Neo-Realism on the Left

I do not think most of us grasp just how dramatically the Iraq War has upended the traditional schools of thought when it comes to formulating American foreign policy. Occasionally I come across little bits of information – a poll, a quote, a conversation – that makes my jaw drop and my mind reel. I had one such moment yesterday while reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest Washington dispatch for The New Yorker.

In the piece, which focuses on the lonesome world of Joe Lieberman, Chris Dodd is quoted as saying:

“I’m in the Brent Scowcroft school, the world as it is.” Once, this would have been a surprising statement, particularly to Brent Scowcroft, who might be called a Republican fatalist. But Dodd said that the last four years had been “sobering” for him. “I’d love to see a democratic Middle East,” he said. “But you’ve got to be a coherent society before you can be a democracy.” In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, “If you came to the country and said, ‘This guy’s a bad guy, we want to invade his country,’ I could not justify the loss of three thousand Americans for this, as much as I disliked Saddam.”

Let us not gloss over the significance of this. Chris Dodd, liberal democrat and (admittedly quixotic) candidate for the Democratic  presidential nomination in 2008, is positioning himself as being in the “Brent Scowcroft school.” Jim Hoagland put it best a few months back in The Washington Post when it comes to analyzing the resurgence of realist thinking in Washington:

Only the incompetence and discord of the past three years could cause reasonable people to welcome back with applause policymakers who failed to anticipate and then opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union; who were not realistic enough to see, much less prevent, the Balkans from plunging into flames; and who ‘coddled dictators from Beijing to Baghdad,’ as the Democrats once accurately described the handiwork of Brent Scowcroft, Bob Gates and Jim Baker under Bush 41.

This upcoming election will be fascinating on a variety of levels (and we will have a lot of time to revel in our fascination) but I am most interested in seeing how far Democratic candidates have to retreat from an internationalist, pro-democratization foreign policy to win the support of the party base.

Explore posts in the same categories: Democracy Promotion, Internationalists, Iraq

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