Surprised by Realism

31 Aug

Unlike Jamie Kirchick, I don’t think realists gaining influence within the Democratic policy establishment should be any cause for concern, even if you’re a hard-core liberal interventionist. The two Democratic frontrunners, Clinton and Obama, have advisors and support that either directly from the former internationalist Clinton administration, or are proponents of an active and potentially interventionist foreign policy (Samantha Power). But post-Iraq, we should expect some limitations on American power, considering the popular mood of the country and the resources we’ve already committed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A realist camp withing the policy establishment is complimnetary, and quite predictable. Kirchick cites an Observer article detailing the rise of the realists:

The piece profiled former Clinton administration Defense official Mich√®le Flournoy, president of a new think tank called the Center for a New American Security, which hopes to staff the next Democratic presidential administration. According to the article, she and “her colleagues think the war in Iraq and the country’s plummeting reputation abroad changes the equation, and that the next president may have to reign in his or her ambitions when it comes to the projection of American power.”

Flournoy’s comment is a pretty sensible assessment of the foreign policy challenge a Democratic (or Republican, for that matter) president would face. Like balancing the budget during the Clinton administration, deficits run up during the Regan years restrained spending on social programs in order to maintain a strong economy. In a similar fashion, Clinton or Obama can’t simply run their ideal foreign policy, because they’ll have some cleaning up and restructuring to do after a failed Bush presidency. I know Kirchick wants to use this to suggest the Democrats are thinking of hiding out in the garage of the West Wing for the next several years, but the realists are just articulating the obvious.


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