Yesterday, I blogged about a somewhat narrow academic question -- focusing on realist scholars and their view of international relations.
Still, the underlying question is quite important. Does the US pursue its ideals in world politics, or does it merely talk about ideals while employing brute force to achieve instrumental interests?
When I was working on candidate Bush's foreign policy promises from the 2000 campaign (ultimately published in International Studies Perspectives), I discovered that a lot of Bush advisors claimed to be hard-nosed realists who rejected Clintonian idealism. Condi Rice's Foreign Affairs article stressed that it can be hard to separate realism and idealism in the real world, but she clearly preferred to be considered a realist.
However, much has changed since 2000. For one thing, a group of neoconservative foreign policy intellectuals has assumed more power within the administration than many thought was likely. Paul Wolfowitz, "Scooter" Libby, John Bolton and other alums of the Project for a New American Century are in many ways idealists.
As Edward Rhodes of Rutgers has argued, Bush administration policy and rhetoric since 9/11 seems downright Wilsonian. He wrote an article in Survival called "The Imperial Logic of Bush's Liberal Agenda."
President Bush's references to freedom, democracy, elections and other American ideals means something completely different if the realist John Mearsheimer is even half right. If these words are mere cover for selfish American interventionism, the rhetoric is totally hypocritical and the policy is likely quite dangerous.
The realist scholar Christopher Layne predicted that the Iraq war would become a quagmire back in March (Mearsheimer too has hit on this theme)! More importantly, Layne argued this:
"The administration’s policy has revealed the United States before the world as an aggressive hegemon engaged in the naked aggrandizement of its own power. "
In sum, liberal imperialism is still imperialism.
And the debate I discussed yesterday isn't merely academic.