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May 12, 2005

Realism Vs. Idealism

Must-read of the day: Henry Kissinger on the connection between realism and idealism:

Extraordinary advances of democracy have occurred in recent months: elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine and Palestine; local elections in Saudi Arabia; Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon; the opening up of the presidential election in Egypt, and upheavals against entrenched authoritarians in Kyrgyzstan.

Pundits have interpreted these events as a victory of "idealists" over "realists" in the debate over the conduct of American foreign policy.

Kissinger observes that realism and idealism are not mutually exclusive; they are both critical to successful foreign policy. The trick, he says, lies in determining their proper uses:

Realists judge policy by the ability to persevere in the pursuit of an objective in stages, each of which is imperfect by absolute standards but would not be attempted in the absence of absolute values.
The acolytes of idealism sweep away such restraints; focusing on the ultimate objective, they reject the contingent discussion of feasibility with its inevitable geopolitical component.
Realists seek equilibrium; idealists strive for conversion. This is why crusaders have usually caused more upheavals and suffering than statesmen.
American exceptionalism, viewing itself as a shining city on the hill, has always insisted on representing universal values beyond the traditional dictates of national interest.
In a world of jihad, terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush in his second inaugural address put forward a challenge at once going beyond the interests of any one country and that different societies could embrace without prejudice to their own interests.
He elaborated that the United States seeks progress toward freedom, not its ultimate achievement in a defined time, and that it recognizes the historical evolution that must be the foundation of any successful process. On this basis, realists and idealists should go forward together.
I wonder if anyone is listening?

Posted by Cassandra at May 12, 2005 08:29 AM

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Comments

It's so much better to Henry aloud while trying to imitate his voice. Take this line:

Realists judge policy by the ability to persevere in the pursuit of an objective in stages, each of which is imperfect by absolute standards but would not be attempted in the absence of absolute values.

Reading it silently is, I'll admit, a tad confusing the first time through. Now, try reading the same passage aloud in your best Henry the K voice:

Realists judge policy by the ability to persevere in the pursuit of an objective in stages, each of which is imperfect by absolute standards but would not be attempted in the absence of absolute values.

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Henry hits the old Realist nail right on the head! It's amazing.

Posted by: spd rdr [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2005 02:47 PM

That was the line that struck me. So much so that I almost excerpted it by itself, but I was afraid it might not make sense to everyone without the rest of the piece.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2005 03:47 PM

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