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Authors Urge 'Ethical Realism' in Foreign Policy

Explosive violence in Iraq and Afghanistan has generated intense discussion about U.S. foreign policy. In a new book, two scholars say America's strategy in emerging democracies and elsewhere is flawed because it's based on idealism and moral imperatives.

"That doesn't mean that we don't see the United States as a force for good in the world," says John Hulsman, co-author with Anatol Lieven of Ethical Realism. "That doesn't mean we don't see the United States as anything less than the first among equals for the foreseeable future. It does mean it's imperative you work with allies. And it's important to have humility at the basis of what you do because that leads to prudence and that leads to a foreign policy that's sustainable in the long run."

Hulsman and Lieven are an unlikely pair. Hulsman is a conservative, Lieven a liberal. But they find common ground in a world view that's was most effective in the 1950s, when Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower successfully contained Soviet expansion into Western Europe.

Lieven says that the combination of tough resistance, like that used to contain Soviet expansionism, and "categorical rejection of preventive war" is needed today -- "a tough strategy against al-Qaida, but with great restraint in the direct use of American force."

Lieven says the containment strategy worked against the Soviet Union because it was based on the idea that it would take time.

"It's that kind of patience that we need to show today, which we should have shown towards Saddam's Iraq and which we should show today towards Iran, for example, because the alternative are just too dangerous," he says.

Lieven says the U.S. exit strategy for Iraq should be based on Iraq's partition among different ethnic and religious groups. Iraq's neighbors -- Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- must be called in to help patrol the frontiers between the partitioned areas, he adds.

That could lead to a regional consensus which would limit future conflicts in Iraq and create the possibility for ending other regional conflicts, including the key Israeli-Palestinian problem, Lieven says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Ydstie
John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.