The Return of the Realists

There are two conflicting clichés beloved by policy analysts:

1. That realism and idealism are the competing strands of American foreign policy.

2. That realism and idealism are indistinguishable these days.

Like most clichés, both have a lot of truth to them. However, the messy outcome of our occupation of Iraq, the resounding repudiation of that enterprise in the midterm elections and the ride to the rescue by Bush family fix-it man James A. Baker III prove that the first cliché remains more useful than the second.

The doctrine of realism, or its Prussian-accented cousin realpolitik, emphasizes a hard-nosed focus on...

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