The NEOCONSERVATIVES, are not conservatives. They are big government interventionists who have an almost messianic concept of what American foreign policy should be. Blow up Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Libya, and Syria, and anyone else who gets in our way to make the world safe for … Safe for what? Why are we blowing these countries up? Isn’t this anathema to the spirit of the USA, which it should be noted was once a colony dominated by a superpower?
In recent years, I’ve increasingly suspected that when it comes to foreign policy, the realists offer some of the most sane observations.
These suspicions were confirmed earlier this year when after the election of Donald Trump, John Mearsheimer, one of modern realism’s current standard bearers, wrote in The National Interest that Trump should “adopt a realist foreign policy” and outlines a far better foreign policy agenda that what we’ve seen coming from Washington.
And what is this realist foreign policy? For Mearsheimer, some main tenets include:
- Accepting that the US attempt at nation building in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen “has been an abject failure.”
- “Washington [should] respect the sovereignty of other states even when it disagrees with their internal policies.”
- “Spreading democracy, especially by force, almost always fails.”
- Understanding that “America’s terrorism problem … is fueled in part by the U.S. military presence on Arab territory as well as the endless wars the United States has waged in the greater Middle East.”
- “The Trump administration should let local powers deal with ISIS.”
- Recognizing that Russia poses no real threat to the United States: “Even if Russia modernizes its economy and its population grows in the years ahead — big ifs — it will still be unable to project significant military power beyond eastern Europe.”
- “A Syria run by Assad poses no threat to the United States”
- “The new president should also work to improve relations with Iran. “
- “Encourage the Europeans to take responsibility for their own security, while gradually reducing the remaining U.S. troops there.”
Against Liberal Hegemony
There are some specific recommendations, but in a larger context, Mearsheimer is reflecting what has been building for years among realists led by Barry Posen, Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Harvey Sapolsky, among others: an opposition to so-called “liberal hegemony”
What is liberal hegemony? It’s ably summed up by William Ruger:
Liberal hegemony is an activist grand strategy that aims to assertively maintain U.S. dominance and the “unipolar moment” in the service of liberalism and national security. Posen explains that it has been the reigning U.S. grand strategy since the end of the Cold War and remains the consensus view of the foreign-policy establishment of both major parties — of liberal internationalists and neoconservatives alike. Yet he believes it is “unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful,” and ultimately “self-defeating.”
The movement against liberal hegemony was crystallized somewhat in 2014 when Posen published Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, which is a detailed condemnation of liberal hegemony, and instead suggests a policy of “restraint.” Restraint, as the name implies, favors far less enthusiasm in using American military force on every political and societal problem in the world, and instead focusing on what constitutes an actual military threat to the US. The ideology of restraint assumes that peace is superior to war, and that constant foreign interventionism is unlikely to bring peace, stability, or justice.1
As Ruger notes, this opposition to the current foreign-policy zeitgeist in Washington centers largely around scholars within MIT’s political science program, and has few adherents among the top brass in the military or among politicians on Capitol Hill.