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Monday, January 24, 2005

Hidden realism?

University of Chicago political scientist John J. Mearsheimer often argues that liberal political rhetoric is used to sell foreign policies that might otherwise be unpalatable. States, especially great powers like the US, pursue policies that are consistent with realism. They are self-interested and especially concerned about the distribution of power.

So what do we make of last Thursday's Inaugural address, which seemed to be about "freedom" and "liberty"? Plenty of analysts say this was Bush channeling Woodrow Wilson -- and Ronald Reagan. And they very strongly imply that Bush meant every word. Some are even calling it a new (or perhaps revised) "Bush doctrine of liberty."

White House spinners insist that the speech wasn't merely about ideas, but rather was a fusion of ideas and power politics. In The Washington Post, January 22, 2005, Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei talked to Presidential speechwriter Michael J. Gerson who emphasized that the US intends to use its power to achieve its ideals:
Bush's speech appeared to put the United States on a course in which moralism and idealism, rather than realpolitik, form the philosophical foundations of foreign policy. But White House officials said that is a misreading of how Bush operates. "His goals are deeply idealistic," Gerson said. "His methods are deeply realistic. In fact, that was one of the themes of the speech, that this traditional divide between realism and idealism is no longer adequate for the conduct of American foreign policy."
Condi Rice has previously talked (quite often, actually) about the marriage between material power and values.
There is an old argument between the so-called "realistic" school of foreign affairs and the "idealistic" school. To oversimplify, realists downplay the importance of values and the internal structures of states, emphasizing instead the balance of power as the key to stability and peace. Idealists emphasize the primacy of values, such as freedom and democracy and human rights in ensuring that just political order is obtained. As a professor, I recognize that this debate has won tenure for and sustained the careers of many generations of scholars. As a policymaker, I can tell you that these categories obscure reality.

In real life, power and values are married completely. Power matters in the conduct of world affairs. Great powers matter a great deal -- they have the ability to influence the lives of millions and change history. And the values of great powers matter as well.
From there, it's only a hop, skip and a jump to the Orwellian phrase used in NSS 2002, "a balance of power that favors freedom."

I'm not 100% sure whether to side with Mearsheimer or Gerson and Rice in this discussion, but Fareed Zakaria offers a very interesting point:
Bush has also pushed higher on the agenda the question of American hypocrisy....

The chasm between rhetoric and reality, while inevitable, is striking. The Bush administration has not been particularly vociferous in holding dictators to account—no more or less, really, than other recent administrations. Vladimir Putin has presided over the most significant reversal of freedoms across the globe, only to be praised by Bush as a soulmate. More scandalously, the president has sided with Putin in his interpretation of the Chechen war as a defensive action against terrorists....

...when democratic Taiwan stood up to communist China last year, Bush publicly admonished it, siding with Beijing. When brave dissidents in Saudi Arabia were jailed for proposing the possibility of a constitutional monarchy in that country, the administration barely mentioned it. Crown Prince Abdullah, who rules one of the eight most repressive countries in the world (according to Freedom House), is one of a handful of leaders to have been invited to the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. (The elected leaders of, say, India, France, Turkey and Indonesia have never been accorded this courtesy.) The president has met with and given aid to Islam Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan, who presides over one of the nastiest regimes in the world today, far more repressive than Iran’s, to take just one example.
Zakaria's article is very good and well worth reading in its entirety. I'd like to think that it ties in nicely with my previous blog entries about American hypocrisy.

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