Foreign Policy Realism

By Thomas E. Brewton

It is said that diplomats must be prepared to negotiate with the Devil, which raises the question whether anything can be gained by negotiating with pure evil. Is it realism to assume that the Devil can be made less than evil?

Release of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report puts the doctrine of foreign policy realism in the middle of the table. One implication of that doctrine is that values should play no role in foreign policy; only material national interests deserve consideration.

Yet liberal Republicans and liberal Democrats have been touting the forthcoming report (predictably leaked and already widely discussed by the New York Times) as a counter to the administration's policy.

How does diplomatic realism square with the endless barrages of criticism from liberals that the Bush doctrine of preemptive action has squandered the United States's moral capital with the rest of the world?

How does diplomatic realism square with liberals attacking all forms of clandestine surveillance of enemy activity? with demands that terrorists be treated like prisoners of war under the Geneva convention?

Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Levin, and Dodd apparently regard "sensitivity" and popularity as values that trump other national interests, ergo the UN and not US military action: ingratiation, not defense. Where does the expected diplomatic realism of the Baker- Hamilton Iraq Study Group report fit into that picture? Are "sensitivity" and popularity moral values?

The real issue, of course, is how a nation defines its values and which ones of them deserve to be regarded as national interests. The next question is how those value interests interrelate with other national interests.

We can't be the world's policeman for every atrocity that comes along, because we do not have the necessary resources. And, as Iraq and Vietnam prove, a majority of the public won't tolerate lengthy overseas combat. We must make common-sense choices.

Attacking Iraq for the purpose of establishing the mechanics of a "democracy" is a false value issue, both because democracy is a matter of long-nurtured traditions, not a Jimmy Carter-supervised election process, and because it alone is not a sufficient national interest to weigh against the many costs in lives and cash.

Had there been a functioning democracy in Iraq that Saddam or Iran was attempting to obliterate, coupled with the Middle East's strategic importance for the world's oil supply, then preserving democracy would have become a legitimate value reason, along with other elements, for invasion.

In either case, attacking Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein, Al Queda, or Iran from exercising a choke-hold on one of the world's major oil- producing regions is a clear national interest that coincides with diplomatic realism.

As a bonus, should we be able eventually to hand over all defense functions to a stable, popularly-electd Iraqi government, both realism and values will have been satisfied.

An earlier, related example of foreign policy realism was the British- CIA coup ousting Mohammed Mossaddeq from Iranian power in 1953 after he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil company and attempted to take over the government. Continued access to Iranian oil was assured, but at the price of preserving the dictatorship of the Shah.

An unforeseen consequence of this realism, 26 years later, was the overthrow of the Shah and imposition of Islamic sharia under an embittered and anti-Western Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which brings us to today's face-off with a nuclear-armed enemy.

If our primary source of information, leaks reported by the New York Times, is accurate, a major recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report is that we bring Iran into negotiations over Iraq to stop both the outside terrorist attacks and the internal bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites.

Is that realism? or is it suicide?

Foreign policy realists cite President Nixon's overture to China as an example of successfully dealing with the Devil. It's true that Mao was as savagely evil as anyone who every lived. But, unlike our confrontation with Iran, both the United States and China had material national interests that were to be advanced with establishment of diplomatic relations. China, experiencing industrial collapse and economic stagnation, had much to gain by opening trade relations with us. In turn, we had much to gain by splitting China away from the Soviet Union.

The only diplomatic trading point that we have with Iran is to cease opposing their development of nuclear weapons. Like world-class chess players, the Iranians are maneuvering their diplomatic pieces to set up future moves.

Several years of diplomatic realism, in the form of European negotiations with Iran, makes clear that Iran negotiates simply to stall any real sanctions until it is too late. No matter what they agree to do, they continue their nuclear development program.

After Iran has long-range rockets armed with nuclear warheads, what conceivable "realism" could compel them to refrain from wiping out Israel and then imposing their hegemony upon the oil resources of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia? We will become helpless victims of their blackmailing.

In the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) era of the Cold War, while we both had nuclear weapons, the Soviet government wanted to survive and propagate socialism. Today, the Islamic jihadists in Iran are eager to destroy the whole world with a nuclear suicide-bombing in order to hasten the Koran's end times and the fabled return of the Twelfth Imam.

That ought to be too high a price for "sensitivity" and popularity with the European street mobs, even for liberals like Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Levin, and Dodd. As philosophical materialists, however, liberals don't believe in spiritual matters like religion and patriotism and remain blindly confident that diplomatic conversations at the UN and a few billions of dollars worth of foreign aid will transform Iran into a mellow friend. Realism?

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc.
The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 –

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