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Stephen Walt’s (Selectively) Realist Perspective

Stephen M. Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, opened his new blog on Foreign Policy‘s website promising to bring a realist perspective to the blogosphere.  In his first post, published earlier this week, he defines the realist perspective as follows:

Realists believe that foreign policy should deal with the world as it really is, instead of being based on wishful thinking or ideological pipedreams (see under “Clinton administration”). Realists know that international politics can be a brutal business and states cannot afford to be too trusting, but we also know that states get into serious trouble by exaggerating threats or engaging in foolish foreign adventures (see under “Bush Doctrine”). Realists respect the power of nationalism and understand that other societies will resist outside interference and defend their own interests vigorously.

Well, not surprisingly, there’s one country that Walt systematically excludes from the realist perspective–i.e., one state that isn’t allowed to “deal with the world as it really is.”  Check out Walt’s latest “thought experiment” on the war in Gaza:

…what if Hamas was hiding out among the civilian population of Tel Aviv, and attacking Israel from within? Would the IDF be using massive force to eradicate them? Unless you think that Palestinian and Israeli civilian lives are not equal, what justifies the current policy?

Israel is hardly unique in placing a higher value on its own citizens’ lives than it places on the lives of others, and we should not forget that U.S. forces have caused plenty of civilian casualties in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” But that doesn’t make it right, and there are good reasons to question whether it will even be effective in this instance.

So, in other words, Israel shouldn’t operate in reality — rather, it should consider the morality of its actions against a series of fantastical hypothetical scenarios.  Naturally, all of Walt’s proposed scenarios end with the same conclusion: Israel acts immorally — both in reality and in the fictitious dimension that Walt has constructed for it.  Indeed, Walt has yet to find a single instance in which Israel is justified — or merely acting in its self-interest — in protecting its citizens against terrorist groups through force.

The most interesting aspect of Walt’s work, however, is that he actually believes that these “thought experiments” are expressions of his own objectivity.  In turn, Walt is a truly unique realist — one who operates within his own alternative universe.



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