December 18, 2003

Drezner On The Realist Position

Drezner On The Realist Position Re: War in Iraq and Related Matters

Thanks to Dan for his link to my synopsis and assorted thoughts on the panel discussion on neo-conservatism (the one that mostly pitted Josh Marshall against Richard Perle).

It's always gratifying to be engaged by Dan because of his obvious facility with matters foreign policy and because he's well appreciated by the voices I most respect on both the left and right of the blogosphere.

Unfortunately, on various topics (and just relying on memory here) I seem to recall we've disagreed on the best means to pursue de-Baathification, on the lameness (or not) of Salam Pax, on the impact of social class on political leadership capabilities, and perhaps some other matters besides. So we've often come to the table from different perspectives--though I think the differences have, finally, been pretty slight.

Regardless, let me first relay that I feel chastened to have called into question the mettle of academics when it comes to their abilities to engage in robust and racuous debate!

After all, Henry Kissinger emerged from academia and is probably unparalleled as a bureaucratic blackbelt. Recall that Kissinger, and I paraphrase, once famously observed that campus politics were so vicious because the stakes were so low (the last part of this famous Kissinger aphorism a gratuitous insult that is unfair--albeit still contains a grain of truth).

So, academics, as Dan indicates, are surely well attuned to their fair dose of rancorous clamor and intense debate.

But, more important than that sidebar, let me respond to Drezner's contentions that:

"I'm afraid I've got to disagree with Greg again. First of all, most realists opposed the war in Iraq.

Second, I'm not sure how much neoconservatives think or want Perle to be their exemplar. I've expressed my reservations about Perle in the past, so I might be biased here."

Let's address each objection in turn. First, the contention that "most" realists were anti-war in Iraq.

Who does Drezner point to support this contention? The serried ranks of a pretty large gaggle of academics who signed one of those (pro or anti something) adverts in the NYT (unfortunately Dan's post doesn't allow for a closer investigation of the individual signatories).

UPDATE: Through some kind of Moveable Type magic--Dan appears to have another link that pops up here too. Sometimes it's the academics writing in to the Times, and other times it's this link to a Mearsheimer/Walt FP piece.

Anyway, note both links have Mearsheimer in common at least (end of update).

Somewhat, er, preemptively, Dan admonishes that any attempt to describe them (the signatories to the NYT letter) as "fringe academics" won't fly. As I trust Dan's instincts (and he relays that he's had a beer with a bunch of them at some point or the other!), let's agree he's right on this score.

To further buttress his contention, Dan points out that one of the signatories was uber-realist John Mearsheimer--and further, that "parts of BushÕs National Security Strategy look cribbed from John MearsheimerÕs latest book."

O.K, fair enough. Though I have to say that Mearsheimer is so aggressively hyper-realist he often finds himself in contrarian necks of the woods--even when compared to other academic practitioners of the realist school (see his enervating anti-interventionist stances in the Balkans--an intervention a good number of realists, worried about contagion effects in Europe, supported).

But, in my original post that Dan kindly responded to, I was thinking of a very different type of realist.

Namely, policy elites that are in the pragmatic realpolitik school. Think Henry Kissinger. James Baker. George Schultz.

All of these eminent practitioners of realist-style diplomacy were in favor of the Iraq war (see above links by name confirming their pro-war positions and scroll down this last link for more pro and con war in Iraq blasts from the past, you know, Sandy Berger, Ken Pollack etc).

Now some readers might object and paint Baker, for instance, in different colors. Here's a typical example of that line of reasoning:

"But the threats posed by Baker's presence to the hawks, especially the neo-conservatives both in and out of the administration, go far beyond personal score-settling in which Baker has historically shown little interest: they are strategic. By all accounts, Baker believes the neo-con domination of US foreign policy since September 11, 2001, especially the Iraq invasion, has been disastrous for the country and, perhaps more important, for Bush Jr's re-election chances.

Before the Iraq invasion, Baker made no secret of his opposition to the US waging unilateral war, although he was more discreet about his dismay than Bush I's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to whom Baker remains close.

Baker, like other realists, has also been deeply skeptical, not to say incredulous, of neo-conservative ambitions to "remake the face of the Middle East" by exporting democracy. Long associated with "big oil", Baker would find the kind of radical regional change promoted by the neo-cons to be unacceptably risky and destabilizing." [emphasis added]

Sure, Baker is significantly less gung-ho about democracy exportation exercises than a Paul Wolfowitz. No one is arguing that. But the bolded portion of this piece is flat out wrong. Baker, the "realist," supported the war in Iraq.

Bottom line: I don't think Drezner gives enough due to the many realists who supported the war in Iraq. So I'm not sure he's right when he says "most" realists opposed it.

Perhaps most realists in political science departments did (frankly, I just don't know)--but, per my admitedly unscientific take, not a majority of policymakers (past and present) associated with what would roughly be seen as the realist camp.

Now to Dan's second objection. He says he's not sure how many neo-cons consider Perle their exemplar.

Fair point. But I wasn't trying to paint Richard Perle as the mega patron saint of neo-cons the world over.

Listen, it's pretty common knowledge in the Beltway that the Perle-Wolfowitz-Feith triumvirate is pretty tight. And these are the neo-cons that, I'm pretty sure, have had the most influence (but again, less than commonly perceived) on Bush 43's team.

Bill Kristol, for instance, probably has his differences with a Richard Perle. But Kristol and some at the Weekly Standard are likely viewed as a tad traitorous by some in the White House because of their McCainite affectations. In other words, they hold less sway in the highest policy counsels.

My point? If you are debating the role the neo-cons played post 9/11 and in terms of the build up to the Iraq war--the key players, and likely in this order, were Wolfowitz, Perle and then Feith (even though Perle didn't have a full-blown administration position).

So when Perle says, somewhat credibly in my view, that if he and his close colleagues Wolfowitz and Feith hadn't been around, post 9/11 policy wouldn't have been that different because they were simply engaging in prudential risk management given post 9/11 dynamics--well that's pretty interesting.

Now, you might think that's B.S and disingenuous--but stick with me a second.

Because this ties back to the previous point about whether or not realists were in favor of the war. If many were, as I believe, than it's harder to make the case that, were it not for crazy Straussians run amok in the Beltway, we'd still be pursuing "vigilant" containment (whether "dual" or other variants) in the Gulf.

I mean, here's (this administration's honorable peacenik per Maureen Dowd) Powell and Kissinger teaming up on a robust pro-war in Iraq stance.

And when you add other non-neo-cons like Cheney and Rumsfeld to the mix--I think there's a strong case to be made that, post 9/11, the Bush Administration would have found their way to a pretty similar strategy, with our without , say, Wolfowitz at the Pentagon.

The Bush Doctrine of holding states that harbor terrorists as culpable as the terrorists themselves may not have been proclaimed quite as loudly as a doctrine per se.

But our overall policy would have likely ended up in similar terrain. In other words, I don't think a hijacking of policy by a neo-con cabal occurred. That's more a convenient theory that's hustled about to score anti-Bush points in the predictable quarters.

And it's a gross oversimplification of the real state of play among wrangling policy elites in post 9/11 Washington. The bureaucratic politics underlying the whole decision to go to war were much more complex.

Posted by Gregory at December 18, 2003 09:20 AM
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