Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Richard Cohen Wants To Be a Realist

Yeah, I know. Let the snark begin. :)
Scowcroft was asked about the first Bush administration's decision to look the other way as Saddam Hussein's attack helicopters slaughtered Shiites in the south of Iraq. He seemed unmoved. It is not for nothing that he is called a "realist."
There's nothing wrong with being a foreign-policy realist. What's wrong, of course, is giving idealists reason to believe you're going to back them up, and then turning all 'realist' on them.

In the wake of the first Gulf War, when we'd bombed Iraq for six weeks, then kicked the Iraqi army out of Kuwait in four days, of course Kurds and Marsh Arabs and Shi'ites were going to rise up against Saddam when Bush I encouraged them to do so. Surely he'd have their back, or he wouldn't have said such things, right?

Yeh, right.

And it's the same thing every time - if you're the United States of America, and you make promises you aren't willing to keep, someone else may wind up dead due to your duplicity. Bay of Pigs 1961, Hungary 1956, Iraq 1991, Georgia 2008, wherever, whenever. Being a realist isn't something you want to be for a day, like Cohen does, but rather all the time. You might ask questions like "Do the people of South Ossetia really want us to ride to their rescue? How about the Ukrainians?" (That would be no, and no.) "Are we already actively engaged in that part of the world?" (No, not really.) "If Russia can move into Georgia that easily, does it mean Ukraine's next?" (No. Ukraine's got 10 times as many people, and 8 times the land area, of Georgia. Besides, the people of Ukraine already desire good relations with Russia; they just don't want a Soviet-style ruler.) And "with all our troops tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, what could we send to Georgia?" (Nothing.)

There's an argument to be made that if we hadn't gone into Iraq, then maybe we should have invited Georgia into NATO and been prepared to come to its aid - not including its two breakaway republics. But that's the thing about realism: it forces you to recognize limits and face choices. Staying in Iraq meant no more land wars, no more projection of force at the level where it really counts, until that was done.

Realism is good. This Administration, and its cheerleaders such as Cohen, could have used a continuous dose of it. Unfortunately, few wanted to administer the medicine.

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