Jonah Goldberg

There's a breed of foreign policy wonk in Washington that takes itself even more seriously than your run-of-the-mill foreign policy expert (as a class, an incredibly pompous bunch). This is the "realist." Realists claim that they are stony-eyed analysts of realpolitik. These latter-day Metternichs and Machiavellis measure things in terms of "vital interests": blood and treasure, national security, power projection and so on. They don't concern themselves with the gossamer of idealism or emotion.

I've long argued that if you scratch beneath the surface of any realist you'll find an ideologue. Realists, just like everyone else, have priorities. This is more important than that, and that is more important than the completely useless other thing. What those things are changes from expert to expert, but everyone has some kind of formula on how to make that determination, even realists. The notion that policymakers should care more about the spread of U.S. widget sales than the spread of democracy is an ideological decision no matter which side you come down on.

But, the case is even easier to make when talking about pretend realists. Pretend realists are folks on both left and right who lose the argument about foreign policy, either in the Oval Office or at the ballot box. For this crowd, realism is merely a fancy-pants word used by the experts who lost the policy battle and want to claim the winners didn't weigh our vital interests correctly.

Consider the opposition to the Iraq war. I don't think I need to bother naming names and dredging up quotes when I say that many critics of the war argued that it wasn't in our vital national interests and, more to the point, that it was recklessly ideological and/or idealistic to try to impose our values on Iraq. Just this week, President Obama insisted on his overseas tour that Iraq was a "distraction" -- i.e. a departure from where America's interests reside.

That's all a fair argument, to be sure. But whatever happened to these people who said it was folly to impose our values on foreign cultures? For instance, a few weeks ago, Obama announced that the U.S. would sign on to the French-led effort to protect the rights of homosexuals around the world. Homosexuality is illegal in at least 85 countries, and in many Muslim countries it is punishable by death.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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