Failing to Note the Difference When the U.S. Power Tank Is Full or Near Empty
By Steve Clemons
Paul Wolfowitz's provocative critique of foreign policy realism has several key
flaws. Most importantly, he sets up an artificial and contrived version of
realist thought and fails to engage the problem of positive and negative
variations in America's stock of power.
In his essay, Wolfowitz acknowledges the classic distinctions between realism and neoconservatism -- that realism prescribes dealing with states as they are in an anarchic international system while neoconservatives and their left-leaning, fellow-traveling liberal interventionists want to change the internal character of states as a primary goal of American national security policy.
Given President Obama's shift in a semi-realist direction at the beginning of this term, FP asked Wolfowitz to respond to the assertion that "we are all realists now." Appropriately, the architect of George W. Bush's Iraq War responds "No." Of course, we aren't -- but we are not all values militants either.
Wolfowitz makes a case against a gold standard version of .999 "pure
realism" that simply doesn't exist anywhere in the world except perhaps in
University of Chicago lectures inspired by Hans Morgenthau and carried on by
disciple John Mearsheimer and his followers. Wolfowitz sets up his debate with
academic realists -- not policy realists who have significantly evolved in
practice and perspective since the days of Kissingerian-style realism.
Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski -- both identified as realists in the Wolfowitz critique -- differ on many micro-policy issues, as Wolfowitz points out. In fact, Wolfowitz acknowledges that he supported Scowcroft's position on the Gulf War and Brzezinski's view that NATO should be expanded. He facetiously asks if that makes him a realist or renders them ideologues.
Scowcroft and Brzezinski -- as they noted in their recent joint book America and the World: Conversations on the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy, a set of edited discussions with David Ignatius -- are not in complete sync when it comes to certain national security priorities and do not frame challenges identically. And they are not the kind of realists to whom Wolfowitz seeks to compare himself. Both former national security advisors are "hybrid realists" who believe that American power is constrained today and diminishing in part because of a set of very misinformed, strategic mistakes made by the George W. Bush administration, mistakes that compounded the failure of Bush's father and Bill Clinton to reorganize the terms and realities of America's global social contract after the fall of the Soviet Union.