Posted by: Shaun | June 17, 2008

Condoleezza Rice: (Un)realist

Secretary of State Condoleezza RiceAs a student of international affairs, I make it my business to follow some of the more significant publications in the field; particularly the official journal of the secret Illuminati world government, Foreign Affairs.  (For those readers who aren’t  John Birch Society alumni, the publisher is oft unjustly maligned Council on Foreign Relations.)

Anyway, when I opened my mailbox and took a look at the July/August edition of the journal, I was taken aback by the feature essay, penned by our illustrious Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice and entitled “The New American Realism.” (At least, that is what is printed on the cover page, the formal title is “Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for a New World,” hearkening back to her 2000 campaign essay “Promoting the National Interest.“)  As I gazed incredulously at the bold-faced lettering and its soft blue background, I thought to myself “…’Saddam Hussein shelters al Qaeda’…’greeted as liberators’…’ending tyranny in our world’…do Dr. Rice and I have the same understanding of realism?”

According to Hans Morgenthau, one of the progenitors of classical realist theory in international relations:

For realism, theory consists in ascertaining facts and giving them meaning through reason. It assumes that the character of a foreign policy can be ascertained only through the examination of the political acts performed and of the foreseeable consequences of these acts. Thus we can find out what statesmen have actually done, and from the foreseeable consequences of their acts we can surmise what their objectives might have been. (Emphasis added.)

Morgenthau, of course, addresses the issue of a realist theory of politics, but it is generally understood that the praxis which grows out of that theory must be similarly fact based.  In other words, you get the facts (reality), think about your options (forseeable consequences), and take whatever action you think most likely to serve your interests within the consrtaints of political reality. To borrow from another great realist, “politics is the art of the possible.”

The strange thing about this “new American realism” proffered by Secretary Rice is that it is seemingly bereft of reality.  It is, among other things, self-contradictory:

For the United States, promoting democratic development must remain a top priority. Indeed, there is no realistic alternative that we can — or should — offer to influence the peaceful evolution of weak and poorly governed states. The real question is not whether to pursue this course but how.

[…] Democracy, it is said, cannot be imposed, particularly by a foreign power. This is true but beside the point. It is more likely that tyranny has to be imposed.

I’ll grant that there is a fine line between “promote” and “impose”, but my sense is that the current ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq lean more toward the latter.  And tyranny is supposedly the unnatural political system?  I have no love for authoritarianism, but I do recognize the fact that it has been the predominant form of governance for the last 10,000 years of human civilization.  However loathsome tyranny may be, to simply dismiss it as a political aberration is disingenuous.

On the Middle East:

For six decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, a basic bargain defined the United States’ engagement in the broader Middle East: we supported authoritarian regimes, and they supported our shared interest in regional stability. After September 11, it became increasingly clear that this old bargain had produced false stability. There were virtually no legitimate channels for political expression in the region. But this did not mean that there was no political activity. There was — in madrasahs and radical mosques. It is no wonder that the best-organized political forces were extremist groups. And it was there, in the shadows, that al Qaeda found the troubled souls to prey on and exploit as its foot soldiers in its millenarian war against the “far enemy.”

One response would have been to fight the terrorists without addressing this underlying cause. Perhaps it would have been possible to manage these suppressed tensions for a while. Indeed, the quest for justice and a new equilibrium on which the nations of the broader Middle East are now embarked is very turbulent. But is it really worse than the situation before?

Actually, yes, it is.  Under President Bush’s leadership the United States has traded “false stability” in the Near East for outright instability by unleashing the underlying political fricitons between Shia and Sunni Muslims, eliminating all the regional checks on Iran’s power, and backing an aggressive Israeli stance toward Hamas and Hezbollah that has proved counter-productive.

And those authoritarian regimes we used to back?  Well, they’re still in place; happily presiding over their people from Cairo, Riyadh, and Jordan.  Essentially, the only Bush accomplishment in the Middle East was moving the bulk of America’s regional military presence out of Saudi Arabia (and away from Mecca and Medina) and to Qatar; an action that probably could have been taken without all the other fuss.

On Palestine:

[…] The Palestinian people must ultimately make a choice about which future they desire, and it is only democracy that gives them that choice and holds open the possibility of a peaceful way forward to resolve the existential question at the heart of their national life. The United States, Israel, other states in the region, and the international community must do everything in their power to support those Palestinians who would choose a future of peace and compromise. When the two-state solution is finally realized, it will be because of democracy, not despite it.

Except that in 2006 Palestinians did exercise democracy and they voted for the party of war, Hamas.  But this didn’t count, according to Rice, because Hamas proved itself incapable of governing by, well, being Hamas (which usually entails blowing things up).  Thus, the U.S., Israel, and the secular Palestinian leadership, Fatah, refused to recognize the election results and general chaos ensued, with Hamas seizing control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah holding the West Bank.  Now, it looks as if even Israel may have recongized the unsavory politcal reality of Hamas’ popular appeal.

I could go on, but I think I have effectively communicated the tenor of the Secretary’s piece.  Essentially, President Bush and Secretary Rice have looked at the world and found grave threats to American security that can only be attenuated by carrying the banner of democracy to the far corners of the globe.  The only faults with this argument are that the threats are exagerated, the solution is unsound, and democracy is usually won only after several decades or more of gradual exapnsion of civil and political rights, won at great cost by courageous advocates of liberty in their native country – not by invasion.  But that’s old realism talking; Secretary Rice has moved beyond her foreign policy education to a new plane of (un)reality.

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