Now, as an unapologetic moralist in foreign policy, I have absolutely no objection to the intent here. The U.S. should condemn such persecution, full stop. It may be open to debate whether gays should marry, but no decent person can believe that homosexuals should be beheaded.
But you know what? If these one-time realists truly thought America was going to have a rough time imposing democracy at the point of a gun, they shouldn't have grand expectations that the Saudis are going to be convinced to leave gays alone at the point of a U.N. press release.
Liberals might respond that there's no harm in signing on to the effort, and that there's a big difference between going to war and backing a nonbinding U.N. resolution. Fair enough. But it's still a distraction by any serious realistic standard. (A true realist would say: "How does it affect us if the Yemenis behead a gay guy every now and then?") And, if these same liberals had their way, U.N. resolutions would have a lot more force to them.
Or take a look at Cuba. There's a fresh effort under way, particularly from the left wing of the Democratic Party, to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Just this week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus junketed to Cuba to celebrate the heroism of Fidel Castro.
The arguments in favor of lifting the embargo are routinely swaddled in talk of realism. The Cold War is over, it's time to throw away anti-Communist anachronisms. The only way to change Cuba for the better is to "engage it" with trade and tourism and exchange programs. The funny thing is, if you made the exact same arguments about South Africa in the 1980s, many of the same people would not merely call you an ideologue but a racist for not supporting sanctions. Indeed, today the anti-Israel sanctions movement is infested with people who claim we must lift the embargo on Cuba.
The truth is that it is impossible to keep our values out of foreign policy, and it would be dangerous to try. That doesn't mean we have to make the perfect the enemy of the good on every issue. You do what you can, where you can. Being realistic about means is the only way you can be serious about achieving idealistic ends.