realism does have a predictive value that the liberal theories of international relations have not yet demonstrated. Realists were generally the academics making the argument that Iraq was not in America's best interests, that the consequences would be more terrorism and a stronger Iran, and the sectarian violence would overwhelm the US Army. You didn't have to be a realist to make those arguments, but they are arguments based in realist theory. (This isn't to say the realists get everything right, but they do pretty well for a social science.)

-America's long-term plans in the Middle East almost certainly lie with a withdrawal from Iraq and an "over the horizon" presence that doesn't rely on an armed presence in the Muslim world.

-However, America's global plans still - counter to realist thinking - embrace what the article calls the "primacy path", or what Gwynne Dyer has called the plan for America to run the world, forever. Realists see this as foolhardy:
In Washington, he told me, there is close to a bipartisan consensus on "the primacy path" for 21st-century America -- the notion "that the U.S. should be the world's manager of security issues." What's missing, he said, from this rote formulation of U.S. responsibilities -- Madeleine Albright, a secretary of State in the Clinton administration, once called the U.S. "the indispensable nation" -- is an understanding that no great power will ever be perceived by lesser ones as a disinterested "manager" of global affairs. And so, "the harder we push, the harder they push back. The trick should be to make the United States less present in the lives of other countries," Posen said.
The whole article is excellent, briefly distilling everything I learned about realism during one summer course at University. But for you, it's free. No fair!

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