Rich, I’d be happy to join the “neo-realist” posse. In case of a serious intellectual gang-fight, however, I’ll be the one hiding behind you and Condi. Scratch that. What I mean to say is, I’ve got your back.
I do think we need a middle way. After 9/11, the idea of WMD’s in the hands of terrorists, or even bad actors like Saddam, broke the logic of state-based deterrence at the heart of realism. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean realists were wrong about the difficulty of democratic change. So the problem is, we can’t go back to the old realism, but true democratization requires a lot of trouble, expense, patience, and prudence.
Having said we need a “middle way,” let me quickly note that I’d take a tough-minded internationalist “neo-con” in a heartbeat over a neo-isolationist. But I do think the “neo-con” approach could be leavened by more attention to the cultural barriers of democratization, and that’s been my position from the get go. So maybe I’m on the neo-conish end of the neo-realist coalition (or the neo-realist side of the neo-con coalition). My real hope is that a neo-con/neo-realist distinction might break down, as conservatives converge on a way to blend idealism with realism.
Here’s the good news. The West may be moving toward a convergence on these issues that goes way beyond American conservatives. Change is in the wind. On the one hand, conservatives are chastened about the ability of elections, by themselves, to solve our dilemma. On the other hand, the Europeans are beginning to wake up to the fact that they’ve got a serious problem on their hands: one that cannot be blamed on the war in Iraq. I suspect Europeans know in their bones that the failure to assimilate Muslim immigrants, not Iraq, is at the root of their current troubles. And Chirac’s threat to nuke Iran was an impressive straw in the wind, wasn’t it? (Latest here.)
So in addition to more prudence, a move to neo-realism would call for more hawkishness, more money, more unity, and more patience. That might seem unthinkable in the wake of our troubles in Iraq. But Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the cartoon fiasco just might be the cavalry that saves the day. The West may finally wake up. If so, our posse could someday be massive indeed. Right about then, of course, I’d boldly step out front, just next to you and Condi.
One more thing. If immigration troubles and Iran’s nuclear ambitions do make Europe turn hawkish, what will happen to America’s Democrats? A tough new international consensus on foreign policy would leave the Democrats high and dry, dragged into irrelevance by their unregenerate base, even if a few Lieberman types found the courage to speak up.
On the other hand, have a look at “America First,” the new country video from Merle Haggard. I only caught the last part of it, but Haggard calls for an Iraq pullout and attention to America’s problems, not the rest of the world. The Jacksonians are on the march. So it looks like the neo-realist posse may have a fight on its hands after all. And this one could leave the Democrats sitting pretty. The world is in flux right now, and it’s going to take some time to see how it all shakes out.