We need to get real about Russia and China—or risk being led into another disastrous warby Anatol Lieven / December 7, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in Mid-winter (Jan-Feb) 2019 issue of Prospect Magazine
Realism, as a theory of foreign policy, has been linked in the popular mind of the west both to cynical Realpolitik—in the mould of Henry Kissinger—and to a propensity to wage war. The first charge has a superficial validity. The second is seriously wide of the mark as far as the United States is concerned. Over the past generation, it has been above all proponents of purportedly idealistic intervention who have advocated war, while Realists have urged prudence and restraint. Partly as a result, the US has been at war for two out of every three years since the Cold War ended—mostly to no good effect.
American democratic idealism has never triumphed completely in the making of US foreign policy; it has always been more-or-less qualified by Realist considerations of power and interests. Nonetheless, idealism combined with nationalism has had a number of effects: it has encouraged a type of self-satisfaction and hubris of which the great American Realist thinkers Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau warned during the Cold War. It has also encouraged the pursuit of megalomaniac goals. It has discouraged our understanding of states with undemocratic systems, instinctively seen in the US as unworthy of respect. It has contributed to a number of unnecessary adventures. And the way in which it has been mixed up with national interests has created a perception of the US as not only aggressive but hypocritical.
Perhaps most importantly, by s…