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Are Leftists and Realists heading for a break-up?

Guest post by Judeosphere

They came from different worlds, but nonetheless romance bloomed. The Leftists and Realists first caught one another’s eye during the Balkan wars. The Realists opposed the Clinton Doctrine of humanitarian intervention because preventing genocide in Europe wasn’t in the clear national interest of the United States. The Leftists also opposed intervention, because it was “illegal” (not sanction by the UN) and war is bad (unless you fall into the nebulous category of “resistance fighter”). And besides, according to the fellow travelers at the Socialist Review, there were dark motives at work: “In Serbia the aim was to crush a destabilizing threat to NATO’s U.S.-led expansion eastwards towards Russia and, by extension, to U.S. designs on the rich oil resources of Central Asia.”

And, just when it seemed that this might be a one-night stand, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, and the Realists and Leftists declared their undying love for one another. The Left went weak in the knees over Kissinger protégé Brent Scowcroft. Walt & Mearsheimer were hailed as prophets for their “daring” expose of the “Israel Lobby.”

As the Left-leaning Nation magazine described the relationship in a 2006 article:

Since the attacks of September 11, the gulf that once separated [realists] from liberal and radical critics of US foreign policy appears to have narrowed, if not altogether disappeared. The views of realist thinkers like Anatol Lieven, Andrew Bacevich and Chalmers Johnson now appear frequently in the left-liberal press. This fall The Nation, whose pages have regularly featured their voices, will be co-hosting a discussion with The National Interest, a realist journal that has Daniel Pipes and Zbigniew Brzezinski on its masthead, about views of realism from the left and the right. Groups like have sprinkled their press releases with collegial references to Kissinger and Scowcroft. The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an alliance of experts that formed not long ago to oppose the Bush Administration’s overseas agenda, has issued statements bearing the signatures of former Reagan Administration officials as well as left-leaning academics like Bruce Cumings, Joel Beinin and Marilyn Young.

The Leftists and Realists linked arms and campaigned for Barack Obama. But then, things took a turn for the worst: Obama got elected and announced his national security team. And the Left feels betrayed.

A columnist in the Chicago Tribune described the national security team as a “flock of hawks”:

It’s a curious collection of advisers for someone who owes his nomination and election largely to his early opposition to the Iraq war. As far as I know, none of the appointees publicly opposed the 2003 invasion. It would be wise to bring in some advisers who would provide a different point of view. I can suggest where to find some: Among the signatories to a New York Times ad that opposed the war on hard-headed grounds–such as “we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state.”
Those signing included such distinguished thinkers as Richard Betts of Columbia; Charles Glaser, John Mearsheimer and Robert Pape of the University of Chicago; Barry Posen, Stephen Van Evera and Cindy Williams of MIT; Michael Desch of Notre Dame; and Steven Miller and Stephen Walt of Harvard.

And then there’s this commentary from David Bromwich:

We are all trying to figure out what his center-right cabinet choices amount to. Lincoln’s team of rivals after all was a team in clear accord with the political positions he took in 1859 and 1860. Obama is up to something different–appeasing the political establishment to the top of his bent, but with choices who, if they stay what they were and he stays what he was, he must either fire or bend himself to accommodate. The complete absence of persons who
opposed the Iraq war from the start is really mystifying; as if Lincoln had decided that the public declaration of abolitionist views was a disqualification for service in his cabinet.

Obama himself, however, has made clear his rationale for his national security team picks:

“I don’t want to have people who just agree with me,” he said. “I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.” Obama said he’d be particularly interested in having high-ranking Republicans advising him on defense and national security. “I really admire the way the elder Bush negotiated the end of the Cold War — with discipline, tough diplomacy and restraint … and I’d be very interested in having those sorts of Republicans in my Administration, especially people who can expedite a responsible and orderly conclusion to the Iraq war — and who know how to keep the hammer down on al-Qaeda.”

In other words, Obama (gasp!) is surrounding himself with foreign policy Realists. Somewhere, during the campaign, the Left overlooked Obama’s statements that he wasn’t against wars, just dumb wars. And, in the throes of passion, the Left forgot that the Realists who opposed the Iraq War are perfectly content to bomb Arab countries if it suits U.S. interests. Just ask John Mearsheimer, who, in a 1991 NYT editorial (pdf), made the case for the First Gulf War, predicting that “a quick victory will reduce losses on both sides.” (Iraqi casualties: 40,000 dead troops and more than 140,000 dead civilians.)

So, is the Leftist-Realist romance over? Or can these two crazy kids still make it work?