The Corner

The New Old Realism

Much of the regular critiques of America during the Bush years as “imperialist,” “colonialist,” and “militaristic” were offered by rather thuggish regimes in Venezuela, Palestine, and Iran, while governments in Colombia, Iraq, and Israel were largely pro-American.

But since January, we have paid more attention to the former and less to the latter. We do not wish to “interfere” and condemn a state such as Iran that rigged an election and stifled free expression, but have no qualms about reading the riot act to Israel. Maliki, I wager, has received less attention from the present administration than has Ahmadinejad (the conventional wisdom of the Left the last few years was oddly “leave Iraq and its democracy, and engage Iran’s autocracy”).

Other examples could be cited, and the disturbing conclusion seems to be that to the extent an autocracy mouths boilerplate, Hollywood-type, anti-American sentiment, especially about the last eight years of American governance (cf. Bill Clinton’s 2005 Davos encomium of Iran as “the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections”), it now deserves attention; to the extent a nation supported U.S. democratic aims and aspirations abroad, it is now looked upon in askance, as if thinking, “Why would you guys have liked the U.S. before we came along?”

The issue of whether countries in these pairings — Iran/Iraq, Hamas/Israel, or Venezuela/Colombia — respect consensual government seems largely irrelevant, as if a multicultural veneer of “not judging others with arbitrary Western paradigms” is (at best) the kinder, friendlier version of the old realist “Let them do what they want to each other and we’ll deal with the thug that emerges in terms of our own national interest.”  

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