Robert Kaplan: Libya, Obama and the Triumph of RealismRoundup: Media's Take
The writer is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.
Realism is dead, clamour the cheerleaders of the Arab spring. The collapse of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya heralds a new birth of freedom that supposedly consigns realism to the graveyard. But Barack Obama – by taking part in the Libyan operation but not leading it – has been nothing if not a realist.
Realism, as a theory of international relations, posits that tragedy is not the triumph of evil over good, but instead the triumph of one good over another that causes suffering. It was the US president’s realist views that led him to argue against taking a leadership role in Libya, to keep America’s powder dry for more important crises to come – a demonstrable good. Realism also keeps Mr Obama from owning post-Gaddafi Libya, which is destined, even in the best of circumstances, to be a weak and fragile state.
Here he is supporting democracy where he can, and stability where he must. He provides diplomatic support for protesters in Syria but will not intervene. He longs for a democratic rebellion in Iran but fears such a rebellion in Saudi Arabia. That, coupled with his impatience for troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, implies a rejection of nation-building in the Middle East, so as – in effect – to focus on something more crucial: maintaining US maritime power in Asia. Thus does realism triumph.
Realism supposedly died at the end of the cold war, when the spread of free societies across eastern Europe highlighted the role of idealism in foreign policy. But then came the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, and the debacle of Iraq, and realism rose from the ashes. It will rise again now, given that the Middle East and East Asia are bound to get messier...
comments powered by Disqus
- Rubio Surges Into Second In New Hampshire
- Branstad Says Cruz Ran ‘Unethical’ Campaign
- Christie Highlights Santorum’s Endorsement of Rubio
- Portman Comes Out Against Trade Deal
- Megyn Kelly Gets a Book Deal
- A Big List of the Bad Things Clinton Has Done
- An Unambiguous Sign Sanders Won Last Night’s Debate
- Still Friends at the End
- Quote of the Day
- Trump Still Leads as Clinton Slips
- Clinton Can’t Shake Image as Wall Street’s Friend
- Maddow Doesn’t See Sanders Winning
- Why Does the Media Still Shield Chelsea Clinton?
- Bush Jokes His Mother May Have Abused Him
- Rubio Closes the Gap in New Hampshire
- Humans Hard-Wired to Teach, Anthropologist Says
- Parents outraged after students shown ‘white guilt’ cartoon for Black History Month
- Maryland is once again considering retiring its state song
- One of the last remaining Nazis goes on trial in Germany
- Inside story finally told of the young US diplomat who cracked the case of the murder of 4 nuns in El Salvador in 1980
- A historian’s advice to students thinking of getting a PhD in a tough economic climate
- German historian Heinz Richter cleared of charges
- English professor uses literature to help cure historical amnesia
- WSJ features an article by a conservative calling for the abolition of Black History Month
- Mary Beard, herself a bestselling author, wonders why more women historians aren't