Friday, November 16, 2007

The 'new conservative realism'?

I have been writing off and on about a sort of "new liberal realism," urging accommodation and containment of dictators, and ultimately saying not only that bringing down Saddam was not worth the price in US blood and treasure, but that Saddam was, on balance, better than Iraq without Saddam. I have not, to say the least, been very happy about this new conventional liberal wisdom, and I've sharply criticized it here and here and here (these are all free downloadable pdfs at SSRN).

But there seems to me emerging among the conservative think tankers and pundits a kind of "new conservative realism" that is different from either Baker-Scowcroft realism or the neo-con "idealism is the new realism" that in part fueled the Iraq war. I am not quite sure of its contours yet, or precisely what I think about it, in fact. But it seems to be partly captured by this op ed in the Washington Post by Charles Krauthammer, here, Friday, November 16, 2007. Excerpts:

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[T]he strength of alliances is heavily dependent on the objective balance of international forces, and has very little to do with the syntax of the U.S. president or the disdain in which he might be held by a country's cultural elites.

It's classic balance-of-power theory: Weaker nations turn to the great outside power to help them balance a rising regional threat. Allies are not sentimental about their associations. It is not a matter of affection, but of need -- and of the great power's ability to deliver.

What's changed in the last year? Bush's dress and diction remain the same. But he did change generals -- and counterinsurgency strategy -- in Iraq. As a result, Iraq has gone from an apparently lost cause to a winnable one.

The rise of external threats to our allies has concentrated their minds on the need for the American connection. The revival of American fortunes in Iraq -- and the diminished prospect of an American rout -- have significantly increased the value of such a connection. This is particularly true among our moderate Arab allies who see us as their ultimate protection against an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis that openly threatens them all.

It's always uncomfortable for a small power to rely on a hegemon. But a hegemon on the run is even worse. Alliances are always shifting. But one thing we can say with certainty: The event that will have more effect than any other on the strength of our alliances worldwide is not another Karen Hughes outreach to the Muslim world, not an ostentatious embrace of Kyoto, or even the most abject embrace of internationalism from the podium of the UN. It is success or failure in Iraq.

3 comments:

Jon said...

Disagree that this represents a new take on things from Krauthammer. Neocons in general are pretty upfront about "realism" as it effects our interactions with allies. Neocon's reliance on a strong America as the most reliable determinant of strong alliances is a core belief. The idealism of neoconservatism is that we believe that with respect to addressing emerging threats, containment in this era of transnational terrorism may not be possible in the middle east. Reference how containment of Hussein's military led to anti-American propaganda in the Islamic world with a accompanying acceptance by the Umma that the killing of American civilians is justified by our containment policy in Iraq (and accompanying supportive policies, like sanctions and the no-fly zone). This acceptance yields a fertile field for Al Qaeda to hide and plot and ultimately leads to 9/11. Therefore, what is the best possible alternative? One alternative is to put in "our bastard", a form of realism that we have used with mixed results in the past. Another option, the "Idealistic" one is to "flip" Iraq into a democracy through military action. I still think this is the best option.

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