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Brent Scowcroft’s fans on the Left

The October 31 New Yorker carries a fascinating piece by Jeffrey Goldberg about Brent Scowcroft, one of the grand old men of the “realist” school of US foreign policy.

Scowcroft, who was George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser and considers the former president his best friend, nevertheless mostly opposes the younger Bush’s approach to foreign policy, and especially his decision to invade Iraq.

What’s interesting to me is that even though Scowcroft’s beliefs about foreign policy are deeply conservative, he has won plaudits for those positions from some on the antiwar Left. Armando of the Daily Kos blog heralds “Scowcroft ‘s Scathing Critique of the Iraq Debacle.” Another Kos blogger, kant, raves (in all seriousness, I think) “Scowcroft is a poet… he could be a top blogger on Kos.” On his blog, David Corn of The Nation quotes approvingly from the article, which he says contains plenty of “good stuff.”

Here are some excerpts from the article, which is unavailable online. Scowcroft obviously is a sincere, thoughtful advocate of a “realist” approach to foreign policy. Not everthing he says can be dismissed out of hand. But can anyone tell me why supposed leftists are swooning over comments that betray not the slightest hint of a left-leaning world view?

Scowcroft is a protege of Henry Kissinger– he was his deputy when Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser. Like Kissinger, he is a purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy: the idea that America should be guided by strategic self-interest and that moral considerations are secondary at best.
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[Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice] argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”
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“I believe that you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history,” he says. “This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case. I don’t think anyone knows what burns inside others. Food, shelter, security, stability. Have you read Erich Fromm, ‘Escape from Freedom’? I don’t agree with him, but some people don’t really want to be free.”

Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not as a victory for self-government but as a foreshadowing of civil war…
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“I’ve been accused of tolerating autocracies in the Middle East, and there’s some validity in that,” Scowcroft said. “It’s easy in the name of stability to be comfortable with the status quo.”
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The status quo, Scowcroft said, is not necessarily a good thing, but it might be better than what follows. “My kind of realism would look at what are the most likely consequences of pushing out a government. What will replace it?”
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“What the realist fears is the consequences of idealism,” he said. “The reason I part with the neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don’t think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.” He added, “I’m a realist in the sense that I’m a cynic about human nature.”
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[After the Tiananmen Square massacre] Scowcroft communicated Bush’s concerns to the Chinese leadership: “I knew Deng, and I had a wonderful, frank discussion with him, and he said, ‘What happened in Tiananmen Square is none of your business– it’s a domestic issue, and we do whatever we want,’ and I said, ‘You’re right. It is none of our business. But the consequences of what you did in the world and to our relations are our business. And that’s what I’m here to talk about.”
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“A terrible situation– just tragic,” Scowcroft said of Rwanda. “But before you intervene, you have to ask yourself, ‘If I go in, how do I get out?’ And you have to ask questions about the national interest.” Interventions have consequences, he argues, an Iraq is a case in point. “There are a lot of places in the world where injustice is taking place, and we can’t run around and fix all of them.”
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“I believe in the fallibility of human nature,” Scowcroft told me. “We continually step on our best aspirations. We’re humans. Given a chance to screw up, we will.”

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