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July 28, 2015 / 12 Av, 5775
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The Un-Realism of Today’s Foreign Policy

The pseudo-realists in charge of western foreign policy today confuse what other countries should be doing with what they are actually doing.

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This is also why the Israel issue is so often misunderstood. The pseudo-realist reasons: The national interests of Arab states dictate that they be peaceful, focus on development, and cultivate friendship with the West. But they don’t behave that way. Since it is impossible that internal forces can be to blame it must be because Israel’s existence and the conflict with it have derailed the natural course of things.

Such an analysis, of course, leaves out ideology, personal ambitions of leaders, the uses of demagogically stirring up xenophobia for gaining and staying in power, the Islamic factor, and lots of other things. Yet this is what we are faced with: the argument that if Arab or Muslim-majority or other states don’t act “normally” it must be the West’s fault. Arrogance, mistreatment, and imperialism have driven them into temporary insanity.

For example, in a new book by Raymond Baker, a professor and consultant to the U.S. government, blames revolutionary Islamism on “our own reckless militarism and our blind support for the expansion of others [i.e., Israel]”; it argues that the September 11 attacks were caused by U.S. policies; an explanation of why the Muslim Brotherhood is centrist, and why Hamas and Hizballah aren’t bad at all.

If such things were merely academic discussions, it wouldn’t be so disturbing. If they became the hegemonic stance in Western foreign policy debates it would be disturbing. That such ideas govern the policies of most Western states is horrifying. Yes, it does matter what ideology governments hold in shaping their policies.

And, yes, internal forces generate revolutionaries (even in America!) who want to fundamentally transform their societies and are not just driven by foreigners treating them badly.

And yes, too, centuries of Western history should have taught people about the drive of some to hold power, to conquer their neighbors, and to hate those who are different from them. Contrary to the implicit claims of political correctness, such things are not restricted to Western civilization. It was just better at these things for a whole than were others. Now the torch of being primary in national ambition, imperialism, aggression, and racial hatred has been passed.

In fact, though, as the–forgive the pun–real Realists know, the key factor governing countries’ international behavior is how their leaders perceive national interest. There are certain commonalities between Russia/USSR/Russia; Republic of China/People’s Republic of China (Maoist)/People’s Republic of China (revisionist); Imperial Germany/Weimar Germany/Nazi Germany; Federal Republic of Germany-German Democratic Republic/Germany; Iran/Islamic Republic of Iran, but the differences are rather significant, don’t you think?

Here’s a quick example, chosen deliberately to be rather distant in time, and thanks to my esteemed colleague Dr. Wolfgang G. Schwanitz:

In 1880s Germany, the chancellor Otto von Bismarck warned that his country should focus on peaceful development at home and purely economic diplomacy abroad, avoiding aggression and imperialism. He pointed out—as a realist—that Germany was surrounded by potential enemies: Britain, France, and Russia and could be attacked on three fronts. In geopolitical terms, for Germany to seek expansionism in Europe would lead to a losing war. Abroad, attempts to seize land as colonies would produce a reaction by the other strong powers, bringing them into alliance with each other and thus ending in a losing European war. That was a realist assessment.

Then, Kaiser Wilhelm II came to the throne and disagreed. His policy led to World War One and German defeat. Adolph Hitler agreed with the Kaiser and his policy led to World War Two and German defeat. Bismarck was correct; the Kaiser and Hitler were wrong. But they were the ones who actually made policy and tens of millions died, much of the world was wrecked, Germany was defeated. Contemporary followers of mainstream thinking would say that such a history was impossible. That of course the Kaiser and Hitler would pursue Germany’s real interests. Just as they would say that contemporary dictators—including Islamist ones—will face reality and become moderate. That view is neither realistic nor realistic.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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