The Neoconservatives Have Declared War On The Realists

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

In recent years, I've increasingly suspected that when it comes to foreign policy, the realists offer some of the most sane observations. 

These suspicions were confirmed earlier this year when after the election of Donald Trump, John Mearsheimer, one of modern realism's current standard bearers, wrote in The National Interest that Trump should "adopt a realist foreign policy" and outlines a far better foreign policy agenda that what we've seen coming from Washington. 

And what is this realist foreign policy? For Mearsheimer, some main tenets include:

  • Accepting that the US attempt at nation building in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen "has been an abject failure."
  • "Washington [should] respect the sovereignty of other states even when it disagrees with their internal policies."
  • "Spreading democracy, especially by force, almost always fails."
  • Understanding that "America’s terrorism problem ... is fueled in part by the U.S. military presence on Arab territory as well as the endless wars the United States has waged in the greater Middle East."
  • "The Trump administration should let local powers deal with ISIS."
  • Recognizing that Russia poses no real threat to the United States: "Even if Russia modernizes its economy and its population grows in the years ahead — big ifs — it will still be unable to project significant military power beyond eastern Europe."
  • "A Syria run by Assad poses no threat to the United States"
  • "The new president should also work to improve relations with Iran. "
  • "Encourage the Europeans to take responsibility for their own security, while gradually reducing the remaining U.S. troops there."

Against Liberal Hegemony

There are some specific recommendations, but in a larger context, Mearsheimer is reflecting what has been building for years among realists led by Barry Posen, Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Harvey Sapolsky, among others: an opposition to so-called "liberal hegemony" 

What is liberal hegemony? It's ably summed up by William Ruger: 

Liberal hegemony is an activist grand strategy that aims to assertively maintain U.S. dominance and the “unipolar moment” in the service of liberalism and national security. Posen explains that it has been the reigning U.S. grand strategy since the end of the Cold War and remains the consensus view of the foreign-policy establishment of both major parties — of liberal internationalists and neoconservatives alike. Yet he believes it is “unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful,” and ultimately “self-defeating.”

The movement against liberal hegemony was crystallized somewhat in 2014 when Posen published Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, which is a detailed condemnation of liberal hegemony, and instead suggests a policy of "restraint." Restraint, as the name implies, favors far less enthusiasm in using American military force on every political and societal problem in the world, and instead focusing on what constitutes an actual military threat to the US. The ideology of restraint assumes that peace is superior to war, and that constant foreign interventionism is unlikely to bring peace, stability, or justice.1

As Ruger notes, this opposition to the current foreign-policy zeitgeist in Washington centers largely around scholars within MIT's political science program, and has few adherents among the top brass in the military or among politicians on Capitol Hill. 

The Neoconservatives Declare War 

Last week, Commentary magazine, a long-established mouthpiece for hard-line interventionist and neoconservative views issued a denunciation of these realists in a piece titled "Saving Realism from the So-Called Realists." 

For the authors, Hal Brands and Peter Feaver, today's realists are a disaster: "Today’s most prominent self-identified realists — Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Barry Posen, and Christopher Layne— advocate a thoroughgoing U.S. retrenchment from global affairs." Abandoning their traditional anti-populism, the authors go on to sneeringly denounce realism and restraint as "academic" and as "some of the most misguided doctrines of the ivory tower."

For interventionists, "retrenchment" is just another word for "isolationism," which of course is the great bogeyman of interventionist foreign policy. Realists have lost their way, we're told, because they no longer support "forging a stable international order" by which the interventionists mean "non-stop intervention in every region on earth." 

For Brands and Feaver, what is really needed is a return to the good ol' days of "Cold-War realism" in which realists favored far greater level of interventionism in the name of countering the assumed Soviet threat. 

But even in the Cold War, many realists were far better than idealist Wilsonian regime-change advocates like President Lyndon Johnson. Realist George Kennan, for instance, denounced the Vietnam War and objected to viewing the war in terms of "fighting for freedom." 

But even among those realists who were gung ho on military intervention, many were wrong because they were laboring under a mountain of bad information about the Soviets and their economic system. As nearly all the policymakers of their day, the Cold War realists assumed — wrongly — that the communist world was an economic powerhouse, poised to overtake the US in terms of wealth and technology in the near future. They failed to read up on their Ludwig von Mises and understand that the socialist economy was doomed from the start, and would self-destruct from within. Instead, the old realist Cold Warriors accepted the CIA's "intelligence" on the Soviet economy which vastly overstated the state of the Communist economies. 

At the same time, the Cold War realists were also influenced by hysterical ex-communists like Whittaker Chambers who published jeremiads about how the West was doomed because lazy Westerners could never compete against the communists who were not like ordinary humans. The communists — we were told — ate, slept, and breathed the idea of the communist revolution and would stop at nothing to impose their ideology on the rest of the world, even if it meant certain death for themselves. This then implied that nuclear deterrence would not work, and thus relentless intervention and foreign policy adventurism — such as that in Vietnam — was necessary to overwhelm the Soviet threat. 

Learning from the Past

Today, it may be that modern realists have learned from the mistakes of their grandparents. Contrary to claims that communists would happily throw their lives away in service to the party, it appears communists of old behaved like most everyone else. Many of them were too busy taking bribes and running black markets to busy themselves with taking over the world.  It's now clear that authoritarian regimes — especially hard-core socialist ones — tend to undermine their own power with their backward economic systems. Experience suggests that nuclear deterrence has worked even with history's most deranged dictators. It's now clear that wars such as those in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan have done nothing to enhance the safety of Americans. 

So, it's hard to fault the realists for learning something from history.

For the advocates of liberal hegemony, on the other hand, there's nothing to be learned, and it's heresy to suggest that decades of non-stop American interventionism has not been a success. For them, all this talk of "restraint" is just the ramblings of the "ivory tower."  Instead, we must recover the fervor of the Cold War, listen to the generals, and plan for a third war, a fourth war, and more. No place on earth ought to be considered beyond the reach of American politicians. 

After all, bad things happen in the world, so the US must be forever ready for new invasions, for nation building, and for "humanitarian" efforts, no matter what side effects and opportunity costs these actions may bring. In his essay "Invade the World" Murray Rothbard mocked these ideas — which at the time were gaining currency in the wake of the Cold War. He concluded: 

We must face the fact that there is not a single country in the world that measures up to the lofty moral and social standards that are the hallmark of the U.S.A.: even Canada is delinquent and deserves a whiff of grape. There is not a single country in the world which, like the U.S., reeks of democracy and "human rights," and is free of crime and murder and hate thoughts and undemocratic deeds. Very few other countries are as Politically Correct as the U.S., or have the wit to impose a massively statist program in the name of "freedom," "free trade," "multiculturalism," and "expanding democracy."


And so, since no other countries shape up to U.S. standards in a world of Sole Superpower they must be severely chastised by the U.S., I make a Modest Proposal for the only possible consistent and coherent foreign policy: the U.S. must, very soon, Invade the Entire World! Sanctions are peanuts; we must invade every country in the world, perhaps softening them up beforehand with a wonderful high-tech missile bombing show courtesy of CNN.

Liberal Hegemony: A Program for Global Central Planning 

Fundamentally, the ideology of liberal hegemony is the ideology of total global political centralization. A global system of multiple sovereign states  — a situation far preferable to a single world state — is to be tolerated only in name. For the advocates of liberal hegemony, the de facto world order ought to be one in which a single government — the US government — is entitled to intervene anywhere in the world that it doesn't like the local regime or doesn't approve of another state's internal policies. 

The realists, to their credit, understand that there are limits to this view of the world; that perhaps a single global hegemon is not, in fact, a recipe for an enduring world order. Moreover, the long-term cost of these efforts may prove crippling for US taxpayers both in terms of money and in terms of domestic freedoms.

While far from perfect, the realists have put up some barriers to the US's non-stop drive to "invade the world." Needless to say, Commentary magazine and its friends in Washington would rather these realists all go away.  


Paul Kersey Enceladus Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:56 Permalink

Here's how to kill the neocon movement:Make war profiteering a crime, punished by incarceration.Cut off foreign aid to Israel.  The Israelis don't need it and the U.S. taxpayers shouldn't be paying for it.Cut off all business dealing with Israel untile the retreat to their pre-1967 war boundaries.   

In reply to by Enceladus

NoDecaf Paul Kersey Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:58 Permalink

After the next revolution and a new constitution is written it should have a claus that says anyone who publicly advocates war should be required to fight that war in any capacity that they can, meaning you get drafted and sent to the front. Politician, clergy, professor, actor etc etc...anyone and everyone regardless of age. You want to fight? YOU should be forced to actually fight YOUR enemy.

In reply to by Paul Kersey

Theosebes Goodfellow BingoBoggins Sat, 09/16/2017 - 13:39 Permalink

~"The new president should also work to improve relations with Iran. "~I was all with the program until this little blurb. What part of "she's really not that into you" did the author miss? The Iranian theocracy hates our guts and is sworn to destroy us and all of the other "infidel" nations. Western nations are like spousal abuse victims who keep coming back to their abusers, in denial that somehow "the next time" will be different when the next time they get smacked around anew. So let me state it plainly: Iran doesn't want "improved relations" with the west save to conquer them "until all is for Allah", (may he rot in hell). The same goes for all of the Islamic nations. There is no "co-existence" with Islam. They are the "foreign entanglements" we were warned about, (and did not heed).

In reply to by BingoBoggins

BingoBoggins Theosebes Goodfellow Sat, 09/16/2017 - 18:44 Permalink

Are you sure about that? - go back and check your translations.We've heard of more than a few hastily compiled from horse hockey.While you're at it tell me who you're talking about.You sound like my wife, getting a little dig in, "may he rot in Hell". Fuck, I hate that, it's so pussified and passive aggressive."They are the "foreign entanglements" we were warned about, (and did not heed)."  Thanks for making my point.What's with all the vitriole? My old lady is a child of an alcoholic. That I can understand. ... Wait a minute. Western nations are like spousal abuse victims?Like Colonial Powers never have enough? Take it on the arches ...

In reply to by Theosebes Goodfellow

cynicalskeptic NoDecaf Fri, 09/15/2017 - 19:50 Permalink

Those that push the hardest for war do so behind the scenes.  Those that exercise the greatest power do so out of the public view. War is a most profitable endeavor for financiers and industrialists- and a way for our true rulers to limit the populationThose truly responsible are never publicy identified so this solution - noble though it is - would never work.

In reply to by NoDecaf

BingoBoggins Paul Kersey Fri, 09/15/2017 - 20:18 Permalink

Well, looking "up" the line of commentary, how does one accomplish these Herculean tasks?Take the easy route and fire your Congress people. They are the hand servants for those who hide behind the curtain, after all, are they not?Tell them, for example, to repeal the 2001 AUMF. This is the key legislation that drives the Neo-Zio-Con struggle, does it not?How do you think we stopped Amnesty in 2006? Of course, I work in in construction, so I had a stake in the game.What happened is we threatened to take away their gravy train.Ya'll talk a lot. What's your stake? The more down votes, the more effective I am ... 

In reply to by Paul Kersey

BobEore Paul Kersey Sat, 09/16/2017 - 04:27 Permalink

Cut off foreign aid to Israel.  The Israelis don't need it ...bollocks. Without the subsidies provided by US taxpayers, the tiny Pirate State in the se Med has no economy. All those startups - incubated "entrepreneurial" security companies owned n staffed by former IDF & mossad types wouldn't have a chance in a 'free market' without that intravenous feed. All that stolen USA technology would be of little use to them without the dollops of  cash with which to bribe their way into 'commericial success." Hundred of Russian Red Mafiya emigres have their tentacles deep into the bloodstream of the Merikan the point where cutting them off would be as likely fatal to the host as well as the virus. Better to shut off all the covert subsidisation of 'think tanks' and psyops like this "mises institute" one of the moment -

"Contrary to claims that communists would happily throw their lives away in service to the party, it appears communists of old behaved like most everyone else. Many of them were too busy taking bribes and running black markets to busy themselves with taking over the world.  It's now clear that authoritarian regimes — especially hard-core socialist ones — tend to undermine their own power with their backward economic system"

double bollocks. "Communists" was always the term used to conceal the identities of the talmudist kabbalist Bolshies who ran the worlds' largest and longest prison gulag. Like all talmudist brainwashed fanatics, they would indeed give their lives away in service to "the Party"... the sionist absolutist hegemonist party - bribes and black markets were all a pace with the 'taking over of the world' - which has happened now, in reality, as the scions of old party hacks who sacrificed themselves so that their kids would grow up as billionaires in the benighted west could pound the 'final nails in the coffin' of western civilization.This subtle disinfo piece brought to you via covert subsidies arranged via the 'free market capitalists' in charge of your every information and communications alternatives. Enjoy! 

In reply to by Paul Kersey

Lumberjack Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:40 Permalink

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Umh Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:44 Permalink

If you do not know what the plan is this looks like chaos. It sounds farfetched, but just keeping the biggest land mass in the world stirred up may be the literal goal.

GunnyG Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:43 Permalink

The Neocon scum are shoveling shit against the tide because Americans are sick of defending the fucking world. If some country can't protect themselves, tough titty, fuck em. My family has served since WW1 and we're done. Let some rich elite's kid serve or they can kiss my ass.

cynicalskeptic illuminatus (not verified) Fri, 09/15/2017 - 20:36 Permalink

ditto.... "DEFENDING THE WORLD?!?!?!"Ever read Smedley Butler? family fought in every conflict since the American Revolution.  I was in West Point when I realized that all I believed in was wrong.  Might have had something to do with the NCO's at Buckner that said 'You're here VOLUNTARILY?!?!  What's wrong with you?'   Truth was a good part of my class was there because they had draft lottery nimbers in the double digits.  You saw how screwed up things were real fast.  They LOVED the guys likely to get fragged withing two weeks of taking over a platoon while they screwed the best leaders I ever saw - themen you'd go through hell for, the very types they NEEDED.The US has been a modern day Rome.  The Republic fell a long time ago.  The Empire has been out to dominate the world and has bankrupted the nation in doing so.  Few Americans see how much we are hated by others - or understand why.  They do not hate us for our freedoms - they hate us for taking their away.  We have overthrown ELECTED governments all over the world for well over 100 years on the behalf of American businesses.   The Emire is now collapsing, employing mercenaries to fight the battles our own citizens are unwilling to...The TRILLIONS and TRILLIONS wasted on pointless wars that never should have been fought could have made this planet a paradise.  Instead we are headed for a dystopian nightmare.WWI was a pissing contest over colonies and natural resources, a clash of egos that never should have been fought.  The US should neer have been a participant.  It was tricked into that war because bankers feared default on the funds loaned to Britain and France.  Hell, if we were truly mercenary we should have stayed out and sold to both sides impartially so they destroyed each other. That war made too many people rich and changed the US forever.   Instead of staying out of geopolitics, we dove in the pool.  We may have retreated to the shallow end for the 20''s and 30's but were all too willing to go all in for WWII and afterwards.The Second World War arose from the ashes of the first. After that,  was too profitable to end but a third world war was too costly to fight so we had countless proxy fights and a Cold War for the next 45 years. Now, to keep the military industrial complex going - and prop up the $US petrodollar, the neocons are trying to prop up a fading US Empire through force.   The War on Terror is the latest iteration - though a false one.BUT'terrorism' is not an enemy, it is a TACTIC used by the weak and powerless.  Those who could never defeat you on a battlefield will nip at your heels endlessly.   The IRA was far more effective fighting the British than the Islamis world has been fighting the US.  Why?   Perhaps the whole war on terror is itself fake, a series of false flags - interspersed with a few genuine attemts by ill equipped individuals or small groups - all designed to justify an American presence throughout the Middle East (coincidentally the location of so much oil and gas). 

In reply to by illuminatus (not verified)

gilhgvc Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:52 Permalink

You want to end the US invasion of the world..BRING BACK THE DRAFT. no out's, no soon as EVERY person has skin in the game and knows that THEMSELVES or THeIR LOVED ONES may be drafted and going in harms way, this country will cut way back on foreign adventures..