Historically, American foreign policy has fluctuated between two competing schools of thought that transcend our left-right political spectrum: Idealism and Realism. Most recently, President George W. Bush has been identified with Idealism and President Obama with Realism. At the dawn of President Trump’s administration, the seminal foreign policy question is whether his approach will embrace the orthodoxies of Idealism or Realism.
Idealism- also called interventionism, internationalism-holds that the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to advance American values by fomenting freedom and democracy throughout the world. Idealists believe that our foreign policy should mirror our domestic political philosophy. The ultimate goal of Idealism is to bring about a just and peaceful world by ending tyrannies. Accordingly, in the idealist view, the United States should engage in all types of humanitarian missions, military interventions, nation building, and whatever else may advance this ultimate goal. Idealists believe that U.S. foreign policy should not be determined by what is best for the United States, but by what is, morally, the right thing to do.
Given the poor results and wastefulness of U.S. resources associated with Idealism, it is unlikely our business-minded President will follow this path.
Realism- also called realpolitik, pragmatism- holds that the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to secure America’s “national interest.” Realists believe that moral principles are incompatible with the protection of our national interest. Interests come before values, and U.S. foreign policy should focus, without moral considerations, on whatever works. Realism traces its historical roots to Thucydides and Niccolo Machiavelli. In a bizarre case of strange bedfellows, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Barak Obama’s brand of Realism are modern examples.
Because interests are placed before values, foreign policy Realism enables policymakers to immorally embrace tyrannical regimes as President Obama did with Iran and Cuba in the name of the national interest and maintaining a balance of power.
For instance, our ally Israel is currently the only nuclear power in the Middle East. For realists this is a problem because it introduces an imbalance of power where other nations in the region feel threatened by Israel’s ability to attack with impunity. In their view, this imbalance increases tensions and the possibility of military conflict. The realists’ solution is to remedy the imbalance by fostering a balance of power.
In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, spearheaded by the U.S. and five other word powers, the agreement seeks to limit Iran’s nuclear capability to non-military uses for 10 to 15 years. However, even with full Iranian compliance, a pathway to nuclear weapons remains at the expiration of the agreement.
Theoretically, this follows the fundamental realist premise that nations are “self-interested” and that an interest of self preservation insures that nuclear powers will refrain from attacking each other in what would be a mutual destruction.
The realists’ miscalculation is that an ideologically anti-American regime such as Iran will change its nature once it acquires nuclear weapons and thus will be less dangerous. Realists perceive a nuclear-armed Iran, as a good result that balances Israeli power. Under Realism, the United States has befriended monsters in Iran and Cuba in a way that introduces enormous challenges for the new administration.
President Trump has been very critical of Obama’s realist-inspired foreign policy. Given his discomfort with Idealism and Realism, what will be Trump’s foreign policy approach?
The appointment of lifetime businessman Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, suggests a break from Idealism and Realism into a new foreign policy doctrine I am labeling U.S.-Centrism.
A U.S.-centric foreign policy represents a fundamental return to the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers’ as most eloquently articulated by John Quincy Adams:
“[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings…Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is a well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
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This article was originally published in English in the Miami Herald and in Spanish in El Nuevo Herald.
José Azel, Ph.D.
José Azel left Cuba in 1961 as a 13 year-old political exile in what has been dubbed Operation Pedro Pan - the largest unaccompanied child refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
He is currently dedicated to the in-depth analyses of Cuba's economic, social and political state, with a keen interest in post-Castro-Cuba strategies as a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami and has published extensively on Cuba related topics.
In 2012 and 2015, Dr. Azel testified in the U.S. Congress on U.S.-Cuba Policy, and U.S. National Security. He is a frequent speaker and commentator on these and related topics on local, national and international media. He holds undergraduate and masters degrees in business administration and a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Miami.
José along with his wife Lily are avid skiers and adventure travelers. In recent years they have climbed Grand Teton in Wyoming, trekked Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Machu Pichu in Peru. They have also hiked in Tibet and in the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp.
They cycled St. James Way (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela) and cycled alongside the Danube from Germany to Hungary. They have scuba dived in the Bay Islands off the Honduran coast.
Their adventurers are normally dedicated to raise funds for causes that are dear to them.
In Reflections on Freedom, José Azel brings together a collection of his columns published in prestigious newspapers. Each article reveals his heartfelt and personal awareness of the importance of freedom in our lives. They are his reflections after nearly sixty years of living and learning as a Cuban outside Cuba. In what has become his stylistic trademark, Professor Azel brilliantly introduces complex topics in brief journalistic articles. Buy Now
En Reflexiones sobre la libertad José Azel reúne una colección de sus columnas publicadas en prestigiosos periódicos. Cada artículo revela su percepción sincera y personal de la importancia de la libertad en nuestras vidas. Son sus reflexiones después de casi sesenta años viviendo y aprendiendo como cubano fuera de Cuba. En lo que ha resultado ser característica distintiva de sus artículos, el Profesor Azel introduce con brillantez complejos temas en breves artículos de carácter periodístico. Compre Aqui
Mañana in Cuba is a comprehensive analysis of contemporary Cuba with an incisive perspective of the Cuban frame of mind and its relevancy for Cuba's future. Buy now
Pedazos y Vacíos is a collection of poems written in by Dr. Azel in his youth. Poems are in Spanish. Buy now
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