Saturday, January 29, 2005

What the Realists Don't Realize

Saul Singer, of the Jerusalem Post, challenges the "realists." A worthwhile read:
We can be sure that there was jubilation among political prisoners all over the world as the news inevitably filtered through to them of the gauntlet thrown down to their tormentors by President George W. Bush. We know this, because we know how Natan Sharansky and his fellow inmates celebrated in the Soviet gulag when Ronald Reagan gave his "evil empire" speech.

If there is panic, it is among a dominant school in Western foreign policy, the misnamed "realists."

Swiftly riding to the defense of the old order came Richard Haass, a former senior State Department official and current president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is neither desirable nor practical to make democracy promotion the dominant feature of American foreign policy," he writes in The Washington Post, and proceeds to outline how dangerous, difficult, impractical and irrelevant promoting democracy can be. Pushing democracy is a fine sentiment, but in China, Russia, come to think of it, almost everywhere, Haass claims it's just not true that "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." ...

I will grant the realists this: They are right that Bush's broad framework must be translated into practical, implemental policies. That wasn't the job of an inaugural address...

What the realists don't realize is that if there is a problem with Bush's speech, it is neither utopianism nor excess ambition. If anything, Bush has made the goal of securing the world seem more daunting than it really is.

The terror the world is at war with is not quite as amorphous and global as it is made out to be. It is limited to one particularly virulent subculture within one civilization: to militant Islamism. And that subculture can only count two governments and one society as active allies: Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Of these, Syria is small and weak and the Saudis are also quite vulnerable and divided. This leaves Iran, the one regime in the world whose fate will determine whether the war takes a significant step forward or backward.

Iran, Haass chimes in, is a classic example of where Bush's vision falls short. "There is no realistic way that democracy will arrive in either North Korea or Iran before nuclear weapons do. And even if 'freedom' were somehow to come to Teheran, it is almost certain that free Iranians would be as enthusiastic as the mullahs are about possessing nuclear weapons."

If this seems like a slam dunk against what Newsweek called "Sharanskyism" (as described in Bush's favorite new book, The Case for Democracy), it is actually where "realism" cracks up completely.

First, it is ridiculous to assert that the Iranian regime is stable or permanent. In a month, a year, or a decade, it will collapse under its own weight, with much help from the Iranian people. As early as this summer, when the regime plans to rig its next election, the people could pull a Ukraine and stay out in the streets until the regime steps down.

How long this takes is determined less by the ample bravery and desire for freedom of the Iranian people, than by the entirely optional hypocrisy of the West. The Ukrainian government understood that it couldn't steal an election and roll in the tanks when the people protested, because the world would no longer accept its legitimacy. By the same token, if Europe and the US together side with the people in the streets against the thieves of their government, the mullahs will not be able to retain power.

Second, it is absurd to argue that it makes no difference which finger is on the nuclear button, the mullahs or their much more democratic, pro-Western successors. The best would be neither, but the latter is vastly preferable.

Realists should get this: Unless they have an idea how to stop the coming Islamist nuke, they have nothing to offer. Bush potentially has three ideas that should be pursued at once: challenge the UK, France, and Germany to impose stiff sanctions (through the UN or not) on Teheran linked to nukes and terror; back sanctions with the threat of force; and ramp up support for the Iranian people.

Is it "realistic" to believe that it is impossible to stop one hated government from effectively terrorizing the entire world? Only if one believes the West, despite its overwhelming military and economic superiority, is congenitally incapable of lifting a finger in its own defense.

For 50 years, the realists said the Soviet Union could not be defeated, only held at bay by Western power. They said that democracy had no hope in Latin America and Asia. They saw the refusal to confront Middle Eastern tyranny as the preservation of "stability."

The heart of "realism" is the willingness to settle for defeat.