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Obama the 'Closet Realist'

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01/28/2014

Below is an interesting discussion on foreign policy with John Mearsheimer.

Among other things, Mearsheimer declares that the neoconservatives "are in real trouble," and that Obama is a closet realist. Mearsheimer has a point. Obama may in fact be a realist. His foreign policy has certainly been less reckless, although it just goes to show how insane American foreign policy is that Obama's brand of it looks relatively prudent next to that of George W. Bush.

Realists tend to indulge in less bloodletting simply because starting major wars nonstop is not conducive to political stability. Bourne was still right: war is indeed the health of the state, but the wars are ideally low-risk wars.  As Rothbard noted in "The Anatomy of the State" (page 55), wars provide both great benefits and great risks for states. A lost war can be a disaster for a state. A realist like Obama (assuming he is one) apparently favors much safer little wars such as all the little drone wars and the much-scaled-down presence in Iraq. He elected (so far) to keep US meddling in Syria restrained and appears to have little appetite for a war in Iran.

We might note that realism has long been hailed by the non-neocon conservatives as the ideal theory of foreign policy, and the fact that Obama can be thrown out there as a potential realist shows that it would be a bad mistake to confuse realist foreign policy with non-interventionist foreign policy. There's plenty of room for mass murder within the realist paradigm, although it does appear to be more restrained on many occasions than the untrammeled idealist foreign policy that the neocons so subscribe to.

Even if better than the neocon (idealist) paradigm, the realists, strictly speaking, act in the interest of the state (in this case the American state). This is a totally different criterion for action than that employed by libertarians and other anti-interventionists who, at least in theory, seek to act in the interests of the lives and property of the humans potentially involved in the conflict.

"Obama is basically a realist"

Via Justin Raimondo.

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Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado and was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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