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A Realist Rally

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
September 2, 2008
National Interest



Now is the moment to forge a new, broader, politically potent coalition of realists to shape U.S. foreign policy, if the high priests of the realist camp would only grasp it.

The two main alternatives to traditional realism for half a century have now discredited themselves. The Clinton administration—fixated on domestic politics and overawed by the curative powers of globalization—squandered American power. The Bush administration—blind to the limitations of military force and carried away by the idea of democratizing heathens—plunged America into its deepest international hole ever.

The first step toward a new coalition is for the keepers of the realist flame—such as James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger—to stop searching for partners in the wrong places. Time and again, they turn to their fellow Republicans, especially the conservatives on the right, only to rediscover that the right-wingers are latent isolationists with dogmatic slants on good-and-evil in the world. There is no way that realists can share a harness with those who reject the necessity for engagement and diplomacy with adversaries. Traditional realists also foolishly keep trying to bond with neoconservatives, only to relearn that neocons treat them almost as poorly as they treat liberals. No one can build working arrangements with those whose foreign policy boils down to staying every course, exerting will power and waiting for the world to bend to Washington’s wishes.


This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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