The Bacevich Recipe for a New Realist U.S. Foreign Policy

Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich takes Tuesday’s prize for the most thought-provoking opinion piece. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Bacevich provides his recipe for a new realist American foreign policy:

Given that Bush’s version of global war has proved such a costly flop, what ought to replace it? Answering that question requires a new set of principles to guide U.S. policy. Here are five:

* Rather than squandering American power, husband it. As Iraq has shown, U.S. military strength is finite. The nation’s economic reserves and diplomatic clout also are limited. They badly need replenishment.

* Align ends with means. Although Bush’s penchant for Wilsonian rhetoric may warm the cockles of neoconservative hearts, it raises expectations that cannot be met. Promise only the achievable.

* Let Islam be Islam. The United States possesses neither the capacity nor the wisdom required to liberate the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, who just might entertain their own ideas about what genuine freedom entails. Islam will eventually accommodate itself to the modern world, but Muslims will have to work out the terms.

* Reinvent containment. The process of negotiating that accommodation will produce unwelcome fallout: anger, alienation, scapegoating and violence. In collaboration with its allies, the United States must insulate itself against Islamic radicalism. The imperative is not to wage global war, whether real or metaphorical, but to erect effective defenses, as the West did during the Cold War.

* Exemplify the ideals we profess. Rather than telling others how to live, Americans should devote themselves to repairing their own institutions. Our enfeebled democracy just might offer the place to start.

The essence of these principles can be expressed in a single word:realism, which implies seeing ourselves as we really are and the worldas it actually is.

Given that, in the wake of Iraq, such a recipe no doubt sounds quite appealing to many Americans across the political spectrum, why have none of the top U.S. presidential candidates taken on the mantle of foreign policy realism? (Ron Paul cannot at the moment be considered a top-tier candidate, thoughhis recent fund-raising prowess is perhaps an indicator of the voting public’s appetitefor a realist foreign policy platform.) So far, it seems, it’s various stripes of liberal internationalism for the Democrats, while the Republicans sound even more neoconservative than Bush.

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