Realism and Democracy

American Foreign Policy after the Arab Spring

A personal story of the development of U.S. human rights policy in the last forty years and an argument, both "realist" and principled, for supporting the expansion of democracy in the Middle East.

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

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Middle East and North Africa

U.S. Foreign Policy


The United States is turning away from support for democrats in Arab countries in favor of “pragmatic” deals with tyrants to defeat violent Islamist extremism. For too many policymakers, Arab democracy is seen as a dangerous luxury. In Realism and Democracy, Elliott Abrams marshals four decades of experience as an American official and leading Middle East expert and shows that deals with tyrants will not work. Islamism is an idea that can only be defeated by a better idea: democracy. Through a careful analysis of America’s record of democracy promotion in the region and beyond, from the Cold War to the Obama years, Abrams proves that repression helps Islamists beat democrats, but political openings offer moderates and liberals a chance. This book makes a powerful argument for an American foreign policy that combines practical politics and idealism and refuses to abandon those struggling for democracy and human rights in the Arab world.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book



Reviews and Endorsements

Elliott Abrams has done the country another important service. This outstanding book reminds us that the enduring power of America is that, at our best, we see our interests as our values, and our values as our interests. Now more than ever, Americans and their leaders need to understand that support for human rights has been, and should remain, a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy. This book could not be more timely or more significant.

Senator John McCain

Elliott Abrams gives us a brilliant review of the fight for freedom, showing with clarity what works and what does not. But even more, he highlights the possibilities for progress that may be gained from a determined, long-term strategy advocating democracy and human rights.

Honorable George P. Shultz

Drawing on his experience as a maker and an observer of American foreign policy over many decades and presidential administrations, Elliott Abrams offers a powerful and timely case for why the United States should continue working to advance democracy, human rights, and universal values in the Middle East—not just for instrumental reasons, but also as ends in and of themselves.

Senator Marco Rubio

A powerful and persuasive argument that realism as well as American ideals should lead us to support the struggle for freedom.

Joseph Lieberman, Former U.S. Senator from Connecticut and Senior Counsel, Kasowitz, Benson and Torres

Since the 1980s, no U.S. official has done more to advance the cause of democracy and human rights than Elliott Abrams. Here bringing his vast experience to bear on American policy in the Middle East, he makes a powerful, pragmatic case for promoting democratic reform in Egypt and other Arab autocracies. Sure to be controversial in the best sense—his arguments cannot be ignored.

Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, and author of The World America Made

America’s greatest asset in world politics is its association with freedom. Elliott Abrams brings unique experience as an American official who understood the power of freedom—and realized that an American strategy to advance democracy advances American interests. Here he explains how men like Scoop Jackson, George Shultz, and Ronald Reagan worked to support liberty and democracy—and how to build on their legacy today, including in the Arab world. Every official in the State Department should be required to read this book.

Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, human rights activist and former political prisoner in the Soviet Union