I am no fan of “realism” as a doctrine–either in foreign policy, or in terms of the Nieburhrian project for public theology. However, I must say that in wake of neocon idealism, a little dose of even realism is a welcome relief! This is clearly articulated in an excellent NYT editorial today from Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs. Rose provides a fascinating account of the dialectic of American foreign policy in which a nagging idealism (the legacy, I might suggest, of our Puritan founding) keeps rearing its head, only to run up against the “reality” of what even Rose calls “a fallen world.” This dialectic plays itself out through the election cycle, with idealists being chastised and replaced by realists. Quite a convincing history.
The hook for this piece is Rose’s suggestion that Bush Jr.’s idealism (newly adopted after 9/11) is now being de-fanged by Rice’s realism. But the problem with this picture is something that Rose himself notes: Rice and the realists in the State department “still believe in American power and the global spread of liberal democratic capitalism.” Well, then, they’re not really realists, are they? This continued commitment to an idealist democratic peace theory and export of American democracy pursued with missionary zeal would suggest that Rose’s obituary for the administration’s idealism is a bit premature.