Tuesday, November 14, 2006
CaptainB, whom God preserve, of Kennington draws my attention to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Michael Rubin. It is headlined Rumsfeld and the Realists, this is the link, but you probably have to pay. Rubin's point seems to challenge my own instincts about Rumsfeld. James Baker and Robert Gates are now leading a new approach to Iraq and the Middle East. Gates and Baker are, in diplomatic terms, realists. This means, in essence, that they do not seek to change foreign regimes, but to engage with them as they are. Idealists - basically, the neocons - believe in making the world better and freer by the application of American might. Rumsfeld was being a realist when he shook hands with Saddam Hussein in December 1983. It didn't work. Iraq and Iran fought on for another five years and then Saddam invaded Kuwait. Rubin gives other examples of failed realism in the region that implicate both Baker and Gates. Bush has pursued the opposite policy with Rumsfeld playing a new, idealistic role. The sacking of Rumsfeld seems to indicate a return to realism, a move which has been welcomed by the left, who, Rubin notes, appear to be suffering from severe amnesia about previous realist disasters. Rubin is, of course, right. Engagement with these terrible regimes has not, in the past, paid off. On the other hand, idealism has also failed. The debacle in Iraq has crippled American global power and seems to offer nothing better than either an electorally catastrophic Israeli solution of perpetual war or a hasty withdrawal and a strategically significant loss of face. Perhaps the real problem is that people get trapped by words. Realism and idealism are mere tribal badges. The wearers of one badge define themselves negatively by their opposition to the wearers of the other. The rest of us can only drift onwards, appalled.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:56 am