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May 1, 2005 - Realism and Idealism are the Same Thing

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Elsewhere in this issue there is a discussion of the Saudi guy - Crown Prince Abdullah – dropping by to chat with Bush at the ranch down in Texas.  Can we get more oil, cheaper?  And actually, is the world just running out of oil?  And what does it all mean?

Tuesday – the best thing on the web was this –

The Idealist in the Bluebonnets
What Bush's meeting with the Saudi ruler really means.
Fred Kaplan - Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2005, at 3:10 PM PT – SLATE .COM

I believe the bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas – and Kaplan says this meeting, should, as he puts it - splash some cold water on the dreamy gaze that has transfixed too many faces this season. Why?


It's a natural temptation to exaggerate the impact of tumultuous events—to see a hopeful advance as a cosmic leap, an unexpected twist as the harbinger of a new direction in the course of human events. The armistice of 1918 moved Woodrow Wilson to declare "an end to all wars." The West's triumph over communism excited Francis Fukuyama into believing we'd reached "the end of history." And this winter's drama in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Ukraine inspired George W. Bush to proclaim that American interests and American ideals are no longer at odds and, in fact, are identical—that, in other words, the dilemmas which have racked statesmen across the span of American history are now resolved.

But then Crown Prince Abdullah came to visit.

Bush invited the Crown Prince to Crawford—the highest token of honor and friendship that this president bestows on foreign leaders—for one basic reason: to see if the royal family can do something to lower oil prices. It is doubtful, under the circumstances, that the president made a fuss over Saudi Arabia's execrable human-rights record or its snail's-pace crawl (if that) toward democracy.


Well, yes, the Kingdom is not a nice place by our standards. But these guys are friends of the family, even if most of the 9/11 highjackers were Saudis. Oh well. One has to be pragmatic. And not look too closely at things.

(And as for Francis Fukuyama, note here - October 31, 2004: The Week of Quite Odd Events in Review - that Fukuyama decided not to vote for Bush last December.)

Well, we do proclaim we are committed to freedom – and Kaplan points to Condoleezza Rice saying this, whenever she can – that this is “the organizing principle of the 21st century" - and that the United States' relations with a country will be shaped above all by that other country's commitment to freedom.

But then there is the matter of oil.

And there is the matter of the whole concept being a bit silly.


Bush's proclamation, recited in his Inaugural Address last January, took the form of a syllogism: Violence and terrorism are the product of tyranny and resentment; spreading freedom will reduce tyranny and resentment, and will thus also reduce violence and terrorism; therefore, advancing our ideals of freedom will also advance our interests of security—or, as the president put it: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

Even at the time, this logic seemed riddled with holes. History, after all, is rife with movements of violence and terror taking hold in free societies (the Red Brigades in Italy, the IRA in Ireland, and the Nazis in Weimar Germany). And the spread of freedom isn't necessarily a benign force from America's viewpoint. If the masses suddenly gained freedom in Pakistan, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia (or even, perhaps, in Lebanon, Iran, or Iraq), their new democratically elected regimes might be hostile toward U.S. interests and security.


Yeah, well the logic is questionable – but the hard sell has worked.  Just don’t think about the IRA or Red Brigades.

As always, it does not pay to look too closely at things.

And we need to get realistic –


… a president might like China's rulers to treat dissidents more humanely, but he really wants China to keep buying dollars and floating the U.S. deficit. (Bush's commitment to freedom might be taken more seriously if he took action to promote oil conservation, and cut the deficit, in order to make us less beholden to the Saudis and Chinese.) These conflicting desires are nothing new. During the Cold War, presidents tried to undercut communism and to pressure the Kremlin to ease emigration; but they tried even harder to avoid World War III.

The point is not that realpolitik always trumps values. …


Of course.

Buy what Kaplan is getting at is that there is always a tension between realistic pragmatism and idealist values. And his idea is that these folks – Bush and Rice and the rest – are suffering from a delusion. What delusion? That now these two things are the same.

They aren’t.  So go read it.

Then check out this - Abdullah at the Ranch: A Handy Checklist.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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