Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Arnold Rimmer Institute of International Relations

Debates about foreign policy are often represented as a fight between realists and idealists, but this way of posing the issues is deeply wrong headed. Attention to Real Politik and respect for international law are not alternatives. They aren’t on the same level. No sensible political figure can ignore the collisions of will and interest that structure world politics just because they are unpleasant. And nobody who ignores the need for legitimacy in the world can properly be said to be realistic. History, indeed, has a name for those who run roughshod over the sensibilities of other nations and their people in the name of manly cynicism. They are called losers.

It seems to me that there is an awful lot of little-boys-playing-with-tin-soldiers about the various tough guys who have surfaced in American public life while I’ve been watching the show. The Neo-con defense intellectuals are only the latest batch for whom it is not enough to win if you don’t crush somebody’s will or produce a satisfactory series of explosions. From a real Real Politik point of view, if you’ll allow the expression, the United States was actually better off with Saddam Hussein in power. A powerless, increasingly ridiculous, but completely secular tyrant would have kept the terrorists out of Iraq while giving us an excuse to maintain a presence in the region that didn’t seem to the locals to be part of a culture war. But waiting out the old monster wouldn’t have been any fun—or personal profit—to Richard Perle and the gang. The kids were itching to play war, having recently been denied that adolescent satisfaction by the celebrated quiet ending of the Soviet Union. It’s absurd to call their policies realistic: they are essentially recreational despite all the scowls and heavy breathing that are part of the fun.

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