July 05, 2004

How Back in Vogue is Realism?

So much so that John Kerry uses the word (or variations) no fewer than nine times in a short Iraq policy op-ed in yesterday's WaPo.


Title of piece: A Realistic Path in Iraq.

--To give democracy, pluralism and regional peace a chance, we need a policy that is effective -- a policy that finally includes a heavy dose of realism.

--Our foreign policy has achieved greatness only when it has combined realism and idealism, our sense of practicality and our deep commitment to values such as freedom and democracy.

--But we are a practical people, and we know that all the rhetoric we've heard hasn't been accompanied by a realistic plan to win the peace and bring our troops home.

--We can still succeed in promoting stability, democracy, protection of minority and women's rights, and peace in the region, even at this late hour, if we construct and follow a realistic path.

--That is the only way to forge real cooperation, and it is long past time for this to be done.

--Then, having taken these dramatic steps, we could realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities.

--Helping Iraq come together this way, by peaceful negotiations and not by civil warfare, is the realistic way to secure the loyalty of Iraqis to their new state, and the best way to give them a future to defend.

--It is only by pursuing a realistic path to democracy in Iraq that we can connect our ideals with American common sense.

Got it?

Of course, if things had gone swimmingly in Iraq, Kerry would be trying to out-"neo" the neo-cons by calling for regime change in Damascus and Teheran and the air-dropping of translated copies of the Federalist Papers in Cairo, Riyadh and Peshawar.


Is there anything new (read: materially different than the current Bush approach) in this empty paean to realism?

No, not really.

When you cut through all the dense verbiage ("realism", "realistic", "we are a practical people", "only way to forge real cooperation" etc etc) and cut to the chase, here's what Kerry proposes:

We should also give them a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region. As partners, we should convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors. Such a conference would have two goals. First, it should secure a pledge from Iraq's neighbors to respect Iraq's borders and not to interfere in its internal affairs. And second, it should commit Iraq's leaders to provide clear protection for minorities, thus removing a major justification for possible outside intervention. Together, we should jump-start large-scale involvement with an international high commissioner to coordinate economic assistance and organize and implement these diplomatic initiatives.

Then, having taken these dramatic steps, we could realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities. Our goal should be an alliance commitment to deploy a major portion of the peacekeeping force that will be needed in Iraq for a long time to come. Just as NATO came together to contain the Soviet Union and bring peace to Bosnia and Kosovo, with the right kind of leadership from us NATO can be mobilized to help stabilize Iraq and the region. And if NATO comes, others will too.

Look, we all know that a major focus of U.S. foreign policy has been, is and will remain the protection of minorities in Iraq. It's blindingly obvious to all that the worse case scenario in Iraq would be large scale sectarian violence with assorted neighbors joining the fray.

So the U.S., you can be sure, is already working overtime to make sure "Iraq's leaders...provide clear protection for minorities."

So, where's the beef in this op-ed? Is there anything new?

Kerry calls for: a) a "regional conference" (but leaves unanswered questions that leap to mind, ie. should Iran be invited? if so, should Powell engage in discussions/negotiations with his Iranian counterpart?) and b) an "international high commissioner" (bring back Yashusi Akashi!).

Then, voila, we could all then "realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities."

Does anyone seriously believe the French and Germans will send in, under NATO flag, thousand plus-strong 'peacekeeping' contingents simply because an "international high comissioner" was appointed and a regional conference held?

If you do, read this.

Money graf:

Yet, even if the Europeans were more enthusiastic, they might have little to contribute. Germany, the largest country in the European Union, has 270,000 soldiers in its army -- yet its commanders maintain that no more than about 10,000 can be deployed at any one time. No matter the politics, the German Parliament is unlikely to authorize an increase in the current ceiling of 2,300 troops for Afghanistan. And Germany is the largest contributor to the NATO operation -- France, which has never liked the idea of NATO operations outside of Europe, has only 800 soldiers there.

And this is non-controversial Afghanistan--a war that enjoyed near-universal support among serious people the world over.

So c'mon folks. Let's get serious.

Or, er, "realistic."

MORE: Don't miss this Elaine Sciolino piece either.

The new NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, sounds a depressed note:

"I have felt like a beggar sometimes, and if the secretary-general of NATO feels like a beggar, the system is wrong."

It is in no-one's (except the Atlantic community's enemies) interests having the NATO Secretary-General feel like a beggar, no?

You know, there is one thing Washington should do.

We shouldn't, in triumphalist/nationalist vein, scream on about how the "mission defines the coalition" and disparagingly make NATO appear unimportant to us (everyone knows the U.S. can win wars solo--no need to engage in chest-beating Rumsfeldian hubris and proclaim it loudly).

Let's, by all means, make all the right noises that NATO is dear to us. Let's not just turn to them when the going gets a little messy. Let's make clear that the Europeans aren't just brought in to clean up the mess after we fight the wars (as we see fit).

But, in return, the Europeans need to do some soul-searching too.

America lost 3,000 people in its principal city on 9/11 and had to go into Afghanistan with utmost speed and flexibility.

We weren't about to sit around and hammer out battle plans amidst conference tables in Brussels. Our allies should understand this.

Given this reality, but given also the critical nature of post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan, is it too much to ask that France send more than 800 troops there?

Put differently, what is leading commentators to bemoan the possible obsolesence of NATO?

Solely Rumsfeld's arrogant pronouncements (like his memorable utterance that we didn't even need the Brits to prosecute the Iraq war. True, of course, but not the nicest thing to say given the massive political risks Tony Blair had taken to get to that stage)?

Or is NATO more imperiled because of a lack of real resolve and alliance cooperation by countries like France in places like Afghanistan?

Paris (and, to a lesser extent, Berlin) must realize, post 9/11, that NATO must more often adapt to 'out-of-area' operations.

The world has changed. The Soviet Union is dead. Failed states, in places like Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, imperil America and Western Europe's security.

Such out of area operations needn't be pursued in high-handed fashion--so that some Christian neo-imperialist alliance (NATO) is seen to be oppressing Muslims and Arabs willy-nilly in some tragic replay of the Crusades.

We can and should finesse our operations (especially post-active combat) in consultation with our allies to avoid projecting such an image.

But just as the U.S. made NATO relevant in the post-cold war era by helping Muslims in Bosnia (and thus also supporting European stability); the Europeans must now assist us a bit further afield in the Middle East and Central Asia where (even worse) threats to the Atlantic community's existence exist.

And, realistically, that's going to mean more than 800 troops in Afghanistan.

But perhaps I've got this all wrong.

Perhaps, pace John Kerry, we simply need to hold a regional conference and appoint a High Commissioner for matters Iraq.

The next day, doubtless, Paris and Berlin will be clamoring to send--not 800, but 80,000 peacekeepers--to the environs of Fallujah and Kandahar!

Posted by Gregory at July 5, 2004 11:39 AM

Kerry's version of reality also calls for troop withdrawal when Iraq is stable, not democratic. Is he a realist or a pessimist?

Posted by: Jane at July 6, 2004 01:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is just some variant of Real Politik, AKA if it costs treasure or lives, look for another approach even if it means dealing with tyrants and despots on their terms. It's the diplomatic manifestation of diversity. Your just seeing the French side of Kerry coming out in spades.
Get Real.

Posted by: J_Crater at July 7, 2004 06:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agreed that this is a fairly useless editorial.

As to France, you do realize that they decided to support Arabs over Israel and the US in the Middle East some time between 1956 and 1967, right? As such, I'm becoming convinced that they will never really commit to NATO as long as its missions will alienate Arabs.

Posted by: praktike at July 8, 2004 08:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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