If you ever thought Obama’s apology tour was the right thing, get ready to have your thoughts bashed in with a hammer…a Krauthammer that is. Wish this man was running for president!
How do you distinguish a foreign policy “idealist” from a “realist,” an optimist from a pessimist? Ask one question: Do you believe in the arrow of history? Or to put it another way, do you think history is cyclical or directional? Are we condemned to do the same damn thing over and over, generation after generation — or is there hope for some enduring progress in the world order?
For realists, generally conservative, history is an endless cycle of clashing power politics. The same patterns repeat. Only the names and places change. The best we can do in our own time is to defend ourselves, managing instability and avoiding catastrophe. But expect nothing permanent, no essential alteration in the course of human affairs.
The idealists believe otherwise. They believe that the international system can eventually evolve out of its Hobbesian state of nature into something more humane and hopeful. What is usually overlooked is that this hopefulness for achieving a higher plane of global comity comes in two flavors — one liberal, one conservative.
The liberal variety (as practiced, for example, by the Bill Clinton administration) believes that the creation of a dense web of treaties, agreements, transnational institutions and international organizations (like the U.N., NGOs, the World Trade Organization) can give substance to a cohesive community of nations that would, in time, ensure order and stability.
The conservative view (often called neoconservative and dominant in the George W. Bush years) is that the better way to ensure order and stability is not through international institutions, which are flimsy and generally powerless, but through the spread of democracy. Because, in the end, democracies are inherently more inclined to live in peace.
Liberal internationalists count on globalization, neoconservatives on democratization to get us to the sunny uplands of international harmony. But what unites them is the belief that such uplands exist and are achievable. Both believe in the perfectibility, if not of man, then of the international system. Both believe in the arrow of history.
For realists, this is a comforting delusion that gives high purpose to international exertions where none exists. Sovereign nations remain in incessant pursuit of power and self-interest. The pursuit can be carried out more or less wisely. But nothing fundamentally changes.