Friday, March 20, 2009

Giving Realists a Bad Name

When Stephen Walt isn't concocting conspiracy theories about the "Israel Lobby," he can occasionally be counted on for interesting analysis -- but not lately. He's not content to strengthen the perceived link between realism and anti-Israel sentiment; in his latest column he wants to associate it with appeasement as well.

The article is called, "A realistic approach to Iran's nuclear program." Unfortunately, the title is a serious misnomer. There's absolutely nothing realistic about it, except for his final note that we can rely on deterrence if they build nuclear weapons.  Walt's argument can be boiled down to this: remove the threat of military action & regime change, "pursue a comprehensive settlement of the key security issues that presently divide us," and explain to them why nuclear weapons really aren't in Iran's best interests.  

Walt comes off like a utopian dreamer, not a realist. He is operating from some extremely shaky assumptions. He assumes that the theocratic government of Iran is a rational actor that can be negotiated with in good faith. He assumes that Iran would believe us if we assured them we were ruling out military action & regime change. Why would they? He talks about a "comprehensive settlement" of key issues without explaining what he means, or how and why this would even be possible. What could we give Iran that would that be in our interests? Why should we appease them at all? Walt also assumes that Iran wants nuclear weapons because of the threat posed by the U.S. This is obviously an incredibly simplistic view that doesn't take into account Iran's national & regional aspirations, and assumes that their nuclear program is motivated purely by a desire for defense. 

If you read Walt's article without knowing that he was a noted realist, you might think he was just another liberal. He seems to think that if we talk nicely to our enemies and bend over backward to appease them, they'll behave like reasonable people and our problems will go away. This is realism?

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