Return of the Realists

Dean Barnett
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Posted: Jan 05, 2007 5:35 PM
Return of the Realists

Oh dear. They’re back. Or more accurately, they never left. Like a pile of metaphorical dog poo that America’s collective shoe stepped in a few decades ago, our body politic just can’t manage to completely scrape off the wise old men who fancy themselves “realists.”

The “realist” school of foreign policy once again strutted across the stage of world opinion on Thursday with the publication of a Brent Scowcroft op-ed in the New York Times. In reading the piece, one could only marvel at the irony that the self-styled “realists” in fact inhabit a bizarre fantasy world.

The Scowcroft piece has three identifiable purposes. One is to rescue the reputation of the universally scorned Iraq Study Group. A second is the less onerous task of lighting the way to peace not only in Iraq but in the entire Mid-East. The third is of course to indulge the habitual “Realist” obsession with the state of Israel and its arrogant insistence on existing.

THE TITLE OF THE ARTICLE gives you a perfect sense of the mush-minded pabulum that has traditionally passed for “realism” among Scowroft and his ilk. Scowcroft calls his piece, “Getting the Middle East Back on Our Side.”

What a glorious conceit that title implies: When the putative grown-ups like Scowcroft were running things, the Middle East collectively adored us. It was only when youthful rabble-rousers like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz seized the helm of the ship of state that things went awry.

The title brilliantly illuminates the perennially skewed Scowcroftian view of the world. Empirically speaking, the Middle East as a whole has not been “on our side” the past 30 years. Saddam wasn’t on our side. Iran hasn’t been on our side. The Assads haven’t been on our side. When Arafat wasn’t busy stealing from his own people and amassing a personal fortune, he was arranging the death of a U.S. ambassador and facilitating countless other acts of terror.

And yet Scowcroft feels that there were halcyon days of yore when the Middle East was “on our side.” How did he come to this conclusion? The only conceivable explanation is that during his time in power, a handful of Middle Eastern despots went through the bother of observing diplomatic niceties with American luminaries like Brent Scowcroft.

But even then, the sincerity of the despots who Scowcroft thought was “on our side” was questionable. While ostensibly “on our side,” the House of Saud was funding Maddrasses that peddled the most pernicious forms of hatred. King Hussein of Jordan certainly wasn’t “on our side” during the Gulf War. And I would love to know what contortions of logic Scowcroft uses to convince himself that Khadaffy was once “on our side” but no longer remains so.

OF COURSE, NO “REALIST” FORAY INTO foreign policy would be complete without the de rigeur “Realist” obsession with Israel. As always, Scowcroft views settling The Israel Problem as the lynchpin to Middle East peace.

Happily, Scowcroft offers some good news on that front. “Arab leaders are now keen to resolve the 50-year-old dispute,” Scowcroft giddily reports. “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel may be as well.”

Note how in the realist formulation, the Arab leaders are “keen” for peace and yet Israel is seemingly and sadly a reluctant partner in the endeavor. One can see how Scowcroft has gotten this impression. The Israeli government’s bellicose rhetoric regarding wiping the Arab world from the map has indeed been jarring. Its additional refusal to recognize the right of certain Arab countries to exist has been inappropriate. And of course, Olmert’s racist rhetoric about how Muslims are the descendants of apes and pigs doesn’t create the impression that he’s at all “keen for peace.”

Wait a minute! I’ve got it wrong. The Ohlmert government has done none of those things. Israel’s Middle Eastern malefactors, however, have.

SCOWCROFT AND HIS FELLOW “REALISTS,” as always, have it completely wrong. In truth, it’s Israel who has always been on America’s side. There’s no need for Scowcroft and his acolytes to strategize on how to return Israel to the American fold. For the past fifty years, Israel has been the only outpost of peace and democracy in the Middle East. Even with the fitful progress of Iraq, Israel remains our sole reliable ally in the region.

What’s more, throughout its 57 year history, Israel has pined for peace with its neighbors. Israel has never promised the destruction of the numerous hostiles that surround her. When Israel had the chance to march into Cairo in 1973, it chose not to. Likewise in 1973, Israel passed up the chance to destroy the Egyptian Army which only days earlier had been poised and eager to destroy Israel. Today, Israel could do the kind of damage to Palestine that the Palestinians long to do (and promise to do) to Israel. And yet Israel doesn’t.

It takes a strange kind of stubbornness to survey this landscape and conclude that Israel is the greatest obstacle to peace. James Baker once allegedly said, “F**k the Jews.” While Baker has vehemently denied ever making the comment, whether or not he said it is academic. Either through animus or obtuseness, Baker, Scowcroft and the other Deans of the Realist School have determined that Israel is the root of all the problems in the Middle East.

How they arrived there isn’t worthy of debate. What is important is that as a class they remain ignored and discredited intellectual outcasts. That’s one honor that they’ve definitely earned.