Realism vs. reality: understanding why we never seem to learn from mistakes

by Justin Raimondo
January 11, 2016
Antiwar.com

Stephen Walt has an excellent albeit incomplete piece in Foreign Policy magazine that raises an important question: What accounts for the lack of anti-interventionist voices in the “mainstream” media?

Walt uses the term “realist” as a synonym for anti-interventionist, in part because Foreign Policy is a quasi-academic journal, and in part because Walt is one of the leading advocates of the realist school, i.e. the school that sees foreign policy as a function of states vying for power in a world where good intentions don’t account for much. “Realism,” of course, is a very broad label, one that includes figures as disparate as Henry Kissinger, on the one hand, and, Andrew Bacevich on the other. In short, it is not so much a stance as a methodology – a way of looking at the world from which one can derive a variety of different policy conclusions. Given this caveat, however, one can say that the realist school is inherently more cautious than its rivals – liberal internationalism and neoconservatism – when it comes to intervening in foreign conflicts.

In any case, Walt’s piece details the realist record when it comes to the issues of the past two decades or so and draws the inevitable conclusion: they’ve been right about practically everything. Realists warned us [.pdf] against the folly of invading Iraq. They predicted [.pdf] that nation-building in Afghanistan would come to naught. George Kennan, perhaps the quintessential realist, inveighed against the post-cold war push to expand NATO, accurately predicting that it would lead to unnecessary conflict with Russia and the renewed threat of World War III. Critics of the Clinton era policy of “dual containment” in the Middle East – which sought to take on both Iran and Iraq simultaneously – were right that it would result in failure: one has only to look at the turmoil in the region today to see how people like Brent Scowcroft should have been heeded. The realists were correct once again when they said the Libyan “humanitarian intervention” was a) doomed to fail and b) completely phony because there never was a viable threat of “genocide” – it was all war propaganda from start to finish.

So, realists have a great record when it comes to predicting what would happen if we followed the advice of the Usual Suspects, and why it would happen. Yet they are nowhere visible in the Major Media, which employs platoons of neocon laptop bombardiers and cruise-missile liberals without a single regular spokesperson representing the realist view – the view, by the way, most favored by the American people.

Indeed, the War Party dominates the three major media outlets in the English-speaking print world, and on television as well. As far as the former is concerned, the War Street Journal is dominated by the neocons. At the New York Times, liberal internationalists – Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, and Roger Cohen – reign unchallenged. The Washington Post is the worst: there the editorial director, Fred Hiatt, is an unabashed warmonger, with the rest of the crew – Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, Jackson Diehl, Marc Thiessen, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin – dyed-in-the-wool neocons.

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