The Compass

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The 'Core' of Realism Is Betrayal?

Michael Rubin claims that the 'core' of realism is the betrayal of dissidents:

But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires... Realists will always find an excuse to ignore dissidents and dismiss their fight for freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, what these realists see as sophistication not only is amoral, but actively undercuts long-term U.S. security.

It's true that realists are reluctant to take up the cause of dissidents in other countries and that this does not always redound to American glory. But this is because realists recognize that the world is not an ideal place and that the concerns of dissidents, however legitimate, always have to be weighed against U.S. interests and America's capability to actually effect the change these dissidents want to see. If all that was required to change China's human rights record was more U.S. hectoring and lecturing, it would have happened already.

Do realists always strike the right balance? Of course not. But Rubin's formulation elevates the unfortunate trade-off that can result from a realist approach as somehow the central, animating principle. In fact, it would be like saying that mass civilian death, torture and population displacements are the "core" of neoconservatism since that is what their policy produced in Iraq and would likely produce if U.S. "leadership" were exercised in places like Syria. But I wouldn't argue that such maladies are neoconservatism's "core" - since I don't believe neoconservatives are bloodthirsty sadists. Though, if I were a neoconservative, I certainly would be careful about throwing charges of "amorality" around.