Where Are The Realists?

I think Andrew is getting a little too excited by the Ron Paul phenomenon. The idea that Paul should be removed from the debates is ludicrous, obviously - so much for that vaunted Republican intellectual diversity! But while it's interesting to have Paul's hard isolationism represented in the conversation, his views don't come close to representing a viable present-day alternative to Bush-style crusading interventionism; he's a curiosity rather than a serious corrective. Indeed, the attention that Paul's getting isn't, pace Andrew, a sign of the hidden strength of conservative opposition to Bush's Iraq policy - it's a sign of its weakness, and the vacuum that's opened in what used to be the space between neoconservative interventionism and Paul-style isolationism. Nor are the Hugh Hewitts going after Paul because they're "afraid" of him, as Andrew would have it; they're going after him because he's a poor spokesman for opposition to the Iraq War - sure, it's intellectually consistent to oppose the 2003 invasion and the first Gulf War and the creation of NATO, but it's not a plausible position for the contemporary GOP to take - and because they can use his tendency to stray into deep right field as a way to discredit any criticism of the Bush Administration.

The vacuum that Paul currently occupies is supposed to be filled by an internationally-minded realism. Indeed, it's precisely the coexistence of realism and idealism in Republican foreign policy, the fruitful tension between the two strains of thought, that has long made the GOP the party to be trusted in international relations - because the idealists elevate the realists, and the realists keep the idealists grounded. When the pendulum swings too far in one direction or another, this tension has usually produced a correction, of the kind that, say, the original neocons and then Reagan provided to the cynical machtpolitik of Kissinger. But there's no sign of a realist corrective in the current GOP field: There were ten candidates on that stage besides Ron Paul yesterday night, and not one of them was willing to call the Iraq War a mistake, which seems to me like the place that a serious realist critique of his Presidency's foreign policy needs to begin.

It's a sorry, sorry sign for Republican foreign-policy realism that the closest thing to a champion it has on the national stage is Chuck Hagel - a self-promoting buffoon, so far as I can tell, and a politician whose grasp of current foreign-policy debates leaves much to be desired.