Charles Krauthammer's '04 Irving Kristol address calling for "democratic realism" as the touchstone of conservative foreign policy seems worth quoting this week:
The danger of democratic globalism is its universalism, its open-ended commitment to human freedom, its temptation to plant the flag of democracy everywhere. It must learn to say no. And indeed, it does say no. But when it says no to Liberia, or Congo, or Burma, or countenances alliances with authoritarian rulers in places like Pakistan or, for that matter, Russia, it stands accused of hypocrisy. Which is why we must articulate criteria for saying yes.
Where to intervene? Where to bring democracy? Where to nation-build? I propose a single criterion: where it counts.
Call it democratic realism. And this is its axiom: We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity--meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom.
Where does it count? Fifty years ago, Germany and Japan counted. Why? Because they were the seeds of the greatest global threat to freedom in midcentury--fascism--and then were turned, by nation building, into bulwarks against the next great threat to freedom, Soviet communism.
Where does it count today? Where the overthrow of radicalism and the beginnings of democracy can have a decisive effect in the war against the new global threat to freedom, the new existential enemy, the Arab-Islamic totalitarianism that has threatened us in both its secular and religious forms for the quarter-century since the Khomeini revolution of 1979.
... [American foreign policy] must be tempered in its universalistic aspirations and rhetoric from a democratic globalism to a democratic realism. It must be targeted, focused and limited. We are friends to all, but we come ashore only where it really counts. And where it counts today is that Islamic crescent stretching from North Africa to Afghanistan.
To my mind, it overstates the case to call the Islamist threat "existential," which is one reason why I think that were I suddenly given control over American foreign policy - a horrifying thought, to be sure - I would be somewhat less likely than Krauthammer to accept the commitment of American "blood and treasure" to operations in the Arab-Islamic world going forward, and somewhat more likely to accept their commitment to crises that don't directly relate to the struggle against Islamism. But at the moment, American foreign policy is deeply invested in precisely the framework he describes, with ongoing and difficult operations that need to be seen through to success. And this has to place limits on what we can and cannot do for a country like Georgia. We can do what the Bush Administration seems to be doing, if perhaps somewhat belatedly - support Georgia's government with humanitarian aid and shuttle diplomacy, and (depending on the decisions Moscow makes this week) with sanctions of various sorts as well. But committing ourselves to "coming ashore" for Georgia - whether through a proxy war or the security guarantees that come with with NATO membership - just doesn't strike me as realism of any sort, given the strategic necessities facing America elsewhere in the world.